Those Were the Days of Giants! A Brief Reflection on the Fasting and Abstinence that were once common in Advent and Lent

I was explaining to a new Catholic recently that the color purple (violet) used in advent is akin to its use in Lent, in that both are considered penitential seasons. Hence we are to give special attention to our sins and our need for salvation. Traditionally we would also take part in penitential practices of fasting and abstinence.

Of course, in recent decades Advent has almost wholly lost any real penitential practices. There is no fasting or abstinence  required. Confession is encouraged and the readings still retain a kind of  focus on repentance.

But long gone are the days of a forty day fast beginning on Nov 12. The observances were every bit as strict as Lent. St. Martin’s Feast Day was a day of carnival (which means literally “farewell to meat” (carnis + vale)). In those days the rose vestments of Gaudete were really something to rejoice about, since the fast was relaxed for a day. Then back into the fast until Christmas. Lent too began with Mardi Gras (fat Tuesday), as the last of the fat was used used up and the fast was enjoined beginning the next day.

And the fast and abstinence were far more than the tokenary observances we have today. In most places, all animal products were strictly forbidden during Advent and Lent. There were many regional differences about the rest of the details.  While most areas permitted fish, others permitted fish and fowl.  Some prohibited fruit and eggs, and some places like monasteries ate little more than bread.  In some places, on Fridays of Lent and Advent, believers abstained from food for an entire day; others took only one meal. In most places, however, the practice was to abstain from eating until the evening, when a small meal without vegetables or alcohol was eaten.

Yes, those were the day of the Giants! When fasting and abstinence were real things.

Our little token fast on only two days really isn’t much of a fast: two small meals + one regular meal; is that really a fast at all?  And we abstain from meat only on the Fridays of Lent, instead of all forty days.

What is most remarkable to me is that such fasts of old were undertaken by men, women and children who had a lot less to eat than we do. Not only was there less food, but is was far more seasonal and its supply less predictable. Further, famines and food shortages were more a fact of life than today. Yet despite all this they were able to fast, and twice a year at that, for eighty days total. There were also ember days sporadically through the year when a day long fast was enjoined.

Frankly I doubt we moderns could pull off the fast of the ancients, and even the elders of more recent centuries. Can you imagine the belly aching (pun intended) if the Church called us to follow the strict norms of even 200 years ago? We would hear that such demands were unrealistic, even unhealthy.

Perhaps it is a good illustration of how our abundance enslaves us. The more we get the more we want. And the more we want the more we think we can’t live without. To some degree or another we are so easily owned by what we claim to own, we are enslaved by our abundance and we experience little freedom to go without.

I look back to the Catholics of 100 years and before and think of them like giants compared to us. They had so little compared to me, but they seem to have been so much freer. They could fast. Though poor, they built grand Churches and had large families. They crowded into homes and lived and worked in conditions few of us would be able to tolerate today. And sacrifice seemed more “normal” to them. I have not read of any huge outcries that the mean nasty Church imposed fasting and abstinence in Advent and Lent. Nor have I read of outcries of the fasting from midnight before receiving Communion. Somehow they accepted these sacrifices and were largely able to undertake them. They had a freedom that I think many of us lack.

And then too, imagine the joy when, for a moment the fast lifted in these times: Immaculate Conception, Gaudete, Annunciation, St. Joseph’s Feast day, Laetare Sunday. Imagine the joy. For us its just a pink candle and a pondering, “Rejoice? Over what?” For them these were actual and literal “feast days.”

I admit, I am a man of my time and I find the fasting and abstinence described above nearly “impossible.” I am thinking about going meatless for all forty days, this coming Lent and am currently discerning if that is what the Lord intends for me. But something makes me look back to the Giants of old, who, having far less than I, did such things as a matter of course.

There were giants in those days!

76 Replies to “Those Were the Days of Giants! A Brief Reflection on the Fasting and Abstinence that were once common in Advent and Lent”

  1. It is sad that fasting has been pretty much lost in the Western Church. We are much poorer for ignoring this crucial aspect of Christian life. Though fasting may not bring pleasure it is a great aid to Christian joy.

