How you would have observed Lent in 1873

Today is Ember Wednesday in the 1st Week of Lent.  It is a day of even deeper penance.

For those of you who may think that Lent is a pretty tough time to be a Catholic, giving up chocolate and all year in and year out, this came to me email today.  This is what our forebears did for Lent in these USA (my emphases and comments):



Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, will fall on the twenty-sixth day of February.

1. Every day during Lent except Sunday, is a day of fast on one meal, which should no be taken before mid-day, with the allowance of a moderate collation in the evening.

2. The precept of fasting implies also that of abstinence from the use of flesh meat, but by dispensation, the use of flesh meat is allowed in this Diocese at every meal on Sunday, and at the principal meal on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, of Lent except Holy Thursday. [But not Wednesday and Friday and Saturday]

3. There is no prohibition to use eggs, butter or cheese, provided the rules of quantity prescribed by the fast be complied with. Fish is not to be used at the same meals at which flesh meat is allowed. [No surf and turf, friends.]

Butter, or if necessary lard, may be used in dressing of fish or vegetables.

4. All persons over seven years of age are bound to abstain from the use of flesh meat, and all over twenty-one to fast according to the above regulations unless there be a legitimate cause of exemption. The Church excuses from the obligations of fasting, but not from that of abstinence from flesh meat, except in special cases of sickness or the like, the following classes of persons: 1st, the infirm; 2nd, those whose duties are of an exhausting or laborious character; 3rd, women in pregnancy, or nursing infants; 4th, those who are enfeebled by old age. In case of doubt in regard to any of the above exemptions, recourse must be had to one’s spiritual director, or physician.

All alike, should enter into the spirit of this holy season, which is, in a special manner, a time of prayer, and sorrow for sin, of almsgiving, and mortification.

The faithful are reminded that by a special privilege granted d by the Holy see to the faithful of this Diocese, a Plenary Indulgence may be gained on the usual conditions, on St. Patrick’s Day or any day, within the Octave. [This does NOT dispense Catholics from the Lenten discipline on St. Paatrick’s Day, a dopey practice now which I abhor, promethean neopelagian that I am.]

By order of the Very Reverend Administrator,

GEORGRE H. DOANE. Secretary.

Bishop’s House, Newark, Feb. 6., A.D. 1873.

NB: Catholics are not obliged to follow the regulations of 1873.  You are obliged to follow them as they are hic et nunc, here and now. Be sure you know the regulations in your country. If you decide to do more than what the regulations require here and now, fine. But don’t trumpet the fact and don’t look down on those who choose not to add things on beyond the regulations.

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  1. Imrahil says:

    Call me strange, but I believe it is perhaps even easier to follow these regulations, when binding for all (say… a morsel of bread was allowed in the morning, and as much as eight ounces of food for the collation), then merely “the whole of Lent is to be of penitential character” without any specific thing to do except on Fridays and Ash Wednesday. One makes one’s plans, sure. One may make one’s own dispensations in the plans, sure – one even should do so – but a slippery slope it still is.

    I believe, by the way, that the “no sweets” custom – when chocalate really back in the days used to be an fasting-dish for the times meat was disallowed (as was Advent gingerbread) – comes from the fact that while a midday meal, a morning allowance and an evening collation were allowed, and the limits perhaps overstepped – what the old rules did explicitly rule out without exception (except very exceptional exceptions) was any fourth or further meal. Hence, no “afternoon coffee” the coffee maybe, but no meal attached to it – and hence no sweets.

    I also, with all due respect to all sorts of pious practices, find it significant, in a sympathetic sort of way (Protestants would also find it significant, but less agree with it), that the traditional Catholic practice was much more of “not eating in the evening and having a doppelbock instead” than “making some steps to morality and be teetotal for six weeks”.

  2. Filipino Catholic says:

    Then there’s the fearsome “Black Fast”, of such severe character that it probably sends people of a certain bent fleeing in abject horror at the concept of it. I forgot when such a fast was prescribed though.

  3. Stephen Morgan says:

    You may be interested in the website “The Muniment Room” and the ongoing reproduction of the Ordines for the 1860s (when some of the daysof the year fall on both the same dates and days of the week as now), here:

  4. Josephus Muris Saliensis says:

    I love your fitting comments about trumpetting! Perhaps one should add, for the benefits of those who might chose to fail to heed you, that IF you trumpet, you will undo all the good you have done, and the whole extra discipline will have been a complete and utter waste of effort.

