Reading Charlotte Bronte's "Villette" gave me an interesting slant on some aspects of Roman Catholicism. The Bronte girls got a good part of their educations in Belgium, and a first-hand look at the older religion from the perspective of Anglicanism, its direct descendant (which they find very different, but which actually has a lot in common).
The Catholic teachers and schoolgirls in Villette enjoyed many church festivals which provided holidays and breaks from what was otherwise a rather tedious and unchanging lifestyle -- developed and made traditional by all the centuries of "dark-age" and medieval life. The RC church did this PURPOSELY. All the pleasant, fun, memorable events of life were centered on holy days, thus centered around the church. LIFE was centered around THE CHURCH.
The church may be corrupt but it ain't stupid. Jesuits have the reputation of having been astute psychologists before the concept of psychology even crystalized! In the winter all over Europe (even the warmer places), there was a steadily decreasing supply of the kind of food people preferred to eat. The darkness (before glass windows), the dearth, the cold, the depressive aspects of late winter.... How can we use this to our advantage...?
We can make a virtue of necessity! :-) We can take our "Jesus' life story" of x number of days of misery, and tell our people to mimic it, to voluntarily suffer for the sake of their souls' health! YES! By the time Easter comes, springtime will usually have sprung, and the fasting ends with feasting on the new milk, butter, eggs, and spring greens and lamb.
At least this is how I interpret the phenomenon....
Mardi Gras, as I suggested yesterday, is the "holiday" which has no other rationale than to feast -- be indulgent with everything a good Catholic should be giving up for the next six weeks. People were intent upon using up everything that would probably go bad before Easter Day arrived. Parts of Europe created the tradition of pancakes on Shrove Tuesday because making pancakes uses up your eggs, butter, sugar, etc -- and they're great with bacon, sausage, ham and other meatstuffs which were supposed to be off the menu for a month and a half! (Later reformations by the Church loosened up what was allowed, until only Fridays became no-meat days ... probably when modernization of production and transportation allowed greater availability? ...or am I being too cynical?)
Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Lenten season. I AM fasting this morning, but only because of my feasting behavior of yesterday afternoon. ;-) I often find it therapeutic to follow a carb-fest with a recovery period for my body to readjust to fat-burning. Later this afternoon, when the weather gets as warm as expected, i'll probably go out and walk the dog so as to normalize my glucose-insulin-glycogen metabolism to the best of my ability. A little fasting, a little "forced" activity (Lenten hardship?) ... I don't think that does much for the SOUL, but it's definitely got value for the body.
I may even end up eating fish every Friday, but it will have nothing to do with privation and self-denial -- it's because I really enjoy eating fish, and all the parish churches of St. Louis have big signs outside promoting their fund-raising "fish fry events" which will remind me to go home and cook something a lot more tasty and health-conscious. I found a recipe for low-carb batter which turned out pretty good! A few tweaks, and look out Long John Silver!