Fasting is one of those things that many Catholics participate in, but can’t really explain correctly why we do it. People fast for many other reasons than religion, there may be medical or dietary reasons. Many Catholics fast because it says on our Catholic calendars that we are supposed to abstain and fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – and we know they are important days in the Church – so we just shouldn’t eat as much on those days – right? And is there really a difference between fasting and abstaining? Here is the what, why, how and when of fasting.
What is Catholic fasting?
Fasting is eating only one full meal and two light meals during a day. It can also be as limiting as just eating bread and drinking water during a day. It is also the giving up of something that may be difficult to give up, but done in order to gain dependence on God and not on whatever was given up. It our way to change our focus to God and Jesus and His sacrifice rather than on our own physical needs or wants.
Why do we fast?
We fast to change our focus off of food and move it onto God. While in the desert, the devil tempted Jesus by telling him to change a rock into bread, and Jesus responded, “Man does not live on bread alone.” This is in reference to the Manna that was given to the Israelites in the desert wandering because they thought God brought them out to the desert to die. They were more focused on their stomachs rather than trusting that God would provide for them. God is also here for us, but we lose focus on God because we are so focused on the temporal things of this world. When we give up food, we are to change our focus off of our hunger and turn it towards God in prayer. Offering up our hunger as a sacrifice for those times when we have lost focus on God.
How do we fast?
Fasting is only required for those healthy people ages 18 to 59, without any dietary issues. Abstaining is not eating of meat for those 14 years of age and older and does not include meat juices i.e. chicken broth, eggs, milk, butter/margarine and products or condiments made of animal fat. We also have to make a conscious choice to give up that food and give it back to God as a sacrifice, not just give it up to lose a few pounds. We are not to change our appearance and announce to everyone around that we are fasting. We are to keep it to ourselves and not make a big deal of it to others. If we do so, we are like the hypocrites Jesus speaks of and our reward will be from the people we’ve announced it to rather than from God. (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18)
When do we fast?
According to the United States Bishops, we are to fast at least one hour before every Mass when we are to partake in the Holy Eucharist and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We are to abstain on those days plus every Friday in Lent. We can also choose to fast any time throughout the year as a sacrifice to God, maybe to strengthen a prayer we would like to have answered or in atonement for our or the sin of someone else. Some good days to fast: anniversaries of the death of a loved one, on the feast day of a beloved saint, or a day we remember as a sinful time in our lives and we want to offer that up for that sin.
We can also give something up for Lent, which we typically don’t call a fast, yet that is what it is. We are fasting from gum, deserts or even biting our nails, and we should offer those up for our sins and the sins of the whole world. When we are tempted by those items, we should turn to God in prayer and He will strengthen us to overcome that temptation.
Fasting is a simple Catholic Upgrade you can use to draw closer to God and depend on Him rather than on your own self. Use fasting this Lent as beautiful prayer to God to atone for your sins and the sins of the whole world and God will bring you blessings this Lent.
Also, be sure to sign up for my daily Lenten Reflections starting on Ash Wednesday and going through Easter!