Skip to comments.What is it to do fasting and abstinence? And, when do I do it? [Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
Posted on 03/04/2011 11:08:12 PM PST by Salvation
|What does it mean to "fast"?
To fast is to do without food. Its purpose is to experience the effects of not eating. It also serves to be a penance or a sacrifice - for the purpose of strengthening us. When we don't eat, for even a little while, we get hungry. When we get hungry, we have a heightened sense of awareness. If, when we eat too much, we have a sluggish feeling, when we fast, we have a feeling of alertness. Fasting is a wonderful exercise whenever we want to sincerely ask for an important grace from God. It is not that our fasting "earns" God's attention, but by fasting, we clarify our thinking and our feeling. It is purifying and prepares us to pray more deeply.
When do I fast?
Catholics, as a group, are required to fast on only two days of the year - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days, fasting means something very specific and limited. It means that one eats only one full meal in a day, with no food in-between meals. It is understood that two other meals, if one eats three meals a day, should not total one full meal. One might fast in a more complete way, i.e., eating only a portion of a single meal.
Of course, anyone is free to fast at any time that it is helpful for their prayer and reflection. It is not recommended that anyone with impaired health should fast in any way. It is also important to note that everyone who fasts should drink enough fluids on a fast day.
What does it mean to "abstain"?
To abstain is to not eat meat. Its purpose is to be an act of penance - an act of sacrifice, that helps us grow in freedom to make much bigger sacrifices. Of course, it would not make sense to make the sacrifice of not eating meat, and then eat a wonderful meal I might enjoy even more. Many people eat a vegetarian diet, for a variety of reasons, and eating meat is not even an issue. It might be possible to abstain from a non-meal that I really like, on all the Fridays of Lent. It should be noted that many people in this world cannot afford to eat meat or do not have access to it. Part of our abstaining from meat can place us in solidarity with so many of our sisters and brothers around the world.
Our "Cooking Lent" site has lots of helps for preparing meatless meals with great devotion: Cooking Lent.
When do I abstain?
Catholics, as a group, abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on all the Fridays of Lent.
What about "giving up something" for Lent?
When many of us were children, we might remember our giving up candy for Lent. And, it seemed like a real sacrifice. As we grew up, it was often more difficult to decide what special thing to do, to make Lent a special season - to get our attention and to prepare ourselves for deeper sacrifices.
What would help me grow in freedom? That's the question to ask. For some of us, it could be, committing ourselves to give up judging others, every single day of Lent. For others, it could be giving up a bad habit we've developed. For still others, it is obvious what seems to be the important choice for me during Lent.
For many of us, the choice may not be to give something up, but to add something to our daily lives during Lent. We may commit ourselves to extra prayer time. We may decide to do some service to the poor, once a week during Lent. We may choose to increase our almsgiving to the poor - perhaps related to something we choose not to do, e.g., some might choose not to go out to eat one night a week, and to give that total amount to the poor.
Whether it is fasting, abstaining or other acts of penance, the whole desire we should have is to use these means to help us grow closer to our Lord and prepare ourselves "to celebrate the paschal mystery with minds and hearts renewed." (First Preface of Lent)
May our Lord bless us all on this journey ahead.
To abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent means to not eat meat on those days. It does not intend the omission of eggs or dairy products.
The required fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday involves eating only one full meal on those days. One or two smaller meals may be taken on those days, but may not total one full meal. The required fast does not allow eating anything between meals.
"All Catholics who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year.
Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance."
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. March 9th!
Please post any good meatless recipes for Fridays!
And for Ash Wednesday too!
We Orthodox Christians, in obedience to the words of our Divine Savior, and in imitation of the saints, set aside a period of intense fasting and prayer in order to purify our spiritual senses so we may see the Holy Resurrection. Following the traditions handed to us by the saints, we abstain from all meat products, all dairy products, eggs, fish and olive oil the entire period of lent. Those who believe that we fast strictly only for the first and last week err and are not in accord with the teaching of the saints. We may have olive oil on Saturdays and Sundays and any day there is a Polyeleos. We may partake of fish only on the feast of the Annunciation and Palm Sunday.
Only those who are ill or for medical reasons are unable to fast are excused form this God-pleasing struggle. And those people may discuss the matter in confession. Children also fast to their ability, again, discussed privately with the spiritual father. Married couples may not have physical relations the entire of Great Lent. Televisions should be either unplugged or severely limited with no worldly music allowed. Families should gather in prayer more frequently and attend as many church services during the week as they possibly can. Holy Communion and Confession should be observed weekly.
To break the fast is a matter for repentance and confession. To do so by accident is understandable. To knowingly break the fast with no regard or as though fasting were unimportant is definitely a sin which must be confessed.
