What sacrifices we make, let them be sacrifices that transform us. They are not ends in themselves. They are tools by which we can become a little closer to God’s image, a little closer to Christ’s life.
+ Saint John Chrysostom
Fasting is a traditional Lenten sacrifice. It has to do with the quantity of food eaten on particular days---little or none. It differs significantly from abstinence, which refers to the kind of food a person denies himself or herself, for example, meat. Fasting has always been a popular religious practice. St. Thomas Aquinas, theologian and Doctor of the Church, mentions three reasons for fasting, all of which are rooted in the Bible: it safeguards chastity; it promotes prayer, especially contemplation; and it is a penitential practice that makes satisfaction for sin. At one time fasting was a voluntary practice. Later, church law very strictly regulated fasting until 1966.
Many of us remember when our parents did an extended partial fast by eating only one main meal on all days of Lent except Sundays, and two much smaller meals. I looked forward to being old enough to join in on that sacrifice as a rite of passage in my faith, but the regulations changed before I turned 21. Although I was willing to fast voluntarily, my elders in the faith discouraged me from doing so.
Eastern Rite Catholics and Eastern Orthodox Christians observe a much more extensive Lenten fast than we Latin Rite Catholics do. Our current church regulations confine obligatory partial fasting to two days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. By the way we also fast totally for one hour from all food and drink, except water, before receiving Holy Eucharist. But choosing to fast more often is acceptable if it springs from good motives and is supported by prayer and almsgiving.
The prophet Isaiah spoke on God’s behalf in response to the hypocritical and formalistic fasting of some people.
This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own. Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your wound shall quickly be healed.
May God be praised!