Yesterday was the start of “Quadragesima Sancti Martini” or St. Matin’s Lent (or the forty days of Saint Martin). In former times the Advent fast would begin today (at least in some places), and this year I decided to do the same. It’s name comes from the fact that St Martin’s day was yesterday and his feast used to be huge all around Europe. Almost as popular as the Nativity of John the Baptist as I have noted in previous posts on St. Martin.
The early history of Advent is very cloudy and there was nothing like a uniform observance of Advent until around the late sixth or early seventh century. The forty day fast was probably only common from about the sixth century to, maybe the 10th. However Pope Innocent III mentions it being observed in Rome in a letter he wrote in the early 13th century. So even then it does not seem there much consistency with Advent from place to place. But by the 14th century, the custom of fasting for Advent seems to have fallen into general disuse, though various holy bishops did try to bring it back from time to time (like St. Charles Borromeo, and Pope Benedict XIV when he was still archbishop of Bologna). Nevertheless at times such as these with so much profanation of the season I think a penitential Advent is needed now more than ever before. (Most of the info above comes from The History of Advent section of the Liturgical Year, vol 1, and the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Advent.)
So before starting this fast, we had some friends over for a Martinmas feast the other day. Rainy weather precluded a bonfire, but since we had to do it after work we probably wouldn’t have had time anyway. Goose is the traditional main course, but since the local butcher didn’t have any geese we got a couple of ducks instead. I had never had duck before but I became an instant fan. My wife simply roasted them in the oven with an apple and maybe an onion stuffed in them (we needed two to feed the five adults and ten children present). She also made sweet potato casserole, stuffing (just a box mix), and spinach artichoke dip. Our guests brought a spinach salad with balsamic vinaigrette, drinks, including some kind of really good Trappist ale and chocolate bacon toffee for dessert. I also made a pumpkin pie. Best dinner I have in some time, and a great way to lead into a fast. Of course the dinner also featured a toast to good St. Martin.
I completely forgot about making paper lanterns for Martinmas, but again the weather would not have been suitable for a lantern walk, we didn’t really have time, and I’m not sure where we would have walked to anyway! Maybe next year we can figure something out for that. But we did hear stories about St. Martin from the Golden Legend.
So now it is on to fasting and preparing for Christmas. This fast, although close in length to Lent will not be nearly as rigourous. First off there more days that will preempt my fast. In particular Thanksgiving, St. Andrew, St Nicholas (Sunday anyway), St. Ambrose, Immaculate Conception, St. Lucy (Sunday), and our Lady of Guadalupe. The Advent fast is also a good time to make reparation for the abuses of the season.
Otherwise I expect my Advent plans to be pretty much the same as last year. Which is good because my plans have been in flux for much of the last few years and it is high time to start settling into some customs that will hopefully be carried on by my children.
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