We can always develop elaborate defenses against fasting, but in the end, if fasting were not vital for our spiritual development, the Lord and His saints would not have commanded it. Some will say that fasting is a matter for monastics. They do not speak the truth. History shows a long practice of strict fasting for all Christians. We may say that fasting is a tool, and not the goal of the spiritual life. But, what physician would perform surgery without the beneficial use of an antiseptic or without washing his hands? What carpenter would build a house with no hammer? What gardener would tend his crops without implements? What Christian would advance to the heavenly kingdom without prayer and fasting?
Taken from a post to the internet ORTHODOX mailing list. lightly edited., 21 Feb 1995, from Fr. Alexis Duncan
Prayers for all Catholic/Orthodox that this may be a fruitful season of Lent for all, that we may grow closer to Our Lord, and that He bless us with His Love...
Lord, Thy Will Be Done, in Christ’s Holy Name I pray.
thank you Salvation.
There are indeed, and there are links on THAT thread too, to other great food threads.
I see intense abstaining clearly delineated (no meat/dairy /eggs/fish/olive oil. However the description of what intense fasting is, how much volume of food, is not detailed, like the Catholic one. What are the details?
Breathing while you are fasting is most important.
Now, most traditionalists SSPX, FSSP, ICK, etc., Fast for all 40 days, according to the pre-Vatican II practice. They also abstain year round on ALL Fridays and some other days, like Ember Days. Traditionalists also fast during Advent.
Also, some Catholics that partake in the wearing of the Brown Scapular, and the Sabateen Priviledge, abstain on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday YEAR ROUND. I know many people who do this.
"The Liturgical Year" by Abbot Gueranger (http://www.amazon.com/Liturgical-Year-Dom-Prosper-Gueranger/dp/1930278039), (which I highly recomend) a 14-15 volume work which explains the history and mass of every day of the year, also details in it all of the history of fasting in the Catholic Church. Even the fasting that the Catholics did in the 1940's (what traditionalists do today), is nothing compared to what the Church use to do in the past. Catholics never fast on a Sunday, NEVER, for it is a day of celebration!
“I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too.
For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. For the wrestler, it is said, is not crowned unless he strive lawfully.
To the end then, that when we have gone through the labor of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted, but afterwards went down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting.
The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted; in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it.
The Ninevites fasted, and won the favor of God.
The Jews fasted too, and profited nothing, nay they departed with blame.
Since then the danger in fasting is so great to those who do not know how they ought to fast, we should learn the laws of this exercise, in order that we may not run uncertainly, nor beat the air, nor while we are fighting contend with a shadow.
Fasting is a medicine; but a medicine, though it be never so profitable, becomes frequently useless owing to the unskillfulness of him who employs it. For it is necessary to know, moreover, the time when it should be applied, and the requisite quantity of it; and the temperament of body that admits it; and the nature of the country, and the season of the year; and the corresponding diet; as well as various other particulars; any of which, if one overlooks, he will mar all the rest that have been named.
Now if, when the body needs healing, such exactness is required on our part, much more ought we, when our care is about the soul, and we seek to heal the distempers of the mind, to look, and to search into every particular with the utmost accuracy.
I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honor fasting; for the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it.
Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works!
Is it said by what kind of works?
If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him!
If thou seest an enemy, be reconciled to him!
If thou seest a friend gaining honor, envy him not!
If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by!
For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies.
Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice.
Let the feet fast, by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles.
Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties.
For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting.
For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes.
Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. Thou shalt not receive a false report, it says.” +John Chrysostomos, Excerpted from Homily III “Concerning the Statutes”
Such an absolute statement is inappropriate, though not uncommon in some quarters. I will not speculate on the background of the priest who wrote this but I will point out this instruction by +Paul
"Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence [the affection due her]: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other [Do not deprive one another], except it be with consent for a time, that ye give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency [because of your lack of self-control]" I Corinthians 7:3-5
+John Chrysostomos comments on these verses preaching against continence for too long a time "Because great evils spring from this sort of continence. For adulteries and fornications and the ruin of families have often arisen from this." Homily XIX on 1 Corinthians.
Like all spiritual disciplines, we should "ease into them". You don't run a marathon when all you do for exercise is walk to your car each day. Serious, complete fasting should never be done without the guidance of a spiritual father lest one become discouraged and open to the destructive temptations of the Evil One and his minions.
I humbly thank you for your wonderful instruction...the full panoply of Christian views on this isssue in one paragraph!
And dittoes to the good Sts. Paul and the marvelous John Chrysostom.
**I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too.**
A great line! Avoid the sin!
You are always welcome, Eleni mou!
Thank you Salvation. Your daily postings are a real help to me.
Good advice. Also be mindful of what the fast is supposed to be.
“To abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all the Fridays of Lent means to not eat meat on those days. It does not intend the omission of eggs or dairy products.”
I know it’s a sin to eat meat on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, but is it a sin to eat meat on the other Fridays in Lent?
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I’m sorry you felt that way about the Catholic Church. I don’t see those traits at all.
My priest is willing to serve one and all.