Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Lent, but not as we know it

Forty days and forty nights - a Christ like diet

One hundred years ago my parents were in their teens.

Both in the same class at school.
Both deeply involved in the spiritual and social life of their parish, St Margaret's, Canning Town in London's East End.

Their Lenten practice was, so I was told, the norm for Catholic laity and it focused, practically, on diet.

For the whole period of Lent they abstained from meat.

And eggs.

And fish, other than salt cod which became the staple source of protein.
Some families denied themselves milk also.

Meal portion sizes were drastically reduced, one ate a modestly portioned side plate of food for the evening meal. Breakfast and lunch consisted of bread and water.

Tea and coffee were off limits.

This at a time when most people walked many more miles each day.
The physical demands on the human constitution were much greater than they are now.

Daily Mass was strived for.

In the home even greater attention was given to prayer and spiritual acts.

As Lent drew to a close, so their bodies began to respond to the spartan, unhealthy diet and they became infected by boils and sores.

Easter Sunday brought blessed relief and a physical as well as spiritual renewal.

Wind forward 50 years and there was one dish that never appeared on the family table.

Salt cod.

My poor parents could barely bring themselves to say the words, let alone re-create a meal consisting of dried, salted fish.


  1. Mr Collins:

    I was wondering, how did the practises of Lent when your parents were young compare to the practises of Advent? Ever since I came into the Church, I have tried (and often failed) to adhere to Lenten practises similar to what you have outlined and would observe the older customs as much as possible (meatless Fridays, austere Lent, Ember days, Christmas Eve fasting, etc). Any information you can provide would be much appreciated.

  2. Mowery,
    The Lenten practices outlined above are similar to those kept by many Eastern Catholics today. You might search online for resources on the Great Fast from an Eastern/Byzantine/Greek Catholic perspective. As always, consult your spiritual father first. God bless! ICXC+NIKA

  3. Mowery, that is a good question. I never heard mention of any practices with regard to Advent. Certainly, nothing was in place in the 1950s. God bless.