Thursday, March 10, 2016

Why Catholics Practice Fasting and Abstinence?

The following comes from the Integrated Catholic Life:
Would you like to know the secret to a better, deeper, more joyful life in Christ?
Of course you would.  We all would.
Our bookstores are filled with books written to help us advance in prayer and the spiritual life. The “secret” we all look for is really no secret at all.  At its heart, the gospel message is one of self-denial and detachment from all things that are obstacles to our growth.  Jesus tells us that if we are to be his disciples, we must deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him (cf. Matthew 16:24). That is why Catholics practice fast and abstinence as a form of self-denial intended to lead us to perfection. So stick with me here and learn how self-denial will satisfy your deepest hunger.

The Catholic Disciplinary Laws of Fast and Abstinence

In these modern times, we don’t seem to hear much about fasting and abstinence anymore.  That’s a shame because the doctrine of self-denial is crucial to our becoming fully satisfied. Many of today’s Catholics associate fasting and abstinence only with the season of Lent and that’s a shame too. Let’s review the Church’s disciplinary law regarding Fasting and Abstinence:
  • Fasting During Lent – The Church requires its members to fast on two days each year — Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The Bishops in the United States have defined the minimum requirement of the fast for U.S. Catholics to be one full (but not excessive) meal plus other food not to exceed the full meal which may be taken in part at breakfast, noon or evening, depending on when one decides to take the “one full meal”. This law applies to Catholics between the age of 18 and 59.
  • Abstinence From Meat on Fridays — The Church requires its members to abstain from eating meat on Fridays as an act of penitence.  In the United States, Catholics are permitted to substitute another form of penance on Fridays outside the season of Lent. This law applies to all Catholics who are over the age of 14.
  • The Holy Communion Fast — Catholics must also fast for a minimum of one hour before receiving Holy Communion.
The entire season of Lent is a penitential time and our attitude and behavior during this season should be marked by some sort of self-denial.  The season of Advent is also a penitential season, but of less severity, and we should also mark this season with some form of self-denial, even if it is less than that practiced during Lent.
That’s it!  And so many of us complain and wait for the clock to tick down to midnight so we can have a ham sandwich. We need to turn our thinking around because uncontrolled appetites only become hungrier and more insatiable. That is why there is a myriad of “miracle” diets and weight loss programs on the market that promise results without effort. Well, there is only one source of miracles and that is God.  He has already provided us the ultimate diet program if we will but listen to him.
Although we often only hear about fast and abstinence associated with Lent, it is really a practice that is important all through the year.

So Let’s Broaden Our Understanding

As you can see, “to fast” generally means to significantly reduce the consumption of food or to forego it altogether for short durations. Abstinence is generally seen as avoiding the eating of meat.  But both acts are forms of self-denial.  More broadly speaking, self-denial is the act of giving up something that is good, be it food or some other “good” for the purpose of deepening our spiritual life and making acts of reparation for our sin or the sin of others. There is a long-history of the Catholic practice of fast and abstinence dating all the way back to the time of Christ. Our culture often incorporates these practices into our everyday language.  For example, the word breakfast is formed from two words, “break” and “fast” meaning simply that the first meal of the day breaks the fast from our last meal of the previous day. Another example, although this has nothing to do with fasting, is our word for the celebration of Christ’s birth which is formed by two words, “Christ’s” and “Mass” or Christmas.

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