What would your Lent have been like in 1873?

For those of you who may think that Lent is a pretty tough time to be a Catholic, giving up chocolate and so forth, 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 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. [NB: This does NOT dispense Catholics from the Lenten discipline on St. Patrick’s Day, a Promethean Neopelagian practice these days.]

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. Julia_Augusta says:

    It is easier to comply with these 1873 rules today than it was in 1873. Why? Because there are so many vegetarian and vegan options, especially in cities that have a lot of immigrants. Example: in NYC, the SF Bay Area and the Los Angeles area, there are so many Indian vegetarian restaurants that serve very delicious food. I went to southern India and Sri Lanka for extended periods of time and I never ate meat or fish. I did not miss it. The South Indian cuisine in the US has improved so much just in the last 5 years. And they have takeout options. And of course Indian groceries so you can make your own food at home. You can spend all 40 days of Lent eating amazing vegetarian food. Also after one week of fasting, your stomach shrinks and you don’t feel so hungry anymore.

  2. Ages says:

    To Julia_Augusta’s point: There is an amusing story from the Eastern Orthodox world about this.

    Once, the Russians sent a group of clerics to the Middle East to observe Lent and Easter with the Antiochians. After the celebration, the entourage returned to Moscow and met with the Patriarch. He said, “How fare our Antiochian brethren?” One of them replied, “Your Holiness, the Antiochians eat better during Lent than we Russians during the whole rest of the year!”

    When looking back on the older rules, rather than say, “Wow, how strict they were back then,” we ought to be humbled and say, “How far we have fallen today!” To think it is a struggle to even follow the modern meager rules is sad indeed. Perhaps if we dedicate ourselves to keeping the church’s laws (today’s laws), the Lord will see fit to give us a greater obedience in the future, and maybe even allow us to see a revival in our own times.

  3. Benedict Joseph says:

    Fasting and abstinence hone our ability to obey the commandments which require us to curb more burning compulsive appetites. This appears to be lost on the episcopate of the past sixty years, and absolutely canned by the inhabitants of the new paradigm.
    Practice does make perfect.
    But who needs common sense when an asceticism of discernment will get you your chunk of cake and allow you to gorge on it as well?

  4. JustaSinner says:

    Father, I was a vegan for almost six years. (Pancreatitis). Found Lent was a breeze…it was the non-Lenten year that was drab; steak, a juicy hamburger, bolognese sauce…corner stone of a satisfying life!

  5. Uxixu says:

    For this Lent, I’ve been generally striving to eat simply as well as abstaining from meat (that means no sushi or lobster). I’ve been skipping breakfast, having a small collation in the middle of the day (some peanut butter with no honey or jelly, or a piece of grilled cheese or tuna and mayo) on white bread and eating a regular dinner, skipping desert as well.

    When Lent is over, going to enjoy a big steak and have a good sushi dinner, as well.

  6. Uxixu says:

    Forgot to mention prayer habit. I picked up the Little Hours to my devotional reading of the 1962 Office again (go with previous habit of Lauds, Vespers, and Compline). Matins is still awkward for me to fit in and generally aiming to not have the collation until after None (which I try to pray at the appropriate time, work permitting).

  7. iPadre says:

    When men were men.

  8. NBW says:

    In 1741, Pope Benedict XIV wrote an encyclical letter to the bishops about his concerns on the relaxation of Lent. Here is commentary on that letter, from Dom Prosper Gueranger’s “The Liturgical Year”
    “More than a hundred years have elapsed since this solemn warning of the Vicar of Christ was given to the world; and during that time, the relaxation he inveighed against has gone on gradually increasing. How few Christians do we meet who are strict observers of Lent, even in its present form! And must there not result from this ever- growing spirit of immortification, a general effeminacy of character, which will lead at last, to frightful social disorders?”

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  10. Elizabeth D says:

    How about the ancient/Eastern Christian Lenten fast and abstinence? I abstain from flesh meat all the time, but during Lent also from fish, dairy foods, eggs and sugar (I admit I don’t give up oil totally). I have a weekly spiritual life book study group that I make a meal for every Thursday that also adheres to this and it is a creative limitation that still allows for food people enjoy. I feel like it shows people options of what they might eat on Fridays other than fish, in fact some are able to take home leftovers to eat the next day. We even have dessert, but it is lightly-sweetened with fruit only. A diabetic member of the group loves it during Lent because she can have some dessert. More than one member of the group also genuinely fasts during Lent, excluding Sundays. People can still do this today, the abundance all around us may make it seem psychologically difficult. The minimum form of “fasting” is not eating outside proper mealtimes, not eating food that is unhealthily rich or overly costly, not eating too much, which is really just avoiding gluttony; it’s a bit of a vice to be always snacking or to be a gourmand.

