Why Do Catholics Fast During Lent?
Lent is always an interesting time of the year because it is most notable for “fasting.” Most Catholics know that the basic “don’t eat on Fridays,” which is popularized by the many Lenten fish fries. But, most Catholics don’t know that fasting goes deeper than just giving up meat on Fridays. So, here is the quick account on why do Catholics fast in Lent and why is it important?
The Official Lenten Rules
The first thing we need to understand is the difference between fasting and abstinence. Fasting is a discipline in which we limit the amount of food or drink we intake. Abstinence is the discipline of not partaking at all in certain food and drinks. So, the actual Lenten rules are as follows:
– We fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. We fast by only eating one full meal with one or two half meals. You may drink in between meals, but no snacks are to be consumed between meals. We abstain from eating meat.
– Every other Friday in Lent we abstain from eating meat.
– All person from the age of 14 upwards participate in abstinence, and those from the ages 18-59 participate in fasting.
– Sundays are not counted towards the 40 days of Lent, but fasting is still encouraged.
Our practices of fasting and abstaining have deep roots in our Biblical tradition. One can easily remember in the New Testament when Jesus fasted for 40 days and was tested by the devil in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11). Consequently, abstaining is found within the Old Testament of Daniel, in which his abstaining from meat reminds us of Christ’s death on Good Friday, “In those days, I, Daniel, mourned three full weeks. I ate no savory food, took no meat or wine, and did not anoint myself at all until the end of the three weeks” (Daniel 10:2-3).
Fasting and abstaining go beyond just limiting our food and water, but can also be a practice in which we limit or abstain ourselves in other areas of our life (examples of this usually include: candy, sweets, chocolate, soda, etc.). However, when we practice this type of fasting or abstaining we shouldn’t be choosing something easy. This type of fasting or abstinence really asks us to look at our lives and see if there is anything that is getting in the way of us growing closer to God, or is there anything that we take for granted. Consequently, we then look for opportunities to grow closer with God.
I think sometimes fasting gets a negative connotation, in which we become miserable because we don’t get to do things the way we are used to. But, really fasting is our opportunity to rejoice in the faith we have, and remind ourselves of the blessings we do have. I remember a priest who decided to give up “hot water” for Lent. Every day he took a cold shower, and it helped him to appreciate the blessing that we have in warm water. So, the question we need to ask is, “Is there anything getting in the way of us growing closer to God?”, or “Is there something I can give up to show how blessed I truly am?”
So, in the remainder of time we have in Lent I challenge you look into your own life and see what else you can fast or abstain from. Remember the words Jesus left us in Gospel of Matthew about fasting, “When you fast,* do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you” (Matthew 16:16-18).
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