Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Importance of Fasting

The practice of fasting is a form of penance that pre-dates Christianity. In the Old Testament, we see fasting associated always with prayer in numerous scriptures. In the Book of Tobit, it states, “Prayer is good when accompanied by fasting, almsgiving, and righteousness” (12:8). The prophet Daniel, states, “Then I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and supplications with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (9:3). Psalm 69:10 says, “When I humbled my soul with fasting, it became my reproach.”

So why am I specifically focusing on fasting as a teaching of the Church for today’s Quick Lessons from the Catechism? We are not in a penitential season such as Advent or Lent. Why the focus today of all days?

Well if you read the blog post from a few days ago written by Elizabeth Scalia, The Anchoress, on what we can do to unite ourselves in solidarity with our fellow Christians in the Middle East who are being persecuted and killed for being believers of Jesus Christ, fasting is one of the five points. Fasting is a very important element for us as Christians for it unites our suffering to that of Jesus Christ as well as to what (or who) the fast is being offered for.

Our fellow Christians in the Middle East need our support, prayers, and solidarity at this very moment. Let us either fast today or over the weeks ahead (specifically Fridays since that’s the day Our Lord died on the cross) offering the prayers for their sufferings. Although we may never meet them, at least not on this side of Heaven, we can be in complete solidarity for their anguish now.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states,

CCC 1434: The interior penance of the Christian can be expressed in many and various ways. Scripture and the Fathers insist above all on three forms, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion in relation to oneself, to God, and to others. Alongside the radical purification bought about by Baptism or martyrdom they cite as means of obtaining forgiveness of sins: efforts at reconciliation with one’s neighbor, tears of repentance, concern for the salvation of one’s neighbor, the intercession of the saints, and the practice of charity “which covers a multitude of sins.” [Bold mine].

CCC 1438: The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works). [Bold mine].

CCC 2043: The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepares us for the liturgical feasts and helps us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.

The traditional fast is to eat bread and water, however, if you can’t do that because of either dietary or medical reasons, please read the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops regulations on fasting.

St. Charbel…Pray for us.

St. James the Apostle…Pray for us.

St. John of Damascus…Pray for us.

4 thoughts on “Quick Lessons from the Catechism: The Importance of Fasting

  1. Fantastic post Tom! As you said, fasting isn’t just reserved for penitential seasons! I invite you to take a look at our Catholic apostolate in renewing the practice of prayer and fasting: livethefast.com.

    “The scripture is full of places that prove fasting to be not the invention of man but the institution of God, and to have many more profits than one. And that the fasting of one man may do good unto another, our Savior showeth himself where he saith that some kind of devils cannot be cast out of one man by another “without prayer and fasting.” – St. Thomas More

  2. As a lifelong Catholic, I learned to fast before receiving Communion at Mass. On Sunday’s fasting began at midnight until after Communion. This was changed later to one hour before Mass. On all Friday’s it was required to abstain from eating meat. This also was changed to only specific Fridays. I was enlightened by the autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux in her ways of fasting each day; In particular fasting for 5 minutes before eating a meal when it was ready. She shows us the way to have a personal relationship with Christ at all times, everyday.
    Tom,Thank you for your important message.

    • Fasting at Midnight before Holy Communion is known as a discipline, which can be changed by the Church for the common good of the faithful. Compared to doctrines that don’t change, they might develop, but they don’t change from one thing to another.

      Abstaining from meat on Fridays throughout the year is still a practice that should be practiced by all. It’s stated in Canon Law. If you don’t abstain from meat, then you should abstain from something else.

      Glad you liked the post.

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