Lent and Fasting: Origins and Histories

It"s the spiritual season of Lent. Recall the the three self-controls of Lent space prayer, fasting, and also almsgiving. Among the questions world frequently have around Lent comes to fasting. Because that example, why is that important? Is it required? and what"s the background of fasting in the Church? linked to fasting is the exercise of abstinence, v its own set of questions.

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To begin, let"s start with some basic definitions. Today, people talk around fasting in various ways, frequently with improving physical health in mind. We might think that juice fasts or water fasts or carb fasts. Spiritually speaking, fasting has actually a different meaning.

What does it average to rapid in regards to Lent? To quick is come abstain from food. St. Thomas Aquinas notes that fasting is composed of taking only one meal a day (ST, II-II, q. 147, a. 6). This an interpretation has to be refined freshly by the Church in terms of what"s permitted during Lent.

We can also make a difference between fasting and also abstinence in recommendation to the Lenten precept that the Church to observe the job of fasting and also abstinence (CCC 2043). Once abstinence is supplied in reference to Lent, we space speaking around regulating the high quality of the food the is taken. Because that example, top top Ash Wednesday, Friday that the Lord"s Passion, and also all various other Fridays during Lent, Latin Rite lifwynnfoundation.orgs room obliged to abstain from eating flesh meat. On Ash Wednesday and also Friday that the Lord"s passion, lifwynnfoundation.orgs both fast and also abstain from meat meat.


What about the origin and history of fasting in the Church? There"s an old practice the fasting in sorrow and repentance because that sins found in the Old Testament. Fasting also accompanied fervent prayer come God. The idea was the fasting do one"s prayer more acceptable come God. It to be a way of demonstrating one"s level of commitment before the Lord. These principles remain precious today. God desire that we prove our love because that him. As the old adage goes, actions speak louder than words.

In the new Testament, the lord Jesus does no seem come emphasize fasting while his disciples room with him. As soon as questioned around this by John"s disciples, Jesus insists that fasting is inappropriate in time of joy. In speak this, he contrasted himself come the bridegroom and also his disciples to wedding guest (Matt 9:14 ff; note 2:18 ff; Luke 5:33 ff). In various other words, when Jesus and his disciples room together, it is a time of delight like a wedding feast, not a time for fasting. Jesus note that as soon as the bridegroom is bring away away, then there will be fasting, which appears to indicate fasting together a authorize of mourning the ns of the bridegroom and additionally in anticipation of and preparation because that his return.

In the early on Church, we find that the apostles were familiar with fasting and did so prior to making crucial decisions come gain magnificent assistance (Acts 13:2 ff; 14:23).

In the principles of anticipation and also preparation for the mr Jesus we discover a connection to the practice of fasting and abstinence throughout Lent. Lent is a time of penance and atonement for sin in preparation for the celebration event of the resurrection the the Lord. Fasting and also abstinence room integral to that preparation for numerous reasons, together as structure virtue, self-mastery, and helping to avoid sinful tendencies that may eventually lead come spiritual fatality in the case of mortal sin.

The exercise of fasting during Lent finds its genesis in our Lord"s journey into the desert wherein he fasted and also prayed for forty days and nights in ready to start his publicly ministry (Matt 4:1-2; Luke 4:1-3). The forty days of Lent room in imitation the Christ"s time in the desert. Throughout Lent, the Christian walks into the desert v Christ and also fasts so as to have the strength to prevent temptation v the assist of God"s grace. Lent is likewise a penitential season in which we strive to atone because that our sins and purify our resides in preparation for the celebration event of Christ"s glorious climbing from the dig on Easter Sunday.

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Today, numerous lifwynnfoundation.orgs fast and also abstain just on Ash Wednesday and Friday that the Lord"s Passion and abstain from flesh meat on other Fridays of Lent, i beg your pardon is the minimum compelled by the precepts that the Church. In old times, however, the forty-day duration of Lent sometimes associated extended and much more austere fasts, as part lifwynnfoundation.orgs exercise today. For example, some lifwynnfoundation.orgs fasted each of the forty days (except because that Sunday and sometimes Saturdays) as much as the 9th hour or 3:00 p.m., i beg your pardon is the hour the Christ provided up his soul on the overcome (Matt 27:50). The intent was to unite one"s enduring through fasting come the enthusiasm of Christ. Because our Lord"s suffering finished at the 9th hour, so also was the fast finished at the hour. St. Athanasius recommended in his Festal Letter (AD 331) the Christians communicate in a forty-day fast prior to a stricter fast during Holy Week.

