As Lent approaches, we may ask how important is fasting.

Very, said an 18th-century pope:

Pope Benedict the Fourteenth, alarmed at the excessive facility wherewith dispensation were then obtained, renewed, by a solemn Constitution, (dated June 10, 1745,) the prohibition of eating fish and meat, at the same meal, on fasting days.

The same Pope, whose spirit of moderation has never been called in question, had no sooner ascended the Papal Throne, than he addressed an Encyclical Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic world, expressing his heartfelt grief at seeing the great relaxation that was introduced among the Faithful by indiscreet and unnecessary dispensations.

The Letter is dated May 30th, 1741. We extract from it the following passage:

The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it, we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the Cross of Christ. By it, we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it, we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help.

Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God’s glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted . . . that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe.

To be noted is the language of the day by a pontiff of the day, this warfare business and the like. But equally noteworthy is that “detriment to God’s glory,” with focus on what’s owed God as opposed to our familiar focus, on what’s good for us.

The new liturgy since after Vatican 2, for instance, leaned over backward to inject language and ritual intended to provide an increased “pastoral” focus, which is not missing from this pope’s message, to be sure.

Nor is what’s owed God missing from today’s official church utterances, while the day-in and day-out tenor and tone and language implies, I think, a more social-service mentality.

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