19 February 2010

So when does Lent start for mathematicians?

No problem about this in the Bugnini Liturgy. Lent began on Ash Wednesday. But for obscurantist fuddy-duddies who stick with the Old Rite (and for Ambrosians), matters are far less simple. The First Sunday in Lent is called in capite Quadragesimae. Lenten Office Hymns don't begin until First Vespers of Sunday. You stick with Pars hiemalis Breviarii Romani until then. And, as Gueranger puts it, "Although the law of Fasting began [on Ash Wednesday], yet, Lent [Careme], properly so called, does not begin till the Vespers of Saturday next. In order to distinguish the rest of Lent from these four days which have been added to it, the Church continues to chant Vespers at the usual hour, and allows her Ministers to break their fast before having said that office. But, beginning with Saturday, the Vespers will be anticipated; every day (Sundays excepted) they will be said at such an early hour that when the Faithful take their full meal, the Evening Office will be over. It is a remnant of the discipline of the primitive Church, which forbade the Faithful to break their fast before sun-set, in other words, before Vespers or Even-song".

The mathematics and history of Lent were sorted out by Canon Callewaert, of Bruges, and Dr 'Patrimony' Willis, of Wing. In case anybody is interested, I give a summary of the facts.

(1) Originally, the only Fast around was the very primitive Paschal Fast, on Good Friday and Holy Saturday. Lent hadn't been invented.
(2) For reasons connected with the instruction of the catechumens and the discipline of penitents, a forty-day preparation for this was added to the already existing Paschal Fast. Forty days back from Maundy Thursday gets you back precisely to the First Sunday in Lent.
(3) A later age forgot the distinction between Lent and the Paschal Fast and considered them both just "Lent". It also wished to take account of the fact that, in the Roman Rite, one does not fast on Sundays. To get forty days of fast in before Easter Day, you need 6 X a week of 6 fasting days: = 36 days; + four extra days: = 40; which gets you back to .... Ash Wednesday.
(4) But the Liturgy never caught up with these latest mathematics ... until the Age of Bugnini.

Hence the anomalous status of the four days this week "After the Ashes". A whimsy, surely, in that it took an age which had pretty well given up even the memory of fasting to add four extra days to the full Lenten status.

One can see the point of Bugnini's abolition of the Gesimas and his elimination of the anomaly of the days post cineres. Taste-wise, I suppose it's ultimately a question of whether you like your Calendar neat and clean with no little puzzles to worry you or intrigue; or whether you prefer it interesting.

Incidentally, S Gregory the Great, taking Lent as beginning on Sunday and ending on the early morning of Easter Sunday, calculated that it consisted of 6X7=42 days; from which you subtract the unfasting Sundays (42-6=36) and then add half a day for the fasting part of Easter Sunday (=36.5 days): which is a tithe of the year!

Sometimes one feels glad that the Fathers lacked computers. Otherwise, they would undoubtedly have spent their entire time on ever more arcane mathematics, and never written any Theology.


GOR said...

"Sometimes one feels glad that the Fathers lacked computers."

Yes Father, one trembles to think what the Augustinian output might have been had he been able to Google 'Roman History'...

Of course, in St. Jerome's case it might have improved his disposition!

Michael McDonough said...

"(2) ...a forty-day preparation for this was added to the already existing Paschal Fast."

Is there any indication about just when this addition came about? It certainly is present and apparently "traditional" in the 4th Century (to judge from the works of Cyril of Jerusalem, Ambrose and Augustine, to name but three bishops of the era).

Personally, I have the impression that all the "fathers" loved to delve from time to time in the little "sacraments" of numerology. Numbers appear to have been one of those "mysteries" which, while not being of the greatest import, did provide satisfying "closures".

Somewhat off-topic:

Some of this fascination, in my unlearned opinion, seems to have been lost after Trent defined Sacraments to be Seven, and to enumerate which ones they were. In the 4th Century, and before, many things were called "sacraments" which today we would have to designate as "sacramental", given the Tridentine definitions, and they were of interest because they were signs pointing to other greater Signs. I think the loss of this interest can be ascribed to "the Law of Unintended Consequences".

The concept of the sacraments as "covenant oaths" (reported by Scott Hahn, but something he learned from others) is evident in the homilies of some of them. I think both Peter Chrysologus (mid 5th C. Ravenna) and St. Jerome's old friend Rufinus of Aquileia, both speak of each of the "articles" of the Apostles' Creed as "sacraments".

