"Thou hast given a banner to them that fear thee, that it may be displayed because of truth." — (Psalm 60:4)
"Lift ye up a banner upon the high mountain, exalt the voice unto them." — (Isaiah 13:2)
Devoted To The Defense Of The Church Against All Errors And Innovations
Vol.IV No.IX Pg.6-7a
April 1942

An Interview With A Catholic Priest

Fanning Yater Tant

Time: December 31, 1941

Place: A doctor's office

The doctor is saying, "Mr. Smith, I must warn you that your blood-pressure is dangerously high. You may suffer a fatal stroke at any minute. You must stop at once any eating of meats or smoking of tobacco."

"But, doctor," remonstrated Mr. Smith, "can't I possibly wait until February 18th to stop meats and tobacco?" "You run a very grave risk in delaying a -single day," the doctor replied. "You should stop at once. Why do you want to put it off until February 18th?"

"I am a Catholic," Mr. Smith said. "And February 18th is Ash Wednesday—the beginning of Lent. By waiting until then to give up meat and tobacco I will gain merit in heaven for my sacrifices. Whereas, if I give them up now, merely as a matter of preserving my health, I have no special credit for my action."

The above conversation is an accurate representation of the feeling of the devout Catholic about "Lent." Inasmuch as the whole Catholic world at the time of this writing is in the midst of their observance of Lent, I thought it might be interesting to get some first-hand information from an authoritative source on just what Lent means to the average Catholic. Accordingly, I called at the nearest Catholic church, and talked for over an hour with the priest of the parish. This was St. Edward's Catholic Church, corner Kostner and Sunnyside, here in Chicago, and the priest was introduced to me as "Father O'Reilly."

From the conversation with him I took down these following notes on the Catholic teaching concerning Lent:

1. Lent was not observed in the early days of the church, but was instituted many years later by the church councils.

2. It is a copy or duplication of the forty days fast of Christ before his temptation, and extends from Ash Wednesday over a period of forty days (exclusive of Sundays) to Easter Sunday.

3. The principle idea of Lent is that it is a "mortification of the flesh," a punishment of the physical body for the sins that have been committed during the past year in the over-indulgence of fleshly appetites. It is a way of saying to the Lord, "I'm sorry."

4. In Lenten fasting only one "heavy" meal a day is to be eaten. Usually a very light breakfast is followed by a luncheon of not over six or eight ounces, then at night comes the one big meal of the day. There is a very great latitude permitted however in the degree to which these rules are observed. All those who are sick, as well as nursing mothers, school-teachers, and others whose efficiency might be impaired by hunger are given "dispensations" which enable them to continue a normal diet right on through Lent.

5. No meat may be eaten. Fish and eggs are permitted.

6. Any voluntary sacrifice of a pleasure or a luxury during Lent is a way of piling up "merit" in heaven to the credit of the one making the sacrifice. This merit will appreciably shorten his suffering in purgatory after death. (The story of the patient giving up tobacco and meat during Lent, the priest [used] himself as an illustration of how this principle works out in actual practice.)

7. Lent is a time of special consecration, and should be marked by more than usual devotion to the church. From a little booklet given me by the priest, and which is given to Catholics to use in their observance of Lent, I find this quotation from the Catechism: "I believe that it is very helpful to my Christian life to have special devotion to my Guardian Angel, reverencing him and calling on him, especially in time of temptation; following his suggestions, thanking him for his help and never vexing his presence by sin."

Why the Christian Does Not Observe Lent

There are many reasons why we, as Christians, do not observe the Catholic season of Lent.

1. It is admittedly not the law of Christ, but merely the rule of the Catholic Church. In this it occupies exactly the same position as sprinkling, celibacy of the clergy, etc. In the last decade or so many Protestant churches are giving much more emphasis than before to Lent. Even the Disciples church is found among those giving strong emphasis to this season.

2. It would be difficult to imagine, or produce, a practice which more completely fulfills the requirements of the practice with Christ condemned in Matthew 6:16-18, "Moreover when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance: for they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen of men to fast. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head, and wash thy face; that thou be not seen of men to fast, but of thy Father who is in secret; and thy Father, who seeth in secret, shall recompense thee."

It is true that the Catholics do not "disfigure their faces" to be seen of men to fast. They don't need to. Such an antiquated 'method of advertising would gain little notice in this modern age of high-pressure, stream-lined publicity. So the modern Catholics simply advertise their "fasting" in all the world's leading newspapers, usher it in with magnificent ceremonies so that all the news-reels can get pictures to run in every theater in the land, have huge billboard displays that tell the world "Lent has Begun," give radio programs which stress the importance of Lent, have all Catholic restaurant owners throughout the world advertise "Lenten Specials" on their menus, etc. etc. No, the "disfigured face" is definitely out. It simply can't keep up as a means of advertising with the ingenuity of the twentieth century!

3. It is a fulfillment of I Tim. 4:1, "But the Spirit saith expressly, that in later times some shall fall away from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of demons, through the hypocrisy of men that speak lies, branded in their own conscience as with a hot iron; forbidding, to marry; and commanding to abstain from meats; which God created to be received with thanksgiving by them that believe and know the truth." The Catholic observance of Lent is as perfect a fulfillment of this prediction as could be conceived.

Notice that the passage does not condemn the idea of fasting. Any Christian may fast—indeed, may even single out meat as the particular food which he will forego, if he desires. But the mark of apostasy lies in the commanding to abstain from meats. No Christian has the right to command another to abstain from meats, regardless of what he, himself, may do about it. And it is precisely in the point of commanding abstinence that Catholicism has fulfilled the prophecy.

4. This practice is in violation of Col. 2:18, "Let no man rob you of your prize by a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels..." The whole Catholic procedure in Lent is a "voluntary humility." Competent Bible students agree for the most part that the "voluntary humility" of this passage is no true humility at all, but rather a show or display of piety "to be seen of men." And the "worshipping of angels" is an integral part of the whole Catholic system, receiving particular emphasis in Lent.

The Other Side

But we would render a poor service, indeed, if we merely pointed out the errors of, Catholicism without at the same time showing the "more excellent way" of truth. If we, as Christians, are not to have special seasons of renewal and devotion, what can we do to keep our spiritual lives vigorous and true?

The church today has what she has always had for this purpose. Every needed thing is there. If the "means of grace," which have been here through all the ages, are used, no Christian will need the stimulus of a special "Lenten Season" to renew his love toward God.

For one thing, there is the Lord's Supper. Faithful attendance upon the worship of God is God's way of keeping the Christian's spiritual life in tone. Can there be any sin more serious than that committed by a Christian who responds to Christ's, "Do this in memory of me" with a rebellious "I won't"? A voluntary absence from the Lord's table will condemn a man to hell as certainly as will a refusal to be baptized or to lead an honest life.

Again, there is the Bible, the source of all spiritual life. How can a man expect to live a victorious Christian life when he neglects the means of spiritual strength? The Christian who uses the Bible and upon it "doth ... meditate day and night" will have slight need in his life for a "renewal of devotion" which Lent is supposed to accomplish.

Finally, prayer is not to be neglected in the maintenance of Christian devotion. "More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of." And not the least of such things is the finely balanced, truly successful Christian life.

Lent presupposes a period of indulgence and sin followed by a period of penitence and contrition. Christianity presupposes no such thing. Its ideal of life is that of a steadily developing devotion, year in and year out, so long as a man's life shall last. And so long as a Christian is actively engaged in the doing of good, and couples that active, "doing" life with the quieter, meditative aspects of Christianity—the Lord's Supper, Bible Study, and prayer—he will have little need for the "voluntary humility" of Lent.