Images de page

to open a door to licentiousness; when he thus keeps the appointed fasts, his practice corresponds with the intentions of our Church, and the injunctions of the Gospel; with what our Saviour regulated by his precepts, and recommended by his example: and such a fast we cannot hesitate to pronounce will be acceptable to the Lord *.



The scrupulous devotion of those, who observed with concern that the Lenten fast consisted of only six and thirty days, gave rise to the practice of fasting on the Wednesday, and the three following days in Quinquagesima week, in order to make the number of forty days complete. This institution was confined however to the Western Churches only: for though the Eastern began to fast upon the Monday in Quinquagesima, they did not accomplish the number of forty days, as every Saturday, except that immediately before Easter, was exempt from fasting. They afterwards began this fast on Sexagesima Monday.

Some think, that these four days were prefixed to Lent by GREGORY the Great; and it must be confessed, that proper Offices for the celebration of the Eucharist on Ash-Wednesday, are appointed in his Sacramentary: but it is equally certain, that these

See Smalridge, Serm. X.


were not added to the Book, till long after his death *. GREGORY himself, in his sixteenth Homily upon the Gospels, remarks, that from "this day" (Quadragesima, or the first Sunday in Lent)" are six weeks,

or forty-two days; that when the Sundays are "subtracted, only thirty-six days of fasting remain ; " and that, as the year is composed of three hundred "and sixty-five days, by fasting thirty-six, we de"vote a tenth part of our year to God.”

Even in the time of CHARLEMAGNE we find no mention of fasting on Ash-Wednesday, and the three succeeding days: yet it is probable that the practice was, in some few places, introduced about the end, or soon after the end of the reign of his successor. In 866 the institution appears to have been recent, and by no means general. It is in this year mentioned by BERTRAMUS (or rather RATRAMNUS) a Gallican Monk, in his vindication of the Western Church, against the errors of the Greeks, a work undertaken at the request of Pope NICOLAUS. Among other subjects of dispute, the Greeks had censured the Latins for fasting only six weeks, or thirty-six days, and before RATRAM wrote, they had never

The Sacramentary of GREGORY, and indeed all ancient Sacramentaries and Lectionaries, were from their very nature peculiarly exposed to adulteration. When a new title, a new passage, or a new ceremony came to be introduced and established in places where GREGORY's forms had been generally used, interpolations more or less would naturally follow. Still where GREGORY and the Missals differ, we discover what was the more ancient practice.


[ocr errors]

heard of this novel establishment of the additional four days in the Western Church. It is but fair to add in defence of the Latins, that the Greeks themselves did not then fast more than thirty-six days.

During the ninth century, the order to begin the Lenten fast on the Wednesday in Quinquagesima week was neither so general, nor so strictly enjoined, as to secure universal obedience in subsequent ages. After RATRAM's Apology was written, the Church of Rome, while NICOLAUS was Pope, continued to observe a fast of only thirty-six days; and in the Church of Milan, which has been peculiarly distinguished for its attachment to its own ancient rites, the common usage of beginning the Lenten fast in Quinquagesima week, has at no time been received. In the sixteenth century, when various reforms were made throughout that province, the fast of Lent was ordered to commence on Ash-Wednesday, in those places only, where the Ambrosian Offices were not used.

As soon as the Wednesday in Quinquagesima week came to be observed as the first day of Lent, either proper Offices were appointed for the day, or what I conceive to have been the case, the Offices that had before been employed on the Monday after Quadragesima, were, with the accompaniment of some additional rites and ceremonies, transferred to Ash-Wednesday. That part of the Offices to which I more particularly allude, regards the manner in which the Church treated those offenders, on whom it had imposed public penance, and who were in


tended to be re-admitted to Absolution, Reconciliation, or Church-communion before Easter. The Priest or Bishop having previously heard their confession, they were on Ash-Wednesday presented at the doors of the Church; and after their admission they were by the Priest cloathed with sackcloth, Ashes were thrown upon their heads; they were sprinkled with holy water, and the seven penitential Psalms were recited, all the Clergy lying prostrate on the floor. The Penitents thus attired, and barefooted, were then driven out of the Church, and not suffered to return into it again before the Thursday in Holy week, when they were admitted to the benefit of Absolution. At their expulsion from the Church, the Clergy, with the batoon of the cross in their hands, followed them to the door, where they recited from Genesis, "In the sweat of thy face shalt "thou eat bread till thou return unto the ground; "for out of it wast thou taken for dust thou art, "and unto dust shalt thou return;" intimating, that they cast them out of the Church, as God cast Adam and Eve out of Paradise after their transgression, The doors were then shut against them, and the Eucharist administered to the faithful *.

These formalities were at first intended for only

*Till the late revolution in France, it was customary in the Church of Notre Dame, at Paris, and in other Cathedral Churches, for notorious offenders, sometimes with ropes round their necks, to do public penance on this day. After which they were driven out of the Church, and re-admitted to Communion on Holy Thursday, i. e. the Thursday before Easter.


notorious and scandalous sinners; for those whose crimes were publicly known, and had given public offence. But in process of time, the pious and the devout were prompted, by what they conceived to be the spirit of penitence, to share in these humiliations and the ceremony of sprinkling ashes on the foreheads of the faithful on Ash-Wednesday is still retained by the Roman and Gallican Churches. When the service is ended, the congregation in general kneel at the rails of the altar; and the Priest sprinkles a small portion of wooden ashes on the forehead of each *. He at the same time marks the forehead with the sign of the cross, and repeats, as a solemn warning, the words," Remember, O man, "that thou art dust; and unto dust shalt thou reсс turn."

From this short account of the mode in which penitents were treated on Ash-Wednesday in the eleventh century, it is evident that some of the particulars were conformable to the more ancient discipline, and employed at other times of penance besides the first day of Lent: for in the earlier ages of the Church, sackcloth and ashes were among the externals of repentance. But it is equally clear that some other things, such as the use of holy water,

* It was the custom in England, and in other places, to make use of the ashes of the branches that had been carried in the procession on Palm Sunday in the preceding year, and had been blessed. These were kept tied up in little faggots in the sacristy, or vestry-room, till the morning of Ash-Wednesday, when they were burnt and blessed again.


« PrécédentContinuer »