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The fast must not be broken on the fifth day of the last week in Lent [i.e., on Maunday Thursday], and the whole of Lent be dishonoured; but it is necessary to fast during all the Lenten season by eating only dry meats.
Ancient Epitome of Canon L.
It is not right on the fifth feria of the last week of Lent to break the fast, and thus spoil the whole of Lent; but the whole of Lent should be kept with fasting on dry food.
That long before the date of the Quinisext Synod the fasting reception of the Holy Eucharist was the universal law of the Church no one can doubt who has devoted the slightest study to the point. To produce the evidence here would be out of place, but the reader may be referred to the excellent presentation of it in Cardinal Bona’s De Rebus Liturgicis.
I shall here cite but one passage, from St. Augustine:
“It is clear that when the disciples first received the body and blood of the Lord they had not been fasting. Must we then censure the Universal Church because the sacrament is everywhere partaken of by persons fasting? Nay, verily; for from that time it pleased the Holy Spirit to appoint, for the honour of so great a sacrament, that the body of the Lord should take the precedence of all other food entering the mouth of a Christian; and it is for this reason that the custom referred to is universally observed. For the fact that the Lord instituted the sacrament after other food had been partaken of does not prove that brethren should come together to partake of that sacrament after having dined or supped, or imitate those whom the Apostle reproved and corrected for not distinguishing between the Lord’s Supper and an ordinary meal. The Saviour, indeed, in order to commend the depths of that mystery more affectingly to his disciples, was pleased to impress it on their hearts and memories by making its institution his last act before going from them to his passion. And, therefore, he did not prescribe the order in which it was to be observed, reserving this to be done by the Apostles, through whom he intended to arrange all things pertaining to the churches. Had he appointed that the sacrament should be always partaken of after other food, I believe that no one would have departed from that practice. But when the Apostle, speaking of this sacrament, says, ‘Wherefore, my brethren, when ye come together to eat, tarry one for another, and if any man hunger let him eat at home, that ye come not together unto condemnation,’ he immediately adds, ‘And the rest will I set in order when I come.’ Whence we are given to understand that, since it was too much for him to prescribe completely in an epistle the method observed by the Universal Church throughout the world it was one of the things set in order by him in person; for we find its observance uniform amid all the variety of other customs.”198198 Aug. Epist. ad Januar.
In fact the utter absurdity of the attempt to maintain the opposite cannot better be seen than in reading Kingdon’s Fasting Communion, an example of special pleading and disingenuousness rarely equalled even in controversial theological literature. A brief but crushing refutation of the position taken by that writer will be found in an appendix to a pamphlet by H. P. Liddon, Evening Communions contrary to the Teaching and Practice of the Church in all Ages.
But while this is true, it is also true that in some few places the custom had lingered on of making Maundy Thursday night an exception to this rule, and of having then a feast, in memory of our Lord’s Last Supper, and after this having a celebration of the Divine Mysteries. This is the custom which is prohibited by this canon, but it is manifest both from the wording of the canon itself and from the remarks of the Greek commentators that the custom was condemned not because it necessitated an unfasting reception of the Holy Eucharist, but because it connoted a feast which was a breaking of the Lenten fast and a dishonour to the whole of the holy season.
It is somewhat curious and a trifle amusing to read Zonaras gravely arguing the point as to whether the drinking of water is forbidden by this canon because it speaks of “dry meats,” which he decides in the negative!
Those, therefore, who without being ill, fast on oil and shell-fish, do contrary to this law; and much more they who eat on the fourth and sixth ferias fish.
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