Essays/Articles and Scriptural Studies

(Missale Romanum 1962)

For our weekly meditation on the Collects of the Roman Missal, we consider one of the optional Collects of the Mass for Saturday of Embertide in September (Missale Romanum 1962). The following is the English translation of this Collect from the Angelus Press edition of the Roman Catholic Daily Missal:

“Grant unto us, we beseech Thee, almighty God, that fasting from food we may be filled with Thy grace, and by abstinence may become stronger than all our enemies. Through our Lord, etc. Amen.”

Over the summer, my cousin and his wife mentioned one evening over dinner that they fast at seasonal intervals for health reasons. Intrigued, I mentioned how the Church has a similar practice in her ancient, apostolic tradition of the twelve Ember days. Four times each year, roughly around the beginning of each new season, there are three days within a week especially devoted to prayer and fasting. The intention: to sanctify, in advance, each month of the coming season.

While fasting and abstinence can yield health benefits, Christian fasting, by contrast, focuses primarily on spiritual health. The Collect above specifies this quite clearly: our efforts to minimize our intake of food is meant to have an inverse spiritual effect of expanding our capacity to receive divine grace. 

It is this fact alone that allows for the second (rather astonishing) petition of the Collect to make any sense at all: “[that] by abstinence [we] may become stronger than all our enemies.” The enemies under consideration here are not the demons proper, but rather, our vices, as well as the temptations which the demons precipitate. Our penances are the means by which our souls can receive more of the power of God’s grace, according to the first petition. And it is this grace which slays our vices and fortifies our souls against the temptations wrought by the demons, rendering us “stronger than all our enemies.” As Jesus said, “apart from Me you can do nothing” (cf. Jn. 15:5, RSV, emphasis mine). [Warning: we should never be so foolish as to think that we can face the devil head-on by our asceticism].

In view of this, consider the following remarks of St. Paul on God’s grace in the face of human weakness: “Three times I begged the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness.’...for when I am weak, then I am strong” (cf. 2 Cor. 12:8-10, RSV). This frank admission helps us to interpret Jesus’ words to the disciples in their proper sense: “But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting” (cf. Mt. 17:21, Douai-Rheims, emphasis mine). Fasting, while sometimes indispensably important in the spiritual struggle, is never an end in itself, but strictly a means to receiving more of God’s grace for victory.

Penance is a de-facto part of Christian life, as we read in the Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 1435: “Taking up one's cross each day and following Jesus is the surest way of penance.” Hear it: The surest way of penance. In order for us to make this daily opportunity for holiness more fruitful, however, we also need to engage in other voluntary penances at regular intervals. The fasting of Embertide, while optional, may still prove to be of welcome assistance in our normal spiritual struggle outside of Lent, because we truly need all the means of grace the Church provides for us. Observing Embertide in some fashion, therefore, whether by fasting or some other penance, will help us to bear whatever cross we already have to bear a little more bravely than before. This itself is highly meritorious when done in union with Christ, and can greatly sanctify our daily habits.  

(David Allen)

Mr. David Allen, M.T.S., is the lay Pastoral Associate for our parish of Mary Immaculate of Lourdes.


About Our Parish

Mary Immaculate of Lourdes is Newton and Needham Massachusetts's oldest Roman Catholic Parish. Founded as Saint Mary's Parish in 1870 it was renamed "Mary Immaculate of Lourdes" when the new Church was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, 1910. In addition to being a regular territorial parish of the Archdiocese of Boston it is also a "Mission Parish" since 2007 with a special apostolate for the Traditional Latin Mass (1962 Missal).

Privacy Policy
Return Policy

Christian Life

"If you are willing to serenely bear the trial of being displeasing to yourself, then you will be for Jesus a pleasant place of shelter."
- St. Therese of Lisieux (+1897)

Contact Us