    so far during Lent we’ve had:
    -Spaghetti with super-chunky veggie filled red sauce and walnuts, salad with avocado-tahini dressing, bread, and apple-fig pie
    Lentil-walnut “meatloaf”, garlic smashed potatoes, green beans, and date sweetened flourless black bean brownies with raisins in them (that are almost as good as normal brownies)
    -Rice and soy protein vitamin-enriched hunger relief food (an actual product made for domestic and international use in disaster or famine areas), boiled sweet potatoes, and bananas; we took up a collection for the Pontifical Mission Societies Missio.org which group members decided would be directed to South Sudan (one person commented we should give generously so the people suffering famine can have something better to eat than the rice-soy fortified stuff! However we also agreed when you are really hungry simple, filling food tastes great regardless… when you are really fasting for Lent for instance then you do not mind that there is no cheese or sugar that you normally crave; you are just hungry and you are grateful for food in itself)
    -Mexican veggie burgers made with mashed kidney beans, salsa and veggies, on whole wheat bun with hummus and guacamole and tomato, with oven fries, salad with orange juice vinaigrette, and apple crisp with date-nut topping.
    -next week we are having an African black eyed pea dish containing red bell peppers and onion, coconut milk and tomato paste served over mashed potatoes, with a reprise of the black bean brownies that I had leftover in the freezer.

    Yes in spite of “penance” that reminds us that it is Lent, there’s an aspect of feasting, having satisfying food helps people get motivated to come to the group and come together forming good friendships and be happy together.

  11. The Masked Chicken says:

    You know what else these people didn’t have in 1873? Refrigerators, electric lights, microwave ovens, electric stoves, televisions, radios, snack-sized containers, vacuum-packing, knowledge of bacterial contamination. If you want an easy penance for lent, try unplugging your refrigerator. Food preparation in 1873 was much slower and more dangerous than today. Are we more effeminate in our fasting, today? Well, heck, why not hunt, kill, skin, and cook your meals?

    My point is that it is pointless to judge one era’s fasting by another. Fasting is a matter of discipline, but also a matter of love. We, certainly, have discipline – look at kids who will spend whole days playing online games or a more virtuous example, concert musicians who practice eight hours a day. What we lack is a love borne of faith that will let us evaluate our lives in the light of truth and act according to the best good of ourselves and others. What has grown in not effeminism, but cruelty and blindness towards ourselves and others.

    A far better fast is the one that Isaiah asked for: free others from the burden of the yoke, taking care of orphans, rending ones heart. How much easier it is to fast from steak than to fast from gossiping? How much easier is it to abstain from chicken (yeah!) than to asbstain from saying a cross word to your mother-in-law. Yes, food storage and preparation has changed a lot in 150 years, but gossip, uncharity, these thing are constant, the same from age to age. Ignoring gossip in 1873 was as hard, then, as it is, today.

    Yes, we have it easier today in a material sense, but it is the lack of silence, the lack of space that is what makes spiritual fasting so much more difficult, today, than in 1873. If one wants to begin to make advancement in the spiritual life, don’t start with curbing your appetite; start with curbing your tongue. From there, everything else follows.

    The Chicken

  12. Wendy says:

    These were the regulations for D. Hartford (to which parishes in the Smallest State belonged) in 1855. Much the same as Newark’s, but a bit wordier and a few additions:
    “1st. All the days in Lent, Sundays excepted, are fasting days, as also days of Abstinence.

    2nd. The use of flesh meat is allowed, once in the day, on Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays in Lent; on Sundays it is allowed, without restriction as to the number of times.

    3rd. The use of flesh and fish at the same meals is not allowed.

    4th. Lard may be used in preparing fasting food during the season of Lent; the dispensation extends to days of abstinence, throughout the year.

    5th. A collation, about one-fourth of a meal, is allowed in the evening; eggs, fish, butter or cheese may be used at this collation. Custom has introduced a small collation in the morning, consisting of a cup of tea, coffee, or chocolate with about one ounce of bread; this is allowed.

    6th. All exempted during the season of Lent, from the general law of fasting, and who are in health, will remember that they are not exempted from the law of abstinence, but to the extent of the dispensation here given; they may use fish or eggs at the morning and evening meals, but never meat at these meals, during the Lenten season.

    7th. The Church exempts from the obligation of fasting, all who are physically unable to fast, or who might injure another by fasting.
    First.—Mothers nursing or pregnant.
    Second.—All under the age of 21 years; those, however, of this class, who have nearly attained this age, will do well to practice some little mortification.
    Third.—All enfeebled by old age.
    Fourth.—All engaged in manual labor, or other duties of an exhausting character.
    Fifth.—The infirm who, in the matter of the law of abstinence, will ever be guided by the counsel of their director, or physician.

    8th. As nothing short of inability to fast will justify Christians in their non-observance of it, all who doubt their right to exemption from the fast, will consult on the matter, their director, or physician, and follow the counsel given in their case.

    9th. Catholic boarding-house keepers will remember that they are obligated before conscience, to present to their Catholic boarders such food as Catholics are permitted to use at those meals, and on those days, when they are bound to observe the law of abstinence.

