Tag Archives: Fasting

Fast for Freedom promotes prayer for nation’s future

October 29, 2012

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Fasters include, left to right: Jeremy Berfanger, Katarina Hemstad, Meghan Mueller, Anne Crouch, Lauren Bickford, Dain Finney, Peter Murphy and Andrew Nistler.

With Election Day nearing, many Catholics are still mulling over a host of issues as they prepare to vote Nov. 6. To help them get ready, a college junior from Coon Rapids is working with a group of fellow students to promote prayer and fasting as a way to unify Catholics and so that voters and leaders may receive the grace to make morally sound decisions.

“Our country’s morality no longer is based on objective right or wrong, but a sliding scale of how good something feels for the most people,” said Meghan Mueller, a nursing major at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., who previously attended St. Paul in Ham Lake. “In many cases, it seems as if truth has been completely taken out of the picture. From this stems many of the major issues our country is facing: the sanctity of life, the sacredness of marriage, and the right to religious freedom.”

The Fast for Freedom initiative — which asks people to abstain from meat or something else as an alternative until Election Day — began earlier this month among a few friends and others on campus. Since then, the effort has “spread like wildfire,” mostly by word of mouth, and includes students from St. John Vianney College Seminary in St. Paul as well as family and friends in the Twin Cities area, Mueller said.

“As of now, we have it documented that about 800 people are partaking in the Fast for Freedom with us,” she said Oct. 26. “From recent reports, however, we have heard that many classrooms, schools and families have joined as well, so we project that participation is higher than we thought.”

In addition to fasting, participants are encouraged to pray a Divine Mercy Chaplet at 3 p.m. on Fridays for the elections and the future of the country.

One election issue of particular concern to Mueller, a nursing major, is religious liberty, especially in light of the federal Department of Health and Human Services contraceptive mandate.

The mandate requires all employers, including most Catholic and other religious employers, to provide coverage in their health care plans for contraceptives — including some that can cause abortions — and sterilizations despite moral objections they might have.

If the mandate remains in place, “we will be forced to go against our conscience and provide ‘services’ . . . that we believe are intrinsically evil and have been scientifically proven as harmful,” Mueller said.

“This issue most definitely affects my life in a very real way,” she said. “If our religious freedom is taken away, working as a Catholic nurse will be like walking through a health care minefield.”

Anyone who wants to let the students know they are joining the fast, or who has questions, can email them at fast4freedom2012@gmail.com.

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Partying–and Preparing for Lent

February 17, 2012

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Mardi Gras in Honolulu, Hawaii. Photo/madmarv00 Licensed under Creative Commons.

In many places around the world, Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations will be in high gear this Sunday, as people live it up during the final days before Lent starts. I wasn’t aware that for centuries the Church has called it Quinquagesima Sunday, the last of three Sundays before Lent that were designated as a time to prepare for the penitential season.

Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is named for the custom of slaughtering and feasting on the fatted calf as the last indulgence before fasting and abstinence begin on Ash Wednesday. It’s the climax of Carnival (which means literally, taking away flesh) a festive season starting at Epiphany in many countries.

In England the day before Ash Wednesday is called Shrove Tuesday–the final day of Shrovetide (taken from the word “shrive” which means to confess). It refers to the week before Lent when the laity was encouraged to go to confession, according to the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes.”  Germans celebrate Fastnacht, the eve of the fast.

Even centuries ago, Carnival and Mardi Gras revelry tended to get out of hand and the Church tried to check the excesses, especially in Italy. In the 16th century, Forty Hours of prayer was established on the final days of Carnival, partly to draw Catholics away from dangerous occasions of sin and also to make reparation for sins committed.

In 1747, Pope Benedict XIV granted a plenary indulgence for those who participated in Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament during three days of Carnival.

This leads me to Quinquagesima Sunday. The Latin word for 50th, it marks exactly 50 days before Easter. In the past, it was observed as the third of a three-week countdown starting two weeks earlier with Setuagesima (70th) Sunday followed by Sexagesima (60th) Sunday, referring to the approximate number of days until Easter. The numbers are more symbolic than actual mathematical realities.

This isn’t meant to be a lesson in Latin ordinal numbers (Lent itself is called Quadragesima meaning 40th) but to make us aware of the time period we’re entering.

Something like Carnival was probably already going on when Greeks in the early Church practiced a pre-Lenten penitential season to get in the right frame of mind for Lent. Early Christian communities followed the Greek tradition when they named the three “gesima” Sundays for the start of their Lenten fasts. When Pope  St. Gregory the Great made the practice of Lent uniform in about 600, he marked these Sundays as reminders of the approach of Lent so Catholics could prepare. Clergy wore violet vestments on these Sundays.

While the Church no longer observes the  “gesima” Sundays as part of the Ordinary Form of the Roman Rite,  they are still found in the 1962  Roman Missal and are observed as part of the Extraordinary Form. They’re a good reminder that we should start thinking about Lent now so it doesn’t take us by surprise before we’ve had a chance to prepare mentally and spiritually.

There’s nothing wrong with killing the fatted calf on Mardi Gras but it’s even better to be ready for what comes on the day after: an opportunity to grow closer to the Lord through prayer, fasting and almsgiving as we prepare to commemorate His Passion and Resurrection.

