Lammas Day and the Dormition Fast
August 1st is one of those splendid days when we are reminded by the Church of both thanksgiving and renewal.
Butler explains that the 1st day of August is called by us Lammas-day, softened from Loaf-mass; a mass of thanksgiving for the first fruits of the earth, or of the corn being anciently celebrated in England on this day. It was kept with a solemn procession, and was also called the Guild of August. The solemn blessing of new grapes was performed both among the Greeks and Latins, in some places on the 1st, in others on the 6th day of August, and is expressly mentioned in ancient liturgical books, as Cardinal Bona and others take notice.
We owe to God, in a special manner, the first fruits of our lives, and of all our actions, in acknowledgement that he is our beginning and last end. Of this tribute he is extremely jealous, as he expressed in the old law by his rigorous precept of the sacrifice of first fruits.
A Christian, to acquit himself of this duty, ought to begin every day, and every undertaking, by fervently renewing the consecration of himself and of all his actions to God, with an humble sacrifice of thanksgiving for his benefits, and an earnest petition of the divine blessing and grace to make a good use of the gifts of heaven.
So it is on this day that we might think it peculiar to consider the commencement of a fast. However that is exactly what Eastern Catholics begin on what they refer to as the Dormition Fast in the lead up to the Glorious Feast Day on August 15th: The Assumption of The Blessed Virgin Mary.
Dormition is an anglicised form from the Latin meaning sleep, hence the Dormition Fast is a fast in honour of the Blessed Virgin Mary whose falling asleep, the dormition, culminates in the celebration of her Glorious Assumption into Heaven two weeks later on the 15th of the month.
Is it not then an ideal time then to spiritually renew ourselves? Fasting before important feast days is an important step in preparing ourselves for receiving graces on the feast itself.
The Church has over the years lessened the obligations to fast so much that Catholics are only obliged to fast two days per year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The consequences of these relaxations have tended to make fasting a rarity which people dread with undue reservations. Remember that fasting in the Church allows for one normal meal, supplemented by two small collations (small meals) that together do not equal the normal meal.
I learned much of what I know about fasting through reading Owen J Blum’s wonderful book St. Peter Damian: His Teaching on the Spiritual Life. Whenever I have been tempted to quit a fast, I often look to St Peter Damian for help and inspiration. This Holy Saint’s spiritual life was underpinned by penance and fasting.
And no wonder; fasting it should be remembered, is beneficial both to the body and soul. The mortification of the body, through the moderation of food and drink helps to sharpen the intellect.
Proof of this isn’t hard to come by: how often have we felt sluggish and lacklustre after a large meal? The body uses energy to digest food and we experience this when we tend to feel a little sleepy after a meal: endearingly referred to as the ‘Nana Nap’.
Strange then the traditions of hearty breakfast feasts before exam days and the like. Teachers should raise an eyebrow and note that if you want your students to be sharp, exhort them to be modest in their breakfasts!
Fasting furthermore fortifies the soul and brings the body into subjection, curbing concupiscence and strengthening our will. It focuses our mind towards prayer and to overcome temptations towards sin. But remember that as in all other things, fasting is only pleasing to God if we likewise abstain from sin and good works.
Teaching is a marathon and at times we all need to step back and renew ourselves. So perhaps this may be an ideal time then, in honour of The Blessed Virgin Mary, to spiritually renew ourselves in preparation for the approaching feast on August 15th.