    10th. The season within which all are obliged to make the Paschal Communion, commences with the first Sunday in Lent, and closes with Trinity Sunday. The faithful are hereby most earnestly entreated to comply, within the time specified, with this precept of the church.

    11th. Occasional evening services are customary during the season at least one evening in each week. On these occasions, I would recommend the reciting of the Rosary of the Blessed Virgin, to be followed by an instruction suited to the penitential season, and the benediction of the most blessed Sacrament.

    12th. As many things legitimate in other seasons, might be greatly unsuited to this penitential time, the faithful are most earnestly exhorted to avoid anything opposed to the Spirit of the fast of Lent, as also to unite with their exterior acts of mortification, a deep sorrow for sin, an ardent love of God, a habit of piety, with the giving of alms to the poor, and constant prayer that God in his most tender mercy may be moved to pardon and save.

    Given, at Providence, this 8th of Feb., 1855.
    +Bernard O’Reilly, Bishop of Hartford.”

    I weighed an ounce of bread (#5’s morning collation) and came up with one slice of toast. My bagel, at 4 oz, is right out.

  13. (You really can’t tell but) I’m sixty-three years old, and so am not obliged to observe the discipline of the fast, although I usually only have one main meal a day anyway. And as for abstinence, I don’t eat meat on Friday most if not all year as it is. So I have to think of other things to give up.

    Maybe on Ember Days, but I can never remember them. I could add them to my calendar app every year, yeah, that’s the ticket.

  14. JesusFreak84 says:

    The introduction to my English copy of the Lenten Triodion, after giving the Orthodox (and formally also the Eastern Catholic) regulations for fasting and such, notes that fasting intrinsically makes one more aware of the spiritual “side,” as it were, (I forget now how precisely it was worded,) something one can see even from the great number of false religions that still fast. I think those who loosened the regulations find their home in Screwtape saying, “Effective contact with the Enemy isn’t something the patient REALLY wants, no matter how much he says so otherwise.” (Paraphrase, of course.) It’s much easier to keep a man weighted down to earth when his belly is full and his mind is empty.

  15. tamranthor says:

    The Chicken Asks: Well, heck, why not hunt, kill, skin, and cook your meals?

    Some of us do.

    While I won’t claim to be live totally subsistence, the fish we eat on Fridays throughout the year were caught by my husband and my son, and processed and frozen by myself. Flesh meat here is mostly moose meat, again, harvested and processed at home. Apply and raspberry jellies are, again, home made and home canned. Veggies home grown and frozen or canned.

    I am not a farmer so I don’t work all that hard at putting up crops, nor do I live in the boonies, but I know where my food comes from and I know what is in it, and I thank God that I have a good freezer and modern equipment. I suspect that 130 years ago, the same processes were a whole lot more difficult.

    Providing for one’s family is not exactly penitential, but sometimes it can be good discipline.

  16. ChesterFrank says:

    You know , even thought the fast was much stricter in 1873 than it is today, it was probably easier to follow then. Back then everyone fasted, certainly all of the Catholics: and if they broke the fast or abstinence it was through sneaking in a few treats. Today many Catholics rarely pay attention to the requirements, each have their own interpretation if you want to call it that. Few Catholics of 1873 were handed a double cheeseburger on a Lenten Friday, and few would have felt socially obligated to consume such a monstrosity in an attempt to behave both civil and Christian towards another blissfully ignorant of the seasonal dietary requirement.

  17. I think, but not for sure, this is from St. John Chrysostom. Golden tongue indeed.

    “Admonition – Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!.
    11. I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it.
    Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!
    Is it said by what kind of works?
    If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!
    If thou seest in enemy, be reconciled to him!
    If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!
    If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!
    For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.
    Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice.
    Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.
    Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.
    Fasting for all the senses explained
    For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.
    Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. “Thou shalt not receive a false report,” it says.
    12. Let the mouth too fast from disgraceful speeches and railing. For what doth it profit if we abstain from birds and fishes; and yet bite and devour our brethren? The evil speaker eateth the flesh of his brother, and biteth the body of his neighbor.
    Because of this Paul utters the fearful saying, “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.” Gal. v. 15. Thou hast not fixed thy teeth in the flesh, but thou hast fixed the slander in the soul, and inflicted the wound of evil suspicion; thou hast harmed, in a thousand ways, thyself and him, and many others, for in slandering a neighbor thou hast made him who listens to the slander worse…”

    Anyhow, all of these things our dear Saint admonishes us to do can be done ans are hard enough even with modern day conveniences. And after all this if we still consider ourselves as poor unprofitable sevants, we may be getting somewhere…

    Here is to a blessed Lent!

  18. Imrahil says:

    Dear David L Alexander,

    I don’t eat meat on Friday most if not all year as it is. So I have to think of other things to give up.

    It is laudable; but you don’t have to. All the more since you say “on Friday”, so that is a penance to you.

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