  5. APX says:

    If you decide to do more than what the regulations require here and now, fine. But don’t trumpet the fact and don’t look down on those who choose not to add things on beyond the regulations.

    Thank you. Our priest on Sunday gave a sermon on Fasting and exhorted us to follow the traditional laws of fasting and abstio throughout Lent since that’s what was done in the past and the Church has always held fasting as the best form of penance. As one who made an honest effort last year to do the Traditional fast and abstinence, and learned that women of childbearing age should not observe strict fasts without properly and very slowly weening oneself into it, as it puts far too much stress on the endocrine system, which is particularly sensitive to abruptt physical stresses. My doctor belongs to the Russian Orthodox Church and grew up doing their traditional fasting and abstinence laws, which are much more strict than ours and is familiar with the traditional Catholic laws of fasting and abstinence. She explained that many of her patients who try to do these fasts at Lent forget to take context into consideration. In the past, very few women would have actually observed the fast as they would either be exempt because they were pregnant or nursing, or were exempt because they had to do laborious work. Those who did observe the fast, were in the habit of fasting, so it wasn’t the stress that it is today, and that days were shorter than what they are today, as people got up when the sun came up and went to bed after sundown, unlike it is now.

  6. tradition4all says:

    “2nd, those whose duties are of an exhausting or laborious character; 3rd, women in pregnancy, or nursing infants”

    Given that most Catholics in the Newark Diocese at that time were likely workers, and given that many women were either pregnant or nursing throughout their child-bearing years, it sounds like a significant proportion of all Catholics in the diocese were exempt from fasting for much of their adult lives.

  7. Joe in Canada says:

    Some Byzantine Monks will fast from the Sunday evening before Lent until after Liturgy on the first Wednesday (our Ash Wednesday) – a Vespers Liturgy – where fast means no food or water. None have died yet.

  8. un-ionized says:

    I’ve been thinking it’s silly that I have a dispensation due to being 60+ when today people who are 60+ are much less like to be feeble than in days past when there was not the medical care we have today. I do abstain and fast as I can, having also a medical dispensation. It’s sort of fun (if that’s the right word?) to push myself a little, thinking of how martyrs and people put up with things I would never even think of, that would have me quit in a second and hide under the bed with my teddy bear.

  9. ChesterFrank says:

    Is this why Wednesday is Spaghetti day?

  10. MikeToo says:

    The health industry is all the rage about intermittent fasting. The most popular is skipping breakfast and not eating until noon coupled with overall calorie restriction. This is frequently done with limiting meat intake. The scientific evidence is catching up to the practices we abandoned after Vat. II.

  11. aquinas138 says:

    If you are Orthodox in 2017, you are not permitted meat, eggs, dairy, fish, wine, or oil on any weekday of Lent, unless mitigated by a feast (meaning wine and oil are allowed). On Saturday and Sunday you get wine and oil, and on the Annunciation and Palm Sunday you get wine, oil, and fish. These rules apply to virtually every Wednesday and Friday of the year as well.

    I do wonder why the Roman ascetic discipline has been in steady decline for the last few centuries.

  12. John Grammaticus says:

    Can I ask “Where does it say that by trumpeting you undo all the good you have done up until this point”?

  13. APX says:

    Joe In Canada. It ‘s actually easier (if you have no underlying medical issues) to go without eating anything than it is to eat while fasting. Eventually hunger pangs and headaches go away and you’re filled with more energy than you know what to do with. The first day is the worse, but after that it’s a breeze.

  14. Nan says:

    un-ionized, my sister was buried with a teddy bear that our 15 yr old cousin bought for her at the hospital gift shop so she could hug it or punch it, as suited her mood. The funeral director sat him on the flipped up part of the lid, next to the closed part. She didn’t want to be alone.

    Our brother kept the teddy bears grandpa had made her; he carried his everywhere, used it as a pillow and was too little to remember grandpa had made them. Luckily I told him or Janet’s bears would’ve have gone away with the heap of other plush toys.

