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"When you fast. . .": An Ash Wednesday Post ^ | Wednesday, February 17, 2010 | Michael Barber

Posted on 02/18/2010 6:40:13 PM PST by Salvation

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

"When you fast. . .": An Ash Wednesday Post

Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the traditional period of "Lent". "Lent" is an old English word for "Spring", but of course for Christians it is more than a recognition of the changing of seasons, it is a call for a change of heart.

I recently did an hour-long radio interview on the practice of Lent on Catholic Answers radio, the podcast of which can be heard here. I'm not going to try to reproduce all I said there in this post.

In addition, to that interview I can also mention some helpful resources. For a great overview of some of the issues relating to Lent, see this fine piece by Jimmy Akin. I'd also highly recommend the excellent article from the Catholic Encyclopedia which is available for free over at inimitable In addition, my good friend Taylor Marshall has a helpful overview of the day's fast prescriptions on his site.

Here I wanted to just touch on a few issues.

The Antiquity of the Pre-Easter Fast

One thing that should be underscored is that the observance of a pre-Easter period of penance has deep roots in the early Church. Eusebius records a letter written by Irenaeus (2nd cent.) to the bishop of Rome, Victor I, in which he talks about the fact that there was controversy in the early Church as to how "the fast" should be celebrated. Note that while there was a debate about how long exactly "the fast" should be practiced, there was apparently no question in any one's mind that there should be some sort of period of penance prior to the annual celebration of the Lord's death and resurrection. Irenaeus also testifies to the antiquity of this practice.
"For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night. 13. And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to the fast confirms the agreement in the faith" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, 5, 24, 12).
Jesus' Expectation that His Disciples Would Fast

Why did the practice emerge? Well, I explain the logic of penance in greater detail in my interview, but suffice it to say, it is important to point out that according to the Gospels Jesus himself clearly expected his own followers to fast:
And when you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matt 6:16-18)

Now John’s disciples and the Pharisees were fasting; and people came and said to him, “Why do John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” 19 And Jesus said to them, “Can the wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? As long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. 20 The days will come, when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day. (Mark 2:18-20)
Notice that Jesus assumes that his followers would fast. In fact, as the second episode recounted above indicates, the idea that someone would not fast would have been unthinkable to an ancient Jew.

The Torah's Command to "Afflict Yourselves"

Indeed, the practice of fasting and of "afflicting oneself" in penance has deep roots in the Old Testament and Judaism.

Such practices were especially associated with Yom Kippur:
And it shall be a statute to you for ever that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, you shall afflict yourselves, and shall do no work, either the native or the stranger who sojourns among you; 30 for on this day shall atonement be made for you, to cleanse you; from all your sins you shall be clean before the Lord. 31 It is a sabbath of solemn rest to you, and you shall afflict yourselves; it is a statute for ever. (Lev 16:29-30)
The reference here is obviously to penitential self-denial, especially abstinence from food, e.g., fasting. That this is how this passage was understood is abundantly clear when one reads the Mishna. The rabbis explain: "On the Day of Atonement, eating, drinking, washing, anointing, putting on sandals, and marital intercourse are forbidden" (m. Yoma 8:1).

Not a "No" but a "Yes"

Finally, as I explained in the interview I linked to above, Lent is NOT about simply saying "No"--it's about saying "Yes". If Lent is simply understood in terms of a dour season or as a kind of spiritual "ultimate challenge" (e.g., an attempt at some ridiculously difficult penance for the sake of accomplishment), one would miss the whole point of the season.

Lent is about saying "Yes"--yes to loving God with all that we have and all that we are. True, this does involve saying "no" to certain things we may be attached to, but more than anything else, it is a "yes"--a yes to refusing to "gratify the desires of the flesh" (cf. Gal 5:15), in order to live a life more devoted to Christ our Lord.

I always turn to the story of Jesus and the rich young man as an example of the need for us to learn self-denial. I'll leave you with these thoughts:

Sunday, October 11, 2009: Liturgy Reflection from JP Catholic University on Vimeo.


TOPICS: Apologetics; Catholic; History; Theology
KEYWORDS: 1tim47; ashes; ashwednesday; catholic; catholiclist; hypocrisy
I know this is a day late, but there are some excellent historical facts in it.
1 posted on 02/18/2010 6:40:13 PM PST by Salvation
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To: Salvation
"When you fast. . .": An Ash Wednesday Post
Questions About Keeping the Ashes on Out in Public

Ash Wednesday in the Public Square (the phenomenon that draws in so many)
Ash Wednesday: It's Not Just For Catholics Anymore
Luxury hotel manager fired after making vulgar Ash Wednesday remarks
New York Palace Hotel boss Niklaus Leuenberger gets the door after Ash Wednesday slur
Homily for February 25, 2009 - Ash Wednesday - We just can’t live without ashes!

Remember, O Man [Ash Wednesday]
Ash Wednesday
The Day After Fat Tuesday [Ash Wednesday, Beginning of Lent]
Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast-Family observance Lenten season [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Other Christians embrace Lent: "We are reclaiming a sense of history"

More Protestants turn to Ash Wednesday
Being Catholic: Sacred Things, Ashes
Ash Wednesday
Where does Ash Wednesday get its ashes?
Every Ash Wednesday comes the question about ashes: to burn or to buy?

Pope will preside at Ash Wednesday Mass, procession; act will renew ancient tradition
Ash Wednesday: Preparing For Easter
Ash Wednesday: Our Shifting Understanding of Lent
Ash Wednesday

2 posted on 02/18/2010 6:44:58 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

I’ll be 62 next month. Last year I said what the heck, I’ll fast anyway (after 59 - not required) This year though I’m not fasting. I have to be careful what I eat all the time for a number of health reasons so it just isn’t fun to add another layer. I spend 30-45 minutes on devotions every morning. I’m pretty content with what I do. I guess I could spend an hour per day without my iPhone. hmmm. Nope. I’ll think of something to do for Lent.

3 posted on 02/18/2010 6:57:26 PM PST by Mercat (Horizontal Fracking)
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To: Mercat

Your phone idea sounds excellent to me. But I don’t own a cell phone. LOL!

4 posted on 02/18/2010 7:00:39 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Mercat

I have given up my M & M adiction for the next 6 weeks.

5 posted on 02/18/2010 7:17:43 PM PST by kempster
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To: Salvation

Ahhhhh. Finally relief from reading all the troubling news tonight. Thinking I will relax reading your postings for Ash Wednesday.
Thank you.

6 posted on 02/18/2010 7:41:48 PM PST by mojo114 (Pray for FReeper Jeff Head)
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To: Salvation

Fast for Tamuz?

7 posted on 02/18/2010 7:50:03 PM PST by Tzfat
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To: mojo114

That’s a lot different than the newspaper, isn’t it.

I love to turn on the TV in the morning and catch all the latest news. So, I’m not doing that and doing a meditation instead. Basically what you are doing.

Gee, what will I do next year? I hardly turn on the TV now. LOL!

8 posted on 02/18/2010 8:36:20 PM PST by Salvation ("With God all things are possible." Matthew 19:26)
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To: Salvation

Thank you for sharing- very good info in here.

9 posted on 02/18/2010 9:43:15 PM PST by conservative cat
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