The chronicler Socrates (not the thinker that lived before Christ) reports that Christians fasted in varied means according come their neighborhood customs. Some abstained from all living creatures, others ate just fish, rather ate birds and also fish, rather ate only bread, and also still others abstained from every food. That reports that the fast finished at the 9th hour follow to once the Lord passed away on the cross.

What is clear in every this is that the old tradition of fasting in bespeak to unite oneself to Christ, carry out penance in atonement for sins, and also prepare for the solemn event of the resurrection is one integral part of the Christian life. Lent in particular is the time once we communicate in those penitential practices for the spiritual benefit of the entire Church.

The benefits of Fasting according To St. Cutting board Aquinas

Lent is penitential in character. This method that Lent is a time prescribed by the Church to connect in action of penance and mortification in atonement because that the guilty we have actually committed. That is well-known that one integral part of repentance, identified as transforming away from sin and earlier toward God, contains penance both together an expression of sore for having offended God and also others and also as a means of helping to redress the wrong we have actually committed.

Fasting has actually long been well-known as wonderful means the penance, with plenty of spiritual benefits. In the post-modern world, however, the practice of fasting together a means of spiritual benefit has fallen right into disuse. The focus is more often on the physical advantages of fasting while its spirituality benefits room disregarded. The Christian recognizes the main importance of continuing to be spiritually healthy and balanced in watch of eternal life, as opposed come a myopic, pagan view in i m sorry the material and also temporal are offered all the emphasis.

We asking you, humbly: don"t role away.

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What are some of the spiritual services of fasting? To discover that question, let"s look at the teaching of St. Cutting board Aquinas. St. Thomas teaches that fasting is exercised for a threefold purpose: 1) we rapid "in order come bridle the lusts that the flesh"; 2) we fast "in order that the mind may arise an ext freely come the contemplation of heavenly things," noting the Daniel got a revelation indigenous God after ~ fasting for 3 weeks (Dan 10:2 ff); and 3) we fast "in bespeak to accomplish for sins," as it is composed in Joel 2:12: "Be convert to Me with all her heart, in fasting and in weeping and also in mourning" (ST, II-II, q. 147, a. 1).

St. Cutting board is pointing to part well interpreted truths in the lifwynnfoundation.org spiritual legacy in regards to the spiritual services of fasting. First, the notes the fasting help to bring the human body or the flesh under the soul"s control. As soon as we fast, we pressure the body into compliance, which build self-control and also self-mastery, two important virtues in the Christian life. St. Paul speaks around how the desire of the flesh are against the spirit and vice-versa (Gal 5:17). Fasting helps to rectify the disorder, happen the flesh under the spirit"s control, together it have to be.

Second, St. Cutting board points the end that fasting tends to raise the mind and also heart to heavenly things, towards the contemplation that God. Fasting empowers united state in prayer. It concentrates the intellect on search to know God and also the will certainly on obtaining God as the biggest good. It help to to wash the desires and also aspirations that the spirit toward the divine beauty and truth of God. Believer who have actually walked the route of spirituality perfection for some time frequently report having powerful experiences of the presence of God if fasting. God finds our acts of voluntary experiencing for the love of the irresistible.

Third, St. Cutting board notes that fasting is a way of atoning for our sins, other we"ve mentioned already. Fasting is a method of taking duty for our sins; it helps united state make amends prior to God because that those time we have actually offended him, others, and also his divine Church. This is no to say that fasting confers forgiveness because that the guilt of sins. We acquire forgiveness because that our sins from God through virtue the the merits of Christ"s saving death and also resurrection. We space forgiven the eternal guilt the sin v repentance and also the sacrament of confession (see john 20:22-23). Nevertheless, we have the right to make restitution prior to God for our sins with acts of penance favor fasting.


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Because we are sinners, the Church teaches that Christians are forced to execute penance. In various other words, repentance and penance go hand-in-hand. An example of this is found in the sacrament the Penance. ~ receiving absolution in the sacrament, penitents are constantly given some form of penance through the priest that acts together the minister of Christ"s forgiveness. Penance, then, is a universal necessity for Christians who commit an individual sin.

