"What are you hungry for?"
Sometimes the answer is obvious: pizza, Chinese food, a juicy steak. Our spiritual hungers are rarely that easy to identify.
The season of Lent, our 40-day preparation for Easter, is our annual invitation to grow in awareness of those deeper hungers. We need Lent to help us recognize that our meaning and mission are rooted in Jesus' dying and rising.
Together with those preparing for baptism, we join in outward signs of our inner conversion. Our year-round prayer, fasting and almsgiving take on new meaning during this season.
Catholics were once well known for their practice of not eating meat on Fridays, a specific form of fasting called abstinence. Stories abound of the lengths Catholics would go to keep this law. Of course, as with any law, it was not that difficult to meet the letter of the law and violate its spirit. One might enjoy a fine lobster dinner or fish fry at a local restaurant and still meet the law's requirements.
Catholics were also called to limit their food intake on a variety of other fast days. The reforms which followed the Second Vatican Council sought to simplify the often complicated questions that arose regarding fast and abstinence while re-emphasizing the continuing need for such practices.
The current laws took effect in 1966. They read simply: "Catholics who have celebrated their 14th birthday are bound to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and each Friday of Lent. Catholics who have celebrated their 18th birthday, in addition to abstaining from meat, should fast, i.e., eat only one full meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Smaller quantities of food may be taken at two other meals but no food should be consumed at any other time during those two days. The obligation of fasting ceases with the celebration of one's 59th birthday."
The spirit of the law may invite us to fast from other activities as well: from television or computer games, from eating out or from gossiping.
These minimum requirements make the most sense when they are combined with prayer and almsgiving. These age-old disciplines reflect our most fundamental concerns: our relationship with God (prayer), with our bodies (fasting) and with each other (almsgiving).
By Kathy Luty.
Fast and Abstinence
During Lent, Catholics in the United States abstain from
meat on Ash Wednesday and on all the Fridays of the
season. They fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
They are encouraged to continue the fast on Holy Saturday
as well, in union with those preparing for baptism. On a
fast day, people eat only one full meal; they may also eat
two partial meals and should not snack.
The laws of fast and abstinence may vary; however, they
accomplish the same goals.
• They help us imitate the example of Jesus, who fasted
40 days to prepare for his ministry.
• They help us display our common repentance. More
than declaring our personal desire for conversion of
heart, they strengthen our community by expressing
our corporate sorrow for social sin.
• They teach us a detachment from passions and turn
our hearts more toward God and less toward food.
• They make us more disciplined and more charitable.
The purpose of fast and abstinence, then, is not to punish
us but to make us more loving, more prayerful, more
detached from whatever may keep us from God.
Fasting is more effective when sustained by other prac-
tices such as prayer, charity, and almsgiving. Lenten litur-
gical prayers presume that the community is supporting its
prayer with fasting and its fasting with prayer.
Everyone age 14 and older is bound by the law of
abstinence. Younger children are to be educated in its
significance. Other Catholics are expected to avoid meat
on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. However,
fasting binds those from 18 to 59 years old. Catholics
younger and older than that need not fast on Ash Wednes-
day and Good Friday. Nonetheless, fasting is a praisewor-
thy penitential practice, even when it is not required.
Throughout the year Catholics fast from food and drink
one hour before sharing communion.