Michael McDonough said...


Had St. Jerome lived to see the blogosphere, it might have caused his early demise from apoplexy!

Rubricarius said...

It is a rather pleasant idiosyncracy I feel and adds an additional level of variety with, in effect, the Office of Quinquagesima with the ferial preces and the Lenten Masses.

Being a lover of idioscycracies my favourite day of the year is tomorrow and the joy, to me at least, of having Vespers in the morning and the Office of Lent proper.

andrew said...

St Dorotheos of Gaza writes:

The eight weeks, subtracting Saturdays and Sundays, makes forty days, but we honor Holy Saturday with a fast because it is a very holy day and the only Saturday fast of the year. The seven weeks, without Saturdays, gives thirty-five days, and if finally we add the half of the brilliant and light-giving night, this makes thirty-six and a half, which is exactly a tenth of three hundred and sixty-five. For thirty is the tenth of three hundred, six is the tenth of sixty, and the tenth of five is one half. Here then, as we said, are the thirty-six and a half days, the very tithing of the whole year as one might say, which the holy apostles consecrated to penance for the cleansing of our sins of the whole year

Steve said...

There is always, of course, the witness of your own Church....

In the Book of Common Prayer, in spite of the retention of the Gesimas, the title for Wednesday of this week is "The First Day of Lent, commonly called Ash Wednesday" - which, let's face it, could hardly be clearer! (Even though the collect for Ash Wednesday was usually used at Evening Prayer on Shrove Tuesday - perhaps a slight incongruity there?)

In the ASB, the Gesimas were transmuted into something different, and Ash Wednesday (albeit now called, if memory serves, only by that title) was clearly marked out as the beginning of Lent by the changing of the colour from green to "violet or lent array" on that day. (There are, of course, no actual directions for liturgical colours in the BCP.)

In Common Worship the notes to the calendar state that the first office of Lent is Morning Prayer on Ash Wednesday.

It looks like a pretty united voice to me!

William Tighe said...

Some readers may be interested in my article on the Origins of Lent here:


which appeared in the March 2009 issue of Touchstone, as well as an earlier article on the Origins of Christmas in the December 2003 issue:


A third article on the Origins of Easter is about to appear in the March/April 2010 issue of that same publication.

That on Lent was rather considerably "reduced" in the course of editing, particularly as regards the Eastern insistence (at least until recent centuries) that Saturdays are not fasting days (save for Great and Holy Saturday), which came as a great surprise to one of the Orthodox readers of my original version.

Fr John Hunwicke SSC, said...

OK, Steve. I thought it was a really confused history, and, believe me, for simplicity's ake I missed out a lot of even more contorted detail.

N J C said...

A few problems with these comments from Steve.

Is anglicanism any longer entitled to be called a 'Church'? (...)

'lent array' before the First Sunday clearly wrong: it is used only from the first Sunday to the end of the fourth week (with change to Red /Roman Purple? for Passiontide. Ash Wednesday is purple, (however we interpret THAT in England...) because it is in Quinquagesima week.

As for, "The First Day of Lent, commonly called Ash Wednesday" and
'Common Worship...notes... state'... ...-things that are not true, basically.

Obviously both were written by idiots. Cranmer's ignorance has been repudiated by most anglican bishops of last two centuries. That of pre-2000 liturgical commission not always generally appreciated, but we know 'Common Worship' was written by idiots because they do not know the difference between the Liturgy of S James (which they ripped off for congregational interjections in a eucharistic prayer), and the Liturgy of S Basil (which the introduction SAYS that they were ripping off). No one on the committee seems to have objected when the proofs came back. If you are going to burgle someone else’s house, it’s probably a good idea to know which house. So I wouldn’t take anything said in that book on trust.

So much for the scholarly reputation of clerus anglicanus, stupor mundi. (Except, of course, for the host editor and blogger who does rather seem to be the last of them.)


Michael McDonough said...

Thank you, Prof. Tighe. I think your article on Easter answers my historical question, especially your last paragraph. However, my impression that Lent was "already traditional" by the end of the 4th Century should be amended to say that "some tradition of fasting for 40 days or so was already traditional, and after Nicaea became Lent as we know it today".

And your article on Christmas suggests to me that "the Twelve Days of Christmas" are a kind of English via media, reconciling the Roman emphasis on Christmas with the Byzantine emphasis on the Epiphany!