In 1914 The Vegetarian Society reproduced an extract from the “Lenten Pastoral” address given by Cardinal Manning in 1876. It was not the first time that the organisation had highlighted the former Archbishop of Westminster's description of early Christians in their abstinence from meat. On this occasion however the extract served as an introduction to an ad hoc leaflet entitled “Thoughts about Lent”:
"They had the will and the courage to deny themselves. They knew that the effort, and the privation, and the daily consciousness of self-restraint, even in so light a matter as food and drink, were good for spiritual discipline. They did not believe that meat is the chief food of man, or that health requires it every day. They knew that some of the most robust and powerful races hardly ever taste meat, and that life and health, and the highest development of physical and mental force, may be sustained without it. We have the same facts before our eyes at this day; not in Oriental races only, but nearer home. Why then listen so credulously to the anxieties of friends, the counsels of physicians, the cravings of taste, or the fancies of our own minds?" (1)
The leaflet contained several recipes and suggested that:
"Lent, therefore, might be made the beginning of the better way in purity and simplicity of diet, not only for the flesh-eaters, but also for those vegetarians whose tastes are still luxurious and artificial."
The Vegetarian Society was not the first amongst Food Reform groups of the period to advocate a deeper reflection upon the nature of Lenten abstinence. An essentially Christian vegetarian society existed from 1895 and became influential by the 1920's. The Order of the Golden Age held as its central aim:
"...to hasten the advent of that promised Era, when love, mercy and goodwill towards all fellow creatures shall reign in every human heart." (2)
Whilst the organisation remained committed to "humanising the Churches" until its eventual demise in the 1950's; disillusionment with the Church Establishment had already set in before the end of the nineteenth century:
"On more than one occasion we have sent hundreds of those who occupy the pulpits of our land, a consignment of pamphlets, accompanied by a courteous letter bearing the signatures of a considerable number of Ministers of various denominations, asking for some expression of their opinion and their sympathetic co-operation, without receiving a single word of response from more than one in a hundred of them.”
"Is there any cause for wonder that so many humane and thoughtful persons are leaving the Churches, or that a force of practical Christian workers is being mobilised outside their walls?"
The Herald of the Golden Age, January 15, 1899.
Lent never became the focus of campaigning attention from vegetarians to the same extent as the Christmas season which has provoked a perennial upsurge in activism since the 1890's. (3) Yet The Herald of the Golden Age was widely circulated and admonished Christian readers on many occasions to consider a "permanent Lent". In 1901 an Anglican Vicar and longtime member of The Vegetarian Society wrote:
"...some of my friends think that they have done a great deal if they abstain from certain kinds of food in Lent. If they have derived benefit physically, mentally, spiritually, by eating less, why do they abandon 'the better way' in diet at the end of forty days? Why do they not make Lent a Lent of weeks, of months and years? “
"An example of simple living and spare diet should be forthcoming from the clergy and ministers of religion, but alas! We too often hear it said of these; "They are such great eaters!" Is it to be wondered at that our prayers are hindered?"
"The Observance of Lent" - by Rev A.M. Mitchell: The Herald of the Golden Age, March 1901.
A year later, The Herald featured the reflections of "A member of the Catholic Church:"
"A good plan for church people is to begin in Lent, on the two days that the whole Church Catholic, east and west, from apostolic days till now, has forbidden absolutely flesh meat. If at the end of the week you still survive, then extend the same regime to three or four days; should no dissolution then be immediately feared, extend the change of food to the whole of Lent. Yours will be a curious case if at Easter you cannot, with a gladder heart and quieter conscience, receive into your soul the All Merciful, Who, through the Bread and Wine, instituted the holy, pure, and bloodless sacrifice, which replaces all sacrifices of bulls or of goats."
The Herald of the Golden Age, March 1902.
An Editorial in the April 1907 copy of “The Herald” lamented an Episcopal 'dispensation' of that year which permitted the intake of meat "...because of the prevalence of influenza." (4) It was a notion which was to recur several years later and receive the challenge of a senior clergyman. (5)
A feature on "The Lenten Fast" appeared in the April 1912 edition of “The Herald” and largely comprised vegetarian recipes. The author was Dr. Joshua Oldfield, D.C.L., M.A., M.R.C.S., - a lifelong council member of The Order of the Golden Age. Dr. Oldfield had the following advice for non-vegetarian readers:
"Let me say quite frankly and quite encouragingly, that whereas thousands of devout people will so look upon Lenten abstinence as a burden grievous to be borne for forty days for the sake of religion, they will even seek a dispensation from it, other thousands are gladly adopting a perpetual Lenten dietary for the sake of bodily health, and are deriving the greatest benefit and blessing from it."
Yet Dr. Oldfield's analysis of the purpose to Lent was essentially at variance with the traditional Christian concept of the Penitential Season:
"...that abstinence from flesh-food is the cardinal and mystic rule on which the essence of Lenten abstinence is based." (6)
However “The Order” had no difficulty in reconciling their concept of Faith, Hope and Charity with a plea on behalf of the doomed animals destined for slaughter during Lent. Of the various humane reform societies which were active during the early decades of the twentieth century; “The Order” were particularly adept in their relations with the national press. The benefit of a legacy and the 'advantage' of an economic recession enabled the organisation to obtain a lease on prestigious London offices at 153 & 155 Brompton Road in 1909. The “Order of the Golden .Age”. reception room facilitated numerous press briefings which could well have led to a sympathetic feature which appeared in the “Daily Express” for the Lent of 1916. (7)
A long term administrative policy of publishing at under cost-price combined with a dearth of donations after World War One, led the O.G.A. to cease publication of The Herald after 23 years, in 1918. Yet The Vegetarian Society continued to encourage initiative amongst its members in their appeal to the 'better nature' of Churchgoers. (8) A certain amount of momentum already existed by the 1920's; as a letter to “The Vegetarian Messenger and Health Review” of March 1922 would indicate:
Our Lenten Opportunity
The season of Lent is approaching and church people anxious to get into the spirit of the Lenten Season and of the Lenten Services are preparing to forego some of the harmless or seemingly harmless indulgences for the remainder of the Church Year, indulgences in Recreation, Dress and Diet. The two former do not concern us as Vegetarians, but the foregoing indulgence in diet constitutes our Lenten opportunity.
Fasting in Lent has become identified with abstinence from meat, though not of the piscine variety.
What we Vegetarians have to do then is to get our Church friends and acquaintances to try a Vegetarian diet, not on Wednesdays and Fridays alone but every day of the week during the Lenten period; and as in these times people are so accustomed to having everything mapped out and made ready for them, it will not be sufficient merely to recommend a Vegetarian meal without also furnishing them with a Vegetarian dietary. Recipes would be supplied by the Secretary of the Vegetarian Society, 39, Wilmslow Road, Rusholme, Manchester, (9) to suit all ordinary tastes and constitutions, for many