    1. Yes, I think you’re largely right. I know in England they re-instituted the Friday abstinence for the whole year. Perhaps a small way of ratcheting things back up a bit.

      1. Yes. I think England’s bishops made a good move. I hope other countries, including the US will follow similar measures.

      2. In our household, even though we are here in the States, we have started to fast from meat on all Fridays again…

  2. Father, is it true that couples had to abstain from the use of marriage for 40 days in Advent, 40 days in Lent, all Fridays and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and on Ember Days?

    If that is so, I can see why the requirement was relaxed – not that it’s impossible, but because making it a mortal sin for them to come together on those days would seem to open up a lot of room for temptation and for marital strife – you’d have to actually fear “temptation” from your spouse for many days in the year!

    And going without meat for a long time is easy, but being mandated to go so long in marriage like that seems like it’d create more trouble than anything. Perhaps the Church has relaxed some of these requirements not because we are wusses, but because she understands more about marital dynamics?

    To be fair, I don’t even think such fasting was required a hundred or even two hundred years ago. And I can see the benefit in “fasting” for certain periods, but then only by mutual agreement, and only for a time, as the Bible says. Some people today voluntarily give up this great good during Lent, or on Fridays. But thank God it’s not required. Having mandatory “fast” days and seasons seems very harsh – why even get married if it’d be a sin to enter the marriage bed for half the year? It’d be easier to be celibate.

    1. I am unaware of any such “fast” from sexual union of the married. There may have been some local customs, but I have not heard of what you speak. But as for being wusses, I am afraid the charge largely sticks.

      1. I know for some Orthodox people, fast days are also days of sexual abstinence. I was told this by an Orthodox priest. So it is possible that this might have once been a custom in the Catholic Church as well. But I don’t know the history.

        1. Father, I’m not saying that such fasting woudl always be a bad idea, and yes, we are wusses if we could never do that. Some people abstain on Fridays, for example.

          However, are you suggesting that making it a sin for spouses to come together for a large chunk of the year would be helpful at all?

          Tell me I can’t eat meat for 40 days, fine. I can deal with that. But tell a married couple it’s a sin for them to make love for 40 days, and that they have to resist any “temptation” towards one another. What good fruit would that produce?

          And yes, I know there are traditionalists who boast that their method of “natural family planning” is to simply abstain from all sexual relations for months, even years, on end, since this is what people “traditionally” did, and that Real Catholics should be abstaining most of the time. And yes, most married saints, if they had relations at all, did it ONLY for procreation and gave it up later in life.

          But I don’t think you are the type to suggest married couples do that, or even that they should live like that. So, really, could it just be that the church realized such rules were in fact, overbearingly harsh on married folk?

          1. I am a chaste celibate, but self control in marriage is surely valuable for the spouses and some degree of it is completely necessary to conjugal chastity. Also, sexual continence is a virtue (St Thomas Aquinas says this) which married couples can also practice at times. There are no times when the Church officially obliges you to abstain. I think there may be great value in a couple abstaining during Lent, but NOT if they would be resentful of it, they should have a spiritual perspective and motive for it.

          2. I understand that temporary abstinence can be a good, especially during times of fasting. I know it can train patience and other virtues, but I cannot fathom how it would be good for couples to desire one another yet turn away from the desire without some existential reason (separation, illness, NFP, whatever). I would even want to practice abstinence at certain times, but I don’t see how “not having sex” is a virtue for married people any more than “not eating” is.

            I still cannot for the life of me understand how continence is a virtue within marriage. Let’s be clear – we are not just talking about self-control, but simply eschewing all sexual activity. Why is the lack of sexual activity in itself considered virtuous? Doesn’t that imply that spouses are more pleasing to God if they abstain more, or that sex pollutes purity in some way? To that degree, holiness and purity seem to increase to the degree that spouses avoid sex. The implication seems to be if you CAN avoid sex, then you should, since it’s more holy.

            I understand that the life of the chaste celibate, the virgin consecrated to God is higher in the sense that one dedicates oneself, including one’s body, to the service of God alone.