Church law on Fasting and Abstinence

Fasting is noted as the 4th precept of the Church, which states: "You shall observe the job of fasting and also abstinence established by the Church" (CCC 2043). This means that lifwynnfoundation.orgs are under grave duty to significantly observe these laws. Christians are compelled by divine law to perform penance for your sins�penance is no optional.

The Church, as a caring mother, is providing us a specific means and season because that completing action of penance. Her goal is to watch to it that her children acquire eternal life. She precept top top fasting, then, is because that our spirituality benefit. lifwynnfoundation.orgs who intentionally ignore and/or reject all develops of penance violate magnificent law and thus would certainly be guilty of tomb sin. Dig sin committed with full knowledge and also full consent is by an interpretation mortal sin and thus areas a spirit in hazard (CCC 1857).

Because the season of Lent is the penitential character, the Church sets forth the days of penance as Ash Wednesday and also all Fridays throughout Lent. lifwynnfoundation.orgs space obliged come both fast and also abstain from flesh meat on Ash Wednesday and also Friday the the Lord"s Passion and also abstain from flesh meat top top all other Fridays throughout Lent. These demands are binding ~ above lifwynnfoundation.orgs of the following period ranges:

Latin Rite lifwynnfoundation.orgs from period 18 up v to the beginning of their 60th year (their 59th birthday) are required to fast, unless they have a serious factor for no doing so. According to Pope Paul VI"s apostolic structure Paenitemini, "The law of fasting permits only one full meal a day, but does no prohibit taking part food in the morning and also evening, observing�as much as quantity and quality room concerned�approved local custom." (Paenitemini, ch. III., III., 2).

It"s regularly thought that a person have the right to have one complete meal and also two "lesser meals" the cannot add up come a complete meal. However Paenitemini doesn"t call for us to sweet up food to make sure it doesn"t equate to a complete meal. The allude is, only one full meal is allowed, and one can take some food two various other times on the day. Liquids such as juice, coffee, tea, or milk do not technically hurt the fast, back refraining indigenous ingesting any pet products such together milk is virtuous.


Latin Rite lifwynnfoundation.orgs who have reached period 14 are forced to abstain from flesh meat ~ above Ash Wednesday and also all Fridays during Lent. If a solemnity happens to autumn on a Friday, abstinence is not required on that day. Notice there is no upper age limit ~ above the requirement to abstain.

How is flesh meat defined? The U.S. Bishops document, "Questions and also Answers around Lent and Lenten Practices" states:

Abstinence laws consider that meat comes just from pets such together chickens, cows, sheep or pigs�all of i m sorry live on land. Bird are additionally considered meat. Abstinence go not include meat juices and also liquid foods made from meat.�Thus, such foodstuffs as chicken broth, consomm�, soups cook or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, and also seasonings or condiments do from animal fat are technically no forbidden.�However, ethical theologians have actually traditionally taught that we should abstain from every animal-derived products (except foodstuffs such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which execute not have any meat taste). Fish room a different classification of animal.�Salt and also freshwater varieties of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals)�and shellfish are permitted.

Paul VI states in Paenitemini: "The law of abstinence forbids the usage of meat, however not that eggs, the commodities of milk or condiments make of animal fat" (III., 1).

Who is exempted indigenous fasting and also abstinence laws? "Questions and also Answers around Lent and also Lenten Practices" states:

Those that room excused native fast and abstinence outside the age borders include the physical or holy ghost ill including individuals enduring from chronic illnesses such together diabetes.�Also excluded are pregnant or education women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons need to not additional jeopardize their wellness by fasting.

One question that often comes up, is even if it is lifwynnfoundation.orgs are required to abstain from meat meat on every Fridays transparent the year. It must be noted, all Fridays continue to be a job of penance because on that day us remember Christ"s saving death. The us bishops urge lifwynnfoundation.orgs to communicate in some type of suitable penance on every Friday"s throughout the year. This is done to join with Christ in his enduring passion that we might be someday glorified through him. Although abstinence from flesh meat is no binding ~ above Fridays exterior of Lent under ache of sin, that holds best of place ("Pastoral explain on Penance and also Abstinence").

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I think you"ll agree, in learning around the Church"s regulations on fasting and also abstinence it becomes clear she certainly acts as a mom who takes us by the hand and also guides us towards salvation in Christ. The Church"s precepts top top fasting and also abstinence space reasonable, biblically based, and also spiritually beneficial. In these acts of penance, we not only aid to atone for our guilty but construct self-mastery, a virtue which is that enormous benefit even in ours life this side of heaven.