    I’ve been accused of being early for Lent on more than one occasion. I reply that it’s always Lent.

  15. Raymond says:

    In 1873, was the American Church already dominated by Irish clergy and Irish-style Catholicism as it later on became? For those of us whose ancestors came from Southern and Central/Eastern Europe, most of them had not crossed the Atlantic yet at that time. I wonder if the recently-arrived Bavarian or Sicilian peasant of 1873 would have made the effort to follow the directives of his new country or simply continued with the customs of his Old World forbears.

  16. wolfeken says:

    So this must be why, in the traditional Latin Mass, most of the collects from the 40 days of Lent talk about the Lenten fast! We lose sight of these things when the discipline for 38 of the 40 days of Lent are effectively abolished following the novus ordo.

  17. Benedict Joseph says:

    Were it to be reinstituted it would soon find serious adherence. In a decade the Church would have undergone a serious and authentic regeneration.
    Perhaps it is more realistic to reinstitute an appropriate fast before Holy Communion. At least the more recent three hours, but I believe it would surely shock Catholics — and the broader populace — into a kind of sobriety should the fast from midnight be readopted. It would serve as a clarion call to worship of Jesus Christ in the Holy Eucharist. It would support mindfulness in worship and daily life.
    Friday abstinence should be reinstituted as soon as possible.
    If the body is not enlisted into the practice of the faith on a frequent and doable basis, the practice of chastity is found burdensome. We advance by small steps. We hone our capacity with what we can more easily achieve. Simple acts of mortification make the more challenging requirements less burdensome.

  18. Precentrix says:

    Restoring a midnight fast before Holy Communion would mean far less frequent reception for some of us. While it may reduce the number of sacrilegious receptions, it would also mean that people like me would probably end up in danger of grave sin. I speak as someone who for various reasons hasn’t been able to receive Holy Communion since Sunday evening and can already feel the battery running low. I need recharging on a regular basis, and when Holy Mass is celebrated routinely at either 9:30 or 10 in the morning (when I am working) or at around 6 in the evening… well… fasting until 7:30pm is not a great plan. At least not for me. I know because I went through a stupidly uber-traditionalist phase when I used to try things like that, after a 4am start.

    Of course, maybe the priests could just get up earlier.

  19. un-ionized says:

    Nan, my oblate manual says that life is a continuous Lent, as the Holy Rule says. It is, whether you want it to be or not.

  20. Poor Yorek says:

    This does NOT dispense Catholics from the Lenten discipline on St. Paatrick’s Day, a dopey practice now which I abhor, promethean neopelagian that I am

    From the Dopey Diocese of Raleigh (

    Msgr. Michael Shugrue, diocesan administrator, has provided the following message regarding the observance of the Memorial of Saint Patrick this year:

    In celebration of the Memorial of Saint Patrick on Friday, March 17, 2017 (a Friday in the Lenten season this year), a commutation from the Lenten observance of abstaining from meat on that day is granted. This commutation means that in order to maintain the Lenten spirit of prayer and penance, the faithful are directed to transfer the abstinence from eating meat to some other day during that week.

    PS Happy .3/08 (aka 7.62 in Latin) Father.

  21. Imrahil says:

    Dear Percentrix,

    for a variety of reasons including the one you mention, I think that the Communion relaxation of Pius XII was a good thing and even that at least now keeping Pope Paul VI’s norm is discussable and adhering personally to (no more than) Pope Paul VI’s norm, as long as we have it, is certainly the way to go (thinking of “I have fasted for one but not three hours and happen to be at Mass” Scenarios”).

    That said, in the old times they did things differently. So, they fasted from midnight to Communion; but they transferred e. g. the Easter Vigil to the morning (and made sure the None was said before).

    And they had no evening Masses, and you can’t cut the Tridentine Mass short above a certain limit and still remain reverent; but they had morning (I am told) morning Communion services. Viz., just go there, get your Communion, and off you go to work.

    Sure, they did preach that you ought to do a little bit of preparation and a little bit of thanksgiving. After all, one has to preach about some things. People will overdo what is good – getting one’s Communion and then off to work – by cutting it just slightly shorter than would be good and not giving thanks at all, which is indeed wrong. But it was not then considered an awkward thing to receive Holy Communion outside Mass. (Once a day – the rule on our law-book still speaks about this kind of thing.)

