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dispensations were then obtained, renewed, by a solemn Constitution, (dated June 10, 1745,) the prohibition of eating fish and meat, at the same meal, on fasting days.
The same Pope, whose spirit of moderation has never been called in question, had no sooner ascended the Papal Throne, than he addressed an Encyclical Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic world, expressing his heartfelt grief at seeing the great relaxation that was introduced among the Faithful by indiscreet and unnecessary dispensations. The Letter is dated May 30th, 1741. We extract from it the following passage: "The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it, we prove ourselves "not to be enemies of the Cross of Christ. By it, we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we 'gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind "grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would 'be a detriment to God's glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. "Neither can it be doubted, but that such negligence "would become the source of misery to the world, of "public calamity, and of private woe.
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 mild form! The long list of general Dispensations granted, each year, by the Bishops to their flocks, would lead us to suppose that the immense majority of the Faithful would be scrupulously exact in the fulfilment of the Fasting and Abstinence still remaining; but is such the case? And, must there not result from this ever-growing
1 Constitution: Non ambigimus.
spirit of immortification, a general effeminacy of character, which will lead, at last, to frightful social disorders? The sad predictions of Pope Benedict the Fourteenth are but too truly verified. Those nations, among whose people the spirit and practice of penance are extinct, are heaping against themselves the wrath of God, and provoking his justice to destroy them by one or other of these scourges,civil discord, or conquest. In our own country, there is an inconsistency, which must strike every thinking mind-the observance of the Lord's Day, on the one side; the national inobservance of days of penance and fasting, on the other. The first is admirable, and, (if we except puritanical extravagances,) bespeaks a deep-rooted sense of religion; but the second is one of the worst presages for the future. No-the word of God is too plain: unless we do penance, we shall perish.1 But, if our ease-loving and sensual generation were to return, like the Ninivites, to the long-neglected way of penance and expiation, who knows, but that the arm of God, which is already raised to strike us, may give us blessing, and not chastisement?
Let us resume our History, and seek our edification in studying the fervour wherewith the Christians of former times used to observe Lent. We will first offer to our readers a few instances of the manner in which Dispensations were given.
In the 13th century, the Archbishop of Braga applied to the reigning Pontiff, Innocent the Third, asking him, what compensation he ought to require of his people, who, in consequence of a dearth of the ordinary articles of food, had been necessitated to eat meat during the Lent? He, at the same time, consulted the Pontiff as to how he was to act in the case of the sick, who asked for a dispensation from
1 St. Luke, xiii. 3.
abstinence. The answer given by Innocent, which is inserted in the Canon Law, is, as we might expect, full of considerateness and charity; but we learn from this fact, that such was then the respect for the law of Lent, that it was considered necessary to apply to the Sovereign Pontiff, when dispensations were sought for. We find many such instances in the history of the Church.
Wenceslaus, King of Bohemia, being seized with a malady, which rendered it dangerous to his health to take Lenten diet, he applied, in the year 1297, to Pope Boniface the Eighth, for leave to eat meat. The Pontiff commissioned two Cistercian Abbots to enquire into the real state of the Prince's health: they were to grant the dispensation sought for, if they found it necessary; but, on the following conditions that the King had not bound himself by a vow, for life, to fast during Lent; that the Fridays, Saturdays, and the Vigil of St. Matthias, were to be excluded from the dispensation; and, lastly, that the King was not to take his meal in the presence of others, and was to observe moderation in what he took.2
In the 14th century, we meet with two Briefs of dispensation, granted by Clement the Sixth, in 1351, to John, King of France, and to his Queen consort. In the first, the Pope,-taking into consideration, that during the wars in which the King is engaged he frequently finds himself in places where fish can with difficulty be procured,-grants to the Confessor of the King the power of allowing, both to his majesty and his suite, the use of meat on days of abstinence, excepting, however, the whole of Lent, all Fridays of the year, and certain Vigils; provided, moreover, that neither he, nor those who accompany him, are under a vow of perpetual abstinence. In the second Brief,
1 Decretal., lib. iii., cap. Concilium; de Jejunio. Tit. xlvi. 2 Raynaldi, Ad ann. 1297.
3 D'Achery. Spicilegium, tom. iv.
the same Pope, replying to the petition made him by the King for a dispensation from fasting, again commissions his Majesty's present and future Čonfessors, to dispense both the King and his Queen, after having consulted with their Physicians.1
A few years later, that is, in 1376, Pope Gregory the Eleventh sent a Brief in favour of Charles 5th, King of France, and of Jane, his Queen. In this Brief, he delegates to their Confessor the power of allowing them the use of eggs and milk-meats, during Lent, should their Physicians think they stand in need of such dispensation; but he tells both Physicians and Confessor, that he puts it upon their consciences, and that they will have to answer before God for their decision. The same permission is granted also to their servants and cooks, but only as far as it is needed for their tasting the food to be served to their Majesties.
The 15th century, also, furnishes us with instances of this applying to the Holy See for Lenten dispensations. We will cite the Brief addressed by Xystus the Fourth, in 1483, to James 3rd, King of Scotland; in which he grants him permission to eat meat on days of abstinence, provided his Confessor consider the dispensation needed.2 In the following century, we have Julius the Second granting a like dispensation to John, King of Denmark, and to his Queen Christina;3 and, a few years later, Clement the Seventh giving one to the Emperor Charles the Fifth, and, again, to Henry 2nd of Navarre, and to his Queen Margarite.5
Thus were Princes themselves treated, three centuries ago, when they sought for a dispensation from the sacred law of Lent. What are we to think of the present indifference wherewith it is kept? What
1 D'Achery. Spicilegium, tom. iv.
2 Raynaldi. Ad ann. 1484.
3 Ibid. Ad ann. 1505.
4 lbid. Ad ann. 1524.
comparison can be made between the Christians of former times, who, deeply impressed with the fear of God's judgments and with the spirit of penance, cheerfully went through these forty days of mortification, and those of our own days, when love of pleasure and self-indulgence is for ever lessening man's horror for sin? Where there is little or no fear of having to penance ourselves for sin, there is so much the less restraint to keep us from committing it.
Where now that simple and innocent joy at Easter, which our forefathers used to show, when, after their severe fast of Lent, they partook of substantial and savoury food? The peace, which long and sharp mortification ever brings to the conscience, gave them the capability, not to say the right, of being lighthearted as they returned to the comforts of life, which they had denied themselves, in order to spend forty days in penance, recollection, and retirement from the world. This leads us to mention some further details, which will assist the Catholic reader to understand what Lent was in the Ages of Faith.
It was a season, during which, not only all amusements and theatrical entertainments were forbidden by the civil authority,' but when even the Law Courts were closed; and this, in order to secure that peace and calm of heart, which is so indispensable for the soul's self-examination, and reconciliation with her offended Maker. As early as the year 380, Gratian and Theodosius enacted, that Judges should suspend all law-suits and proceedings, during the forty days preceding Easter. The Theodosian Code contains several regulations of this nature; and we find Councils, held in the 9th century, urging the Kings
1 It was the Emperor Justinian who passed this law, as we learn from Photius; Nomocanon., tit. vii., cap. i. It is still in force in Rome.
2 Cod. Theodos., lib. ix., tit. xxxv., leg. 4.