Abstinence Dispensed


In my office is a calendar.  The calendar is the “Churchman’s Ordo Kalendar” which shows a whole host of good things like the saint of the day, which proper preface is said at the daily Eucharist if you are having one that day, the liturgical color of the day (the date numbers are color coded), and other helpful bits of information…it is a handy thing indeed.

Today, the number is white–so we should use white vestments for the altar and white stoles; that we’d say the “Gloria in Excelsis” during the Eucharist and that the proper preface to the Eucharistic prayer is that for Easter.  All rather standard stuff, really.  But today it lists something different and a bit peculiar:  “Abstinence Dispensed.”

“Hmmmm…., what is THIS is all about,” I thought as I consulted several of the books in my office that I thought might contain wisdom about this mildly humorous phrase.

The Old Testament lesson for today’s Morning Prayer lectionary comes from Exodus (Exodus 16:23-36)  and is the story about the Israelites learning about keeping a day of Sabbath during the week, and their experience of God providing manna for them to eat in the wilderness.

“The Israelites ate manna for forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.”

Exodus 16:35

The key words in that sentence, for me, were, “forty years.”  That is a LONG time to eat just one substance.  And apparently manna isn’t all that great because in a few short verses later in Exodus the chosen people of God grumble that they miss eating meat.

Enter “Abstinence Dispensed, ” which is the Catholic Church’s custom–and one that is carried over in a number of other Christian traditions–that, according to the Roman Church’s canon number 1251: “Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion of the Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As a part of the celebration of the Great Fifty Days of Easter–the fifty days starting at sundown on the day before Easter, which is marked with the Great Vigil of Easter service and continues through Pentecost Sunday–one is allowed to eat meat on Fridays in the Catholic Church.

So I wonder what it is that we allow ourselves to enjoy in celebration of the risen Christ?  I know that I don’t think about things that way–that there is something special that I can now fully enjoy, when otherwise I would not, if it weren’t for Easter.  What are those things, who are those special people in your lives that help to make Easter more special and  meaningful to you?   When the young man in white, from the passage of Mark’s gospel we read at The Great Vigil of Easter says, “…tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you,” (Mark 16:7) I wonder where is OUR Galilee?  Where are the places, who are the people, in what activities do we go to and participate in where we find the risen Christ?

Whether or not we are dispensing with abstinence like our Catholic brothers and sisters on this day, it is my prayer that we take a moment and prayerfully consider what in our lives we can, in celebration, now enjoy more fully because of the risen Christ.  And, what are those places, who are those people who are our own Galilee where we know the risen Christ awaits us, filling us with joy this Eastertide.

In Christ’s name,

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About matthewhanisian

Associate Rector at St. Alban's Episcopal Church, Washington, D.C.
This entry was posted in The Rev. Matthew R. Hanisian and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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