  22. Gaetano says:

    There’s even more to the story than meets the eye.

    George H. Doane was the son of George Washington Doane. He coverted to Catholicism in 1855 and was ordained in 1857. He thereafter served as the Secretary to the Catholic Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, himself a convert from Episcopalianism.

    George Hobart Doane graduated from the Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1850, but found medicine unsatisfying and soon became an Episcopalian deacon at Grace Church (official website), Newark. Young George Hobart Doane was always an intense adherent of the Oxford Movement. During his short deaconship at Grace Church he preached of the “One Holy and Catholic and Apostolic Church,” and had more positive things to say about Pope Pius IX than he did Dr. Tyng, the leader of the Episcopalians at the time.

    Influenced by the Oxford Movement, perhaps partly due to his father’s trials at the hands of “evangelical” Episcopalians, one night in July 1855 George Hobart Doane appeared at St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral and demanded time with Bishop James Roosevelt Bayley, himself a convert from Episcopalianism. Bayley asked that the young man come back the next day, but Doane would not wait. Bayley yielded to Doane’s request for an immediate conversation and stayed up half the night with the discontented Episcopalian.

    Unsurprisingly, George Hobart Doane was deposed as deacon of Grace Church. His father personally removed him from office.

    The conversion of the son of the Episcopalian Bishop of New Jersey caused a national stir. A newspaper in Louisville, Kentucky, the Christian Observer, believed that Doane’s conversion might signal yet more conversions to Catholicism. “All the disciples of the Oxford School must eventually go to Rome” and “It is presumed that all of the young clergy of the Pusey school soon carol themselves under the Pope’s banner.” (October 29, 1855)

    After studying in Paris and Rome, George Hobart Doane was ordained a Catholic priest by Bayley in 1857 at St. Patrick’s Pro-Cathedral. He then became Bayley’s private secretary.

  23. Reginald Pole says:

    Do Eastern Catholics follow the same Lenten fast rules as the West or do they follow the same rules as the Orthodox?

  24. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Reginald Pole: Eastern Catholics follow the rules of their Rites and their bishops.

    Re: getting used to fasting, that was part of the pre-Lent season.

  25. Nan says:

    Yes. Each Eastern Catholic Church, save the Maronites, has an Orthodox counterpart so would follow the same fasting rules; however, each person may have a different fast. For converts or those recently attending that particular church, Father would lead them into it slowly, not requiring a sudden change of everything; similarly, for those with medical or dietary issues, or those who do hard labor, the fast may not apply or would be modified.

    My Russian Orthodox priest friend tells people I’m an old Catholic, not meaning the sect but rather that I fast from meat Wed and Friday throughout the year.

  26. Filipino Catholic says:

    On further reading regarding the Black Fast, it seems to have been the fast prescribed during Lent and prior to ordination. Basically it involves only taking one meal for the day (apparently without the two lesser meals permitted under the current order of things) and only after sunset, at least until the 1300s. The prohibited foodstuffs were meat, eggs, milk, cheese, and butter, and during Holy Week the only foods permitted were bread, herbs, salt, and water.

    I’ve yet to see a fast more severe than this one, though the Byzantine practice (which Joe in Canada mentioned) of eating absolutely nothing from our Septuagesima to Ash Wednesday would certainly qualify as that.

  27. Imrahil says:

    Well, dear Filipino Catholic,

    absolutely nothing from Septuagesima on would really be too hard. The traditional Byzantine practice is to fast from Quinquagesima evening to “Ash Wednesday” (Wednesday post cineres, rather, because their equivalent to Ash Wednesday is the Monday), which is still hard enough. Though I imagine most laity there eats entirely nothing only on Ash Monday (and on Good Friday and perhaps on Christmas Eve), and then a little bit on the other days, which is still hard enough.

  28. Filipino Catholic says:

    Whoops, I read the bit about the Sunday preceding Lent and immediately thought of Septuagesima, the most well-known Sunday preceding Lent in the Roman Rite, but also the earliest one. Just goes to show even amateur computists can commit hilariously obvious blunders!

  29. BenjaminiPeregrinus says:

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