            But why does the Church teach that spouses should give their bodies to each other and that this is good and holy, yet also teach that if they didn’t do this at all, and especially if they can “get over” the desire for it, they are practicing a higher virtue? I guess this is why St. Francis de Sales told couples they should admire elephants for almost never having sex, or why he said they should get over with it as soon as possible and “cleanse their hearts”. No cuddling, I guess.

            How can anyone be married and be happy with the gift of the marriage act knowing the whole time that they’d be more pleasing to God and make Him happier if they didn’t want it, or didn’t do it? Why even get married in the first place?

            I’m sorry, I know I have erroneous views, but this issue gnaws at me. I am in the process of an annulment, and I pray every day for my marriage to be restored, but at the same time I almost don’t want it to be, since I know I wouldn’t want to be continent over long periods unless a real concrete situation called for it, and that’s apparently not pleasing to God. How can I even pray to have my wife back if I’m worried we’d be displeasing God by having a regular sex life, and not wanting the virtue of continence? As far as I can tell, tradition seems to indicate that sex is bad and polluting and that avoiding it as much as possible is good.

          3. It’s called “offering it up.” It’s no different than any other sacrifice. Why should it?

            You could almost replace marital relations with “but we both really like chocolate, and we desire it, and you’re asking us to give it up? What fruit would it bear? That’s just crazy.”

            With prayer, it would bring immense fruit.

            Wouldn’t God have been happier with His Son just not dying, getting down from the cross and ruling, without having to suffer? That is the same line of thought you are using. But look at it from God’s perspective. If you can offer up the greatest good to Him, it will bring about greater fruit. Then again, if done without the right spirit, no, it would not bring fruit.

          4. Again, the assumption is that the couple is giving up a great good, and being called to do so.

            But from what I gather, continence as a virtue in marriage has been special in the class of “lack of sexual activity is good because sexual activity and the pleasure involved taint the spirit.”

            Look at the life of St. Bridget of Sweden for example, it is clear that she saw sexual relations, except for the explicit intention to bear children, and evil indeed. She and her husband did not take vows of chastity between each child and then perpetually because they thought they were giving up a great good, but rather because they were avoiding an evil.

            St. Augustine does not enjoin married folk to “man up” and practice continence because they are sacrificing a great good, in the same way that a young monk leaves behind his family, or someone fasts from food – it’s because he saw the sex act itself as degrading, and while “permissible if you need it”, ultimately to be done away with and not desired by someone who is really chaste and holy.

          5. Chase, we are all affected by concupiscence (ie our nature is already “tainted” to begin with), and capable of lust, and even married people are capable of being tempted to engage in sex just for pleasure, using one another as an instrument of their pleasure. St Bridget and her husband temporarily vowing chastity between children would be an exceptional example of living married life to as high a standard of chastity as possible and keeping the “marital act” (in itself very good) intensely connected with its ultimate purpose. Many other couples need to engage in intimacy frequently because one or the other don’t have that degree of self control, sexual pleasure is basically addictive and without marital intimacy they might be seriously tempted. It is up to the couple, no one but them has the right to decide how frequently they come together in this way. It seems to me that couples who live deep prayer lives are the ones more likely to desire more freedom from sexual thoughts and “addictive” compulsions and to purify their love for their spouse from attachment to the great pleasure they experience through their spouse.

    2. \Father, is it true that couples had to abstain from the use of marriage for 40 days in Advent, 40 days in Lent, all Fridays and Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, and on Ember Days?\

      That’s the custom in the Eastern Churches, especially Orthodoxy still to this day.

      I might add that ALL Wednedays and Fridays (except during the 4 fast free weeks), are days of fast and abstinence in the Eastern tradition, as well as Advent (usually 40 days), Great Lent, Apostles’ Fast (Monday after Sunday after Pentecost through 28 June), and the first 14 days of August.

  3. Yes! I remember my mother fasting Tues and Fridays most weeks. And the Muslims I knew didn’t even drink a drop of water from sunup to sundown during Ramadan.

    This year we adopted abstaining from meat every Friday (starting at Lent). The children have gotten used to giving this up as a small penance, though they remind us that the Church only requires us to abstain during Lent.

