Adventures in Medieval Lent: Part 2, Inspiration from the Communion of Saints, and the origins of the Paternoster

Since in the Middle Ages the Lenten Fast was standardized, pretty much everybody would have been participating in this fast. If you were healthy, you were fasting. (You were exempt if you were sick, pregnant, a child, or too old. The purpose of fasting is to remember the sacrifice God made for you, not to harm your health.) We don’t have that same solidarity in sacrifice in Day to day Lent. The only person that I have regular contact with doing this same fast is Janelle. A medieval person would not be offered a donut, made with eggs and milk, fried in pork fat, and filled with Boston cream (no, sir! They would not!) as an unwitting temptation. Also, not everyone is a practicing Catholic, and not everybody knows about Lent*. This adds a layer of difficulty not present in centuries past. (Nota Bene: I am not saying that there were no temptations in the Middle Ages, I’m merely highlighting the modern ones in conjunction with trying this fast.)
 
There is something to be said though, for historical and spiritual solidarity. Though these people are not alive and fasting now, we believe in the Catholic Church that they are still with us in prayer. Even though I'm fasting from a distance, the community of saints still has their watch over me. As a Catholic I believe that those who have gone before and are now with God will pray for me, especially those who the church has recognized as saints and those who are not official saints but still with him. I believe that the Medieval Saints (big S and small s!) pray for me, because I have asked them to pray for me, because I have asked God to remember me with them. And since God is outside of time, in a sense He sees us all fasting together for Lent. We are in community despite the distance in time, just as we are in community with those who distant in space.
 
It dawned on me recently that the origins of the Paternoster beads were similar to the origins of this 'Modernized Medieval Fast". The paternoster was initially developed to allow those who did not read to pray with the religious brother and sister. Each “Pater Noster”, and each “Ave Maria” stood for one of the Biblical Psalms prayed in religious communities. So the religious who did not read could pray, and the farmer in the field (who had no need to learn to read) could pray with the religious. The prayer of the church was one, in this sense. I see the attempt to participate in a Medieval-style lent as praying with those who have gone before me. I have to make some adjustments for situation in life (people couldn't read = I can't go back to 14th century England, for example), but I can do something analogous. 
 
The Paternoster was initially developed to allow those who did not read to pray with the religious brother and sister. Each “Pater Noster”, and each “Ave Maria” stood for one of the Biblical Psalms prayed in religious communities. So the religious who did not read could pray, and the farmer in the field (who had no need to learn to read) could pray with the religious. The prayer of the church was one, in this sense. I see the attempt to participate in a Medieval-style lent as praying with those who have gone before me.
 
Remembering the example of Christians who have come before is an encouragement.  Even if not every other Christian right now is going through the same thing, we're all sacrificing to our ability this Lent. And some of us (all of us, most likely) are struggling and experiencing temptation. And we have the grace of God and the path trod by those who have gone before to light our way. **
 
The Last Supper

From a 12th century German manuscript; an illumination depicting the Last Supper, housed in the British Library.

*I had an amusing experience with a grocery store clerk on Ash Wednesday. He asked me, “Is the face painting thing new?” I told him what the ashes were for, and that it was Ash Wednesday. He’d heard of the day, he’d just never seen the ashes on anyone’s forehead before this particular Ash Wednesday.

**A Blessed Holy Thursday to all!

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