“LENT IS A TIME FOR FAST AND ABSTINENCE” – SOME QUERIES AND RESPONSES…
What does it mean to "fast"?
To fast is to do without food. Its purpose is to experience the effects of not eating. It also serves to be a penance or a sacrifice - for the purpose of strengthening us. When we don't eat, for even a little while, we get hungry. When we get hungry, we have a heightened sense of awareness. If, when we eat too much, we have a sluggish feeling, when we fast, we have a feeling of alertness. Fasting is a wonderful exercise whenever we want to sincerely ask for an important grace from God. It is not that our fasting "earns" God's attention, but by fasting, we clarify our thinking and our feeling. It is purifying and prepares us to pray more deeply.
When do I fast?
Catholics, as a group, are required to fast on only two days of the year - Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days, fasting means something very specific and limited. It means that one eats only one full meal in a day, with no food in-between meals. It is understood that two other meals, if one eats three meals a day, should not total one full meal. One might fast in a more complete way, i.e., eating only a portion of a single meal.
Of course, anyone is free to fast at any time that it is helpful for their prayer and reflection. It is not recommended that anyone with impaired health should fast in any way. It is also important to note that everyone who fasts should drink enough fluids on a fast day.
Who should fast and abstain?
Those who have completed 18 years and are not over 60 years are obliged to fast. Abstinence is to be practiced by all who are 14 years of age and older.
What does it mean to "abstain"?
To abstain is to not eat meat. Its purpose is to be an act of penance - an act of sacrifice, that helps us grow in freedom to make much bigger sacrifices. Of course, it would not make sense to make the sacrifice of not eating meat, and then eat a wonderful meal I might enjoy even more. Many people eat a vegetarian diet, for a variety of reasons, and eating meat is not even an issue. It might be possible to abstain from a non-meal that I really like, on all the Fridays of Lent. It should be noted that many people in this world cannot afford to eat meat or do not have access to it. Part of our abstaining from meat can place us in solidarity with so many of our sisters and brothers around the world.
Are there other options for penance and abstinence?
Yes, the new Code of Canon Law has left it to the Episcopal Conference to determine, in place of abstinence, other forms of penance, specially works of charity and exercises of piety. In virtue of this, the CCBI has decreed that the obligations of abstinence can be fulfilled by choosing certain other forms of prayer or penance or works of charity, besides the traditional one of abstinence from meat. In the Diocese of Nashik the faithful may choose from anyone of the following:
1. Attending mass or making the Way of the Cross or a visit to the Blessed Sacrament or a meditation on the Lord’s Passion.
2. Prayerfully reading the Scriptures or praying the Liturgy of the Hours.
3. Preparing for Liturgical Services by reflecting on the readings as a family.
4. Giving 10% of one’s daily wage in charity.
5. Donating Blood.
6. Offering a meal to a poor family; helping them to buy clothes.
7. Offering voluntary service to a Social/Charitable Institution through the parish or on one’s own.
8. Abstaining from meat preparations if meat is part of one’s regular diet.
9. Missing any one meal: breakfast, lunch or supper.
10. Taking strictly vegetarian meals, without even fish and eggs.
11. Abstaining from alcohol and/or smoking, for those who use these.
12. Avoiding all beverages like tea or coffee or sweet drinks between meals.
13. Avoiding films, television and other forms of recreation.
What are Easter Duties? When can I fulfill them?
Easter Duties would require that the Christian faithful who have been admitted to the Blessed Eucharist, receive Holy Communion at least once a year during the Paschal time, unless for a good reason the precept is fulfilled at another time during the year (Can.920). The faithful are reminded that those who have reached the age of discretion are bound to confess their grave sins at least once a year (Can.989). In our diocese, the Easter Duties can be fulfilled this year between Ash Wednesday, February 6, 2008 and Pentecost Sunday, May 11, 2008.