First Monday of Sawma Ramba: The Beginning of Great Fast

 

All the Oriental Churches begin the Great Fast before the Resurrection celebration on the first Monday before fifty days. A different tradition exists only in the Latin Church who begins it on Wednesday. It happens through the consideration of forty days of fasting in imitation of Jesus. Sundays, being days of Resurrection celebration, are not fasting days for all Christian traditions. Thus from six weeks they have thirty six days and need four days from the seventh week. The Latin Church counts the last four days of that week and hence she begins fasting on Wednesday. The Eastern Churches, on the other hand, consider the Passion Friday and Great Saturday as extra fasting days in relation to the Death and Burial of Jesus and thus count forty days to complete with Thursday of Pes’ha. So they begin fasting on Monday itself.

 

Similarly, the ash rite is typical of the Latin Church to begin the fasting. It appears to be a practice originated in the style of Old Testament practices. But none of the Eastern Churches observes this rite. All of them have prolonged “Divine Praises” or ‘Liturgy of the Hours’ to begin fasting. It must be in the light of our Lord’s exhortation in His Sermon on the Mount: “And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. ... But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, ... (Mt 6:16-18).” The Syro-Malabar Church also has such prolonged prayers in her Syriac sources. The “Denha Services” has already published them in Malayalam and in English. Their fellow brethren in other Oriental Churches, Catholic and non-Catholic, must be an inspiration for them in this regard.

 

It is very strange and really very sad that many, including several of their leaders, find it very difficult to unburden themselves of the yoke of latinization which was forced upon them during the Western colonial invasion during and after the 16th century, although Rome itself is eagerly urging and requesting them to do that as early as possible. The Liturgical calendar of the Syro-Malabar Church approved by Vatican and given to them in 1959 does not mention about the rite of ash at all.

Father Varghese Pathikulangara, CMI

 

Reflection on the Readings

Gen 1:1-19; Josh 1:1-15; Rom 1:1-25; Mt 5:17-37

 

Mt 5:17-37, the main part of the Sermon on the Mount, is presented by Matthew as the first detailed proclamation of Jesus. It is foundational in character and is the command of Jesus that every Christian should follow to become a member of the kingdom of heaven. Thus, today’s Gospel reading invites every Christian to act according to the commands of Jesus. What is demanded by Jesus in Mt 5:17-37? Just as Jesus has fulfilled all the Laws and prophets by his obedience to His Father’s will, we are to abide by Jesus’ commandment of love. The higher righteousness, which is manifested in the life of Jesus, is righteousness governed by the principles of love and charity, rather than by a legalistic approach to the commandments. Righteousness is a relational term, which implies loving faithfulness to God and neighbour in accordance with God’s will, manifested in the various commandments.  In the two antitheses in 21-26, 27-31, what is meant by this qualitatively higher righteousness is well-elucidated. In explaining the commandment “Thou shall not kill” (Exod 20:13), Jesus points to the origin and basic causes of killing, that is, anger and insult. Jesus demands that more than refraining from the final act of murder in a series of events, the root causes and deliberations that the final act of killing are to be avoided.

 

When Jesus advocates reconciliation with others as far superior to sacrifice and as a necessary prerequisite for meaningful sacrifice, he refers to the positive value that should govern the Christian way of behaviour. If anger and hatred lead to killing and disharmony (cf. Gen 37:4ff.) pardon and reconciliation foster restoration of broken relationships and cordiality. On the issues of adultery, too, Jesus goes to the deeper roots of it. He demands one to rectify the wrong attitude and internal deliberations that lead to the act of adultery, which is the culmination of lustful thoughts and desires (see 2 Sam 11:2ff.). Thus, the attention is shifted from the external act to the inner thoughts.

 

In Rom 1:1-25, St. Paul speaks of the saving (sotēria) power of the Gospel, which reveals God’s righteousness. He employs the term righteousness (dikaiosunē) to refer to the saving and liberating acts of God. The Gospel announces that God has acted faithfully, not only with respect to Israel, but as Creator, with respect to the entire humanity (Rom 1:18-25). And the human response to this divine act is faith. This faith is to be manifested in acknowledging God’s saving power in total dependence on Him. In this context, idolatry is mentioned as exchanging the glory that is due to God the Creator with other created beings. While faith is the proper response to God’s saving deeds, idolatry is a false response, which fails to recognise God’s saving power. During the Fast we are invited to reflect upon our responses to God’s saving power, revealed in Jesus Christ. Do we place our trust in God or on in man-made idols?

 

 

Credits: Father Joy Philip Kakkanattu, CMI <jpkakkanattu 'at' gmail 'dot' com>

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