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Why fasting is a good idea

October 14, 2011


fasting illustration

CNS photo illustration/Nancy Wiechec

I don’t imagine many people enjoy fasting. I’ll bet you don’t wake up on Ash Wednesday and say, ” How great that I get to eat a lot less food today!”

Although fasting isn’t easy, its spiritual benefits are available to Catholics all year, not just when it’s required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Even though Ash Wednesday is months away, I’m bringing this up now because earlier this month Jews fasted from food and drink for 25 hours in observance of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement, the most important day in the Jewish liturgical year. This fast, which is noted in the Bible is the climax of 10 days of penitence starting with Rosh Hashanah. In biblical days, Jews also weren’t supposed to wash or wear shoes during this fast.

Fasting from wearing shoes?

Shoes don’t enter into the Catholic definition of fasting, which is the “complete or partial abstention from food.”  Another root of the word means to hold, to keep, to observe or to restrain one’s self. The Latin root word is of an animal intestine which is always empty.

Fasting has been practiced since ancient times for a variety of reasons, including deliverance from calamity and mourning.

The Church considers fasting, along with prayer and almsgiving, as one of the acts of religion through which Catholics express interior penance. (CCC 1434, 1969) Fasting is part of the Fourth Precept of the Church: “You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church.” (CCC 2043)

The Church’s fasting rules are pretty clear: Catholics from their 18th birthday to their 59th birthday (the beginning of their 60th year) are to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. This fasting is required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast  is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milkshakes, but not milk).  Alcoholic beverages technically don’t break the fast but they don’t quite fit with the spirit of doing penance.

(Catholics also fast from food and drink, except water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before receiving Holy Communion. (Canon 919)

In her wisdom, the Church gives us a good reason to fast: to make us stronger. Natural law shows us we need to fast to overcome our concupiscence.  Or as the Catechism puts it, the required fasts are times of  “ascesis and penance which prepare us for liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.” (CCC 2043)

Fasting makes sense all year long. Not that we have to do it year round but the Church encourages us to do some kind of penance. It could be fasting or giving up something else we enjoy to grow in holiness, for a special intention or in thanksgiving.

Other benefits of fasting

As the early Church writer Tertullian put it, there are even more advantages to any weight loss resulting from fasting:

“More easily, it may be, through the strait gate of salvation will slenderer flesh enter; more speedily will lighter flesh rise; longer in the sepulcher will drier flesh retain its firmness.”

He gave the early Christians another good reason to fast:

“…an over-fed Christian will be more necessary to bears and lions perchance, than to God; only that, even to encounter beasts, it will be his duty to practice emaciation.”

I’m not sure that’s what Jesus meant when he said we should try not to look like we’re  fasting. (Matt. 6:16-18)  He does say we will be rewarded if we fast the right way: “Your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”


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Why no meat on Fridays in Lent?

March 11, 2011


Catholics abstain from flesh meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays in Lent.

Abstinence is one of our oldest Christian traditions.

“From the first century, the day of the crucifixion has been traditionally observed as a day of abstaining from flesh meat (‘black fast’) to honor Christ who sacrificed his flesh on a Friday,” according to “The Catholic Source Book.”

Written up as law

Up until 1966, church law prohibited meat on all Fridays throughout the entire year. The new law was promulgated in 1983 in the revised Code of Canon Law, which states: “Abstinence [is] to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Canon 1251).

“All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence” (Canon 1252).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops extended this law to include all Fridays in Lent.

Since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for us on Good Friday, we refrain from eating flesh meat in his honor on Fridays. Flesh meat included the meat of mammals and poultry, and the main foods that come under this heading are beef and pork, chicken and turkey. While flesh is prohibited, the non-flesh products of these animals are not (like milk, cheese, butter and eggs).

Fish do not belong to the flesh meat category. The Latin word for meat, “caro,” from which we get English words like “carnivore” and “carnivorous,” applies strictly to flesh meat and has never been understood to include fish.

Furthermore, in former times, flesh meat was more expensive, eaten only occasionally and associated with feasting and rejoicing; whereas fish was cheap, eaten more often and not associated with celebrations.

Abstinence is a form of penance. Penance expresses sorrow and contrition for our wrongdoing, indicates our intension to turn away from sin and turn back to God, and makes reparation for our sins. It helps to cancel the debt and pay the penalties incurred by our transgressions.

Abstinence is a form of asceticism, the practice of self-denial to grow in holiness. Jesus asks his disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross (Matthew 16:24).

Abstinence is a sober way to practice simplicity and austerity, to deny the cravings of our bodies to honor Jesus who practiced the ultimate form of self-denial when he gave his body for us on the cross.

Thus, to give up flesh meat on Fridays, only to feast on lobster tail or Alaskan king crab, is to defeat the ascetical purpose of abstinence. Less is more!

There are countless options for simple Friday meatless dinners: pancakes, waffles, soup and rolls, chipped tuna on toast, macaroni and cheese, fried egg sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese pizza and, of course, fish.

Video: Why no meat on Fridays during Lent?



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