    As we grow in our faith, we hope to incorporate more of the old-time traditions. I keep discovering how good and right the Church is.

    Thank you for reminding us of the important things, Father. God bless you always.

  4. Don’t do it by yourself Pastor. One of the great lessons you have tauight me is don’t go alone. Let’s do it together. The whole church. Those that will join you in solidarity. I believe you will find greater fruit knowing that others are with you in prayer. Plus you won’t cheat knowing others are with you. I see we are not discerning fasting from coffee. (LOL)f I don’t think the parishiioners would know you without your coffee.(lol).; On a serious thought. Many protestants pratice fasting. I grew up with it on a regular basis. My son is not in the Hurch but it is ingrained in him and he does it the night before he plans to go to church. If you train yourself early in life it is very easy to do. No meat for lent – I can do that. Can you?

      1. I believe that Garrison Keiller has suggested that Coffee Hour between services is practically a Sacrament.

  5. The Orthodox Churches still maintain the Advent fast – no animal products except spineless seafood (i.e. shellfish), fish is allowed on weekneds – for the full 40 days before Christmas, although I think Thanksgiving may be exempt in America. I believe it is the same for Lent as well, in addition to shorter fasts throughout the year.

    Meanwhile, we Catholics complain about having to get up earlier so we can finish breakfast an hour before mass, and have all-you-can-eat fish fries during Lent. Wusses, indeed.

  6. My husband and I decided together to forego meat on all Fridays. He also will fast COMPLETELY on either Ash Wednesday or Good Friday (or both)– drinking only water and not eating, but I’m a big baby about fasting. I get pretty grouchy and sick feeling when I don’t eat every 4-6 hours. I went so far last Lent as wishing aloud I were pregnant so I wouldn’t have to fast. *Chuckle* Not a very good reason to want to give life… I wonder how I would have done back in the days that you talk about.

  7. I started fasting and abstaining this year, and found it spiritually and physically profitable. It started at Lent, when my wife (not Catholic) pointed out to me that Muslims fast the entire Ramadan. That hit home regarding enthusiasm for one’s faith. I fasted (1 meal/day) all 40 days of Lent (not Sundays). I now fast every Tuesday (or Wednesday) & Friday; abstain every Friday; fast on ember days and vigils of the Immaculate Conception (Assumption next year). Once you start doing these things, they are not as hard as one imagines, in fact they are quite easy. Also, the latest nutritional research, especially from the Paleo-Diet camp indicates that this level of fasting is quite healthy for one. I’m 52 years old and never felt physically better in my life. Anyway, just my 2 cents.

    1. My wife and I have gave up meat on Fridays after last Lent. It was pretty easy, except when we were invited to a party. So we gave up meat on Wednesdays as well, which is an ancient Christian custom as well. Now we will just have to figure out what to do to make Lent different next year. It would probably be good to fast during the other penitential days as well, especially Advent.

    2. I would like to endorse what MarkA says. Some are physically not able to fast as he describes — but many others are fully able and lack only the commitment to see it through. Fasts that formerly seemed to be “the work of giants” can become routine and realistic. Serious fasting needn’t be seen as something for solitary pillar saints.

      Admission: I had intended to undertake a serious fast for Advent this year, but so far have failed utterly.

    3. I, a protestant, started practicing fasting (not eating or drinking calories [save cream in my coffee] from supper one day until supper the next) as a result of reading about Intermittent Fasting. I read about its proclaimed health advantages. As I pondered the concept of fasting I thought about the fasting my Greek Orthodox friend does through Lent. I researched fasting from a Christian perspective and was convinced it was good, not just for my body of course but for my soul.

      Not eating is really not that hard. I’m a guy who has 40 pounds he could lose, so you know I like to eat, and yet I manage to do it. I can fast and still manage to run or bike vigorously. You must first overcome the mental difficulties. We have gotten accustomed to thinking we must eat every few hours or suffer dire consequences. God did not make us such weak vessels! Overcoming this mental resistance is very liberating. Prayer for me at the end of a fast is much more focused.

      I have been not eating from supper Thursday until supper Friday. I also try to abstain from meat on Friday. Neither is a great effort but each helps to focus me more on God and make me more disciplined. It is sad that in this age of abundance we dont make such a small sacrifice for our spiritual health.

  8. I really enjoyed this article. I’ve read the Ember days & was hoping to learn more of this. Never heard of advent fasts & this was great. I did listen to a sermon last night on that spoke of fasting & penance during advent & opened my mind up to an advent fast but didn’t know this was a norm. We have truly lost many great practices of the past (the world is suffering from our loss). Really thinking of joining you, Msgr, on the meatless Lent. Will spread this blog to the parishes & faithful. Great stuff! Pax Christi!

  9. If they had left it as mandatory custom, rather than as “under pain of mortal sin for each instance” it might have stood a better chance of surviving. I well remember not having food til after noon Mass as a child, and in the very early years not having water before first communion (which is why early Masses were so crowded). My mother said there was no water before Communion even before her wedding Mass (she didn’t even brush her teeth!) – why there were morning weddings!

    We (the Church) tried to nail it in place and succeeded only in destroying fasting and abstinence as real penances, turning them instead into placeholders for fear of damnation.

    1. Yes, I am not sure why the whole thing was placed under mortal sin. And, in the end, legalism is the usual death bell for a practice. The 1950s though a period of great external strength probably sowed the seed of later losses since most things were presented legally rather than spiritually.

  10. Yet for the sake of having beautiful bodies, people will undergo all sorts of suffering: dieting, cosmetic surgeries and treatments, etc. One time, I saw a list orthodontists hand out to patients with braces. It was two pages of food they could not eat . . . and it wasn’t just for forty days – it was for four years! I can’t imagine the uproar if the Church ever suggested something extremem like that.

  11. I do the Lenten fast during all the days of Lent. I’ve been giving up meat on Fridays too. I haven’t fasted for Advent, but I intent to next year.

    I see that since I am 60, I am not obliged to fast. I do anyway.

    1. Good for you, Ellen. If millions of Muslims of Muslims can fast for Ramadan, why not millions of Catholics for Lent? BTW, I recently saw a video about a monastery somewhere in Italy (I can’t remember what the Order was) where they fasted (1 meal/day) from mid-September until Christmas (and of course again at Lent). The Religious in this Order only ate meat 3 times per year.

      Where’s the discussion of Graces from the spirit of mortification?

  12. One point of your article reminded me of a quote from St. Terese of Avila in The Way of Perfection. I remember it went something like: the more you indulge the flesh, the more you find essential to it. In other words, the more pampered the body is, the more it thinks it needs.

  13. Here in Britain the Friday Fast has been put back in place earlier this year- I was pleasantly surprised by the usually painfully liberal Bishops of England and Wales, though I think the visit of the Pope had much to do with it.
    It has been an excellent primer for reflection on the death of our Lord, though it has caught me out a couple of times- last Friday, for instance, when I was halfway through eating a wonderful hotdog until I realized what that nagging feeling at the back of my mind was.
    More fasting would be an excellent idea, I think.

  14. The “Spirit of Vatican II” liberated us from fasting and abstinence, but slaved us to sin and the modern culture.

  15. It is not only the Orthodox who fast during this time. The Eastern Catholic Churches (fully in union with the Pope of Rome) fast from the day following the Feast of St. Phillip the Apostle until the Feast to the Nativity. There are various levels of strictness according to individual factors.

    In addition, the Eastern Catholic Churches that I am aware of still abstain from meat on Friday.

  16. Well, you’ve stumbled into a hornets’ nest on this topic! We cannot fast as well as the ancients because we are more malnutritioned than the ancients. When they did eat, they ate real not empty food. Their soils were not as depleted as ours. When all we can find in our grocery stores are empty calories, saturated fats, toxic chemicals, and overly-processed foods, we remain hungry because we have not delivered true nutrition to our bodies. Our bodies, wisely, keep telling us: “Hey, how about some food?” Thus, we keep eating and eating–yet not getting anywhere. I we were to change our diets to whole foods, not the usual garbage in the Standard American Diet (SAD), we’d eat better in ordinary times, and get through fast times a lot better. I propose a Reverse Fast for Advent and Lent. Stop eating garbage! Eat whole foods, non-processed foods, raw foods, and organic foods. Stuff yourself!! Munch your head off!! Doing so will repair, cleanse, and support your God-given body and perform a kind of reverse repentance for all the junk we put into our systems. Check out the video “Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead” to get an idea of what I’m getting at. [Note: this is not a plea for vegetarianism but a shout out for omnivore whole-food-ism. Really eat. Stop eating air.]

  17. I’m not sure if this is a correct idea, but I keep thinking more is expected from us by society (employers as well as other organizations, such as schools) than used to be – that we are expected to give more and more of our energy and of ourselves to these entities, and appears to me there is a lot of noise made if we don’t give what these entities believe we “ought” to be able to give. (Inasmuch as fasting, etc. takes energy, etc.) In some third world countries the employer demands much more than they do here, it is true, but seems to me that, for a developed country, we are being asked for more than we used to be – for more than what I think my parents were expected to do. I wonder what others think of this?

    1. I am not sure. I do think we have more stressful lives. But 100 years ago working conditions were awful compared to today. Ofter 6 day weeks, 10 hour days etc, sweatshop conditions.

      1. Now that we have 5-day workweeks and 8-hour workdays, we’ve plenty of time for shopping. 😕

  18. Father, one thing I find interesting about the fasting rules of the past is that sometimes they weren’t as strict as we think. For example, this link:

    will take you to a New York Times preview of a PDF article from 1887 which details the fasting rules for the archdiocese for that year’s Lent (you have to open the PDF to see the whole thing). There are many, many people who are automatically exempted from the fast: pregnant or nursing women, children (e.g. those who are still growing), those whose work is of a “laborious or exhausting character,” the sick or infirm, the elderly, and many others. In cases of doubt, any Catholic could consult his pastor to find out if he would be or could be exempted.

    So, the *rule* was quite strict on its face. But the *reality* is that essentially the non-elderly, able-bodied, non-pregnant adults who weren’t working physically exhausting jobs were the only Catholics really bound to fast, at least in New York during Lent in 1887.

    This is why I think that voluntary fasting is a better idea for the most part. For some, fasting is penance, a call to turn the heart toward God, but for others, it may be mere servile and reluctant obedience under pain of sin. For still others who suffer physically from fasting (those with diabetes etc.) fasting rules may be a temptation to scrupulosity; sure, a pastor might tell them that diabetes means they don’t have to keep the fast, but shouldn’t they “man up” anyway, etc., in imitation of all those giants of the past? And for those who eat sparingly all the time, fasting from food may not mean much at all, where fasting from some other thing might be more meaningful.

    1. Thanks for this. Fascinating. By the way I am not calling for compulsory Advent fasting, just noting that the current norms really aren’t anything at all. Maybe if we worked with the word “norms” more than strict rules, we could set the bar higher.

  19. “I am thinking about going meatless for all forty days, this coming Lent and am currently discerning if that is what the Lord intends for me.”

    Okay, I’ve thought about this off and on, frequently today. I’m thinking if you decide to do this, I’d like to give it a shot as well. I’m also wondering if anyone else might also be willing to give it a shot and for what intention or intentions it might collectively be offered up for?

  20. Just a practical, carnal observation about fasting today vs. then: besides society’s apparent spiritual softness these days, I’m wondering if our modern diet that is greatly tilted more towards sugars and simple carbs causes our bodies to be babies as to being able to fast. If we truly wanted to attempt fasting at different times of the year, perhaps a help to our bodies would be to change our diets for the 2-3 weeks leading up to our fasting back to proteins and complex carbs like vegetables. No cookies, cakes, sodas and candy bars, etc. Thus our bodies might not have as much of that recoil from the quick loss of simple carbs and would have more stored energy from the complex carbs and proteins that would easily get us through the fasts. Monsignor, if you do discern the Lord intends for you to fast this Lent, perhaps a change in your diet prior to your fast will help you — and all of us.

  21. As an Eastern rite Catholic, we still adhere to the old fasts and on top of Lent and Advent, we fast two other times a year for two weeks each. it’s tough, but worthwhile to try. In the US, many parishes have allowed a relaxation of the norms because of the culture here, but this old tradition is still alive in well in Catholicism. It’s especially interesting while being married to a Latin Rite Catholic!

  22. Fasting is possible. With permission of my confessor I fast every day except Sunday from the feast of the Exaltation of the Cross to Easter Sunday, one (large) meal per day taken in the evening (I do have a cup of coffee during the day but not normally any snack nor any beverage other than a little water). I fast on Fridays throughout the year (I abstain perpetually). In my experience fasting does make it more difficult to concentrate or get things done, one cannot use food to boost one’s mood etc, but part of the discipline of it is to patiently go about one’s duties anyway, be kind and friendly regardless etc. I read about historic fasting practice before attempting this and also the scientific research which satisfied me that it is not dangerous to someone in my state of health. I do this in penance for my own sins (though I have also sought plenary indulgences so I do not consider this something obligatory) and reparation for scandal in the Church, and because I think the radical abandonment of ascetical practices in the Church, especially in the religious orders but also for us laity, may not have been such a hot idea. A fast for all of Lent is not impossible for most healthy adults.

    Many people could start much more simply though, by not eating anything between meals (nothing, not a taste, not a hard candy), not carrying a water bottle every where they go and drinking from it continually, and if it says no eating or drinking on the bus then follow the rule. Practice a longer Eucharistic fast. On Sundays I attend 7am Mass and practice the old Eucharistic fast of no eating or drinking (not even water) from midnight, which is not as difficult as I thought (I wake up feeling very dry).

    1. God bless you, Elizabeth; you’re an inspiration for me with your fasting from September 14 to Easter. Thank you for your acts of reparation and your words of practical advice.

      And lest we not forget Nineveh (Jonah 3:4-7), where even the animals fasted to save Nineveh:
      “And Jonas began to enter into the city one day’s journey: and he cried, and said: Yet forty days, and Ninive shall be destroyed. And the men of Ninive believed in God: and they proclaimed a fast, and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least. And the word came to the king of Ninive; and he rose up out of his throne, and cast away his robe from him, and was clothed with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. And he caused it to be proclaimed and published in Ninive from the mouth of the king and of his princes, saying: Let neither men nor beasts, oxen nor sheep, taste any thing: let them not feed, nor drink water.”

  23. A young man had decided to seek spiritual advice of an old hermit in the desert. The young man went out to the desert and received his advice, before he left the desert, he asked the hermit, “in this age we are strong and keep vigil, fast, and pray without seising…do you think future generations will be as holy?” The hermit looked up at the young man and then stared back into the cave, “in the ages to come they will no longer fast, keep vigil, and will be weak in prayer, but in this age the devil is chained to the tree, but in ages to come he will no longer be chained, he will roam freely in society destroying those that he can.”

    I wonder what he meant by that?

  24. I have with God’s grace kept the old traditions of fasting during advent & Lent, 40 days in lent with no meat or dairy & for Advent no meat only. My daughter does the same and we do it together. We need fasting, mortification is needed in the spiritual life. God bless

  25. Monsignor, please allow a small disagreement. The folks in the past were not giants. They were ordinary folks like us. We could do the same thing, if encouraged by the Church. God’s grace is freely given to those who want to purify themselves by penance. There are some groups, like the Brothers and Sisters of Penance and the Confraternity of Penitents, that are trying to live a penitential life in a special way. People can read their material online to learn that penance is not self-punishment but purification. Not everyone is called to St. Francis’ Rule of 1221, but It would be good for the whole Church to begin doing what the ordinary folks of the past used to do.

    Jim Cole

  26. God really has a fun kind of sense of humour …. No sooner had I read this post and thought about fasting for the rest of this season was I struck down with the first symptoms of food poisoning. Now on a diet of plain rice porridge with salt and boiled water.

  27. The Orthodox have the 40 day Advent Fast, 40 Day Fast for Great Lent , The Apostles Fast before the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul can be up to 14 Days, and the Theotokos Fast of 14 Days. Also Wednesday and Friday of each week are days of strict fast. It would seem that the “Giants” are still out there.

  28. Yes, