WASHINGTON — There is no getting around fasting during Lent.
Not only is it one of the three pillars of spiritual practice
along with prayer and almsgiving, but it also bookends the period of
preparation for Easter.
Fasting and abstinence is required of adult Catholics, ages
18-59, at the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday and at its end on Good Friday.
This means eating only one full meal and two small meals that equal one meal as
well as no snacks in between meals and no meat consumption.
Creighton University's Online Ministries program, "Praying
Lent 2017," says the purpose of fasting is to "experience the effects
of not eating. It also serves to be a penance or a sacrifice for the purpose of
"When we get hungry, we have a heightened sense of
awareness," it adds, noting that the practice helps people to clarify
their thoughts. "It is purifying and prepares us to pray more
deeply," the resource from Jesuit-run Creighton University in Omaha, Neb.,
In addition to the two days of fasting, Catholics 14 and older
are obligated to abstain from eating meat during Fridays in Lent.
The Friday practice is a sacrifice meant "to help Catholics
make much bigger sacrifices," the Creighton resource says, pointing out
that not eating meat doesn't give someone permission to eat a fancy fish meal.
And for vegetarians, it could mean abstaining from a favorite meal.
Fasting, which has deep roots in many religious traditions, is
meant to draw participants into deeper prayer and also link them with those in
For Christians, the tradition has roots in both the Old and New
Testaments. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells his disciples how they should
look when they are fasting — not gloomy, not neglecting their appearance and
with their faces washed so they do not appear to be fasting.
"Jesus says when we fast, not if," said Father John
Riccardo, pastor of Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish in Plymouth, Michigan.
He said the key to fasting is to attach an intention to the
practice "rather than seeing it as a flexing of our self-discipline
muscles." It makes the practice "not about me but someone else,"
he told Catholic News Service March 1.
"Fasting is heavy artillery," he added because the
person doing it is denying themselves something and trusting that God will use
Although fasting is technically not eating food, giving something
up can also be a form of fasting.
Msgr. Charles Murphy, author of the 2010 book: "The
Spirituality of Fasting: Rediscovering a Christian Practice" said there
are two forms of fasting — total and partial. A total fast is eating nothing
and drinking nothing for a designated period of time where a partial fast
involves giving up certain things for a specific period of time.
Partial fasting is a popular part of Lent where people choose to
give up something such as soda, candy, beer, television or more increasingly,
The top things people said they were going to give up this Lent,
according to OpenBible.info, a Web search engine that examined Twitter posts
during the week of Feb. 26, included a mix of social media and food and one
wishful thinking: school. The only other top 10 mention that wasn't a food or
drink was to give up swearing.
Partial fasting, just like a full fast, shouldn't be done to
benefit the person doing it. "It's not to make us more narcissistic, which
it can do," said Paulist Father Jack Collins, who helped Busted Halo, the
Paulist website, with videos like "You don't know Jack about Lent" a
few years ago.
"We don't fast to feel good, but to remind ourselves that
half the world goes to bed hungry," he said, adding that it's a way of
reminding us "we are our brother's keeper."
Paulist Father Larry Rice, director of the University Catholic
Center at the University of Texas at Austin, is not keen on people looking for
a loophole in their fasting practices, for example saying that Sundays don't
count and they can have whatever they gave up that day.
"I get that people want a pressure relief valve, " he
said, "but when I open my missal it says the First Sunday of Lent"
meaning Sunday counts.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops gives a little leeway
here. In its fasting guidelines it notes that if someone is giving something up
for Lent it is more effective if it is continuous — "kept on Sundays as
well. That being said, such practices are not regulated by the church, but by
Father Rice, who is giving up riding elevators for Lent, said the
Catholic college students he works with typically give up a food or social
media. "They won't give up texting. That would be like giving up
breathing," he added.
This age group, and Catholics at large, could take a small step
toward a phone fast by following the initiative of the Archdiocese of Hartford,
Connecticut, which urged Catholics to not use their phones on Ash Wednesday and
Good Friday this year "as a way to reflect on God and the meaning of the