In a Church that celebrates the Rosary, changes its liturgical vestments for every season, and upholds a historic teaching of the Real Presence in the Communion celebration it’s not a stretch to call Catholicism a physical faith.
That physicality, among other things, remains a serious draw for converts like myself—the tug of a faith which emphasises not just the head and the heart but the hands, too.
So it makes sense, especially during the Lenten period, that Catholics are called to take up the traditional practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays.
Giving up something physical.
Like the Rosary beads and the changing colours of the priest’s vestments, from season to season, the giving up of something physical to remind us of the penitential nature of Lent is a very tangible, touchable, indication.
We Catholics practice a physical faith.
And Lent is all about the physical.
It begins when we “bury the Alleluia.”
Throughout the course of Lent the Alleluia celebrating the coming of Christ is sometimes physically buried. In these cases a literal hole is dug in the ground and a plaque, banner, or some other physical indicator of the “Alleluia” is literally put into the ground. This pseudo-funeral reminds us of Christ, his burial and resurrection, and the coming hope.The very physical act is deeply spiritual.
And the physicality continues.
As the colours of the cloths on the altar, banners, and our priest’s robes are changed into Lenten colours it’s, again, a physical reminder of the season.
Statues too, in many churches, are covered up completely to remind us of the sombre season.
And so abstinence from meat on Fridays make sense.
It makes sense because Catholicism is a physical faith as much as it is a spiritual one.
Our physical acts of obedience, penitence, and humility are important markers of our faith life in the same way as our prayers—these things, too, orient our hearts towards Something Greater.
So we “give up” meat on Fridays in the same way we pray our Rosaries; in the same way we pray at all. In the same way we cover up our statues and bury our Alleluia and fast on Ash Wednesday. We don’t eat meat as a very real, physical sign of our suffering with Christ. That we are “dust and [will] return to dust.”
To orient our hearts towards God through pious self-denial.
I recently heard a priest describe Lent as a kind of “medicine” for Catholics.
Something to set us back on the path of humility, charity, and thankfulness.
Thankful to our Lord and Saviour; Maker of the World — who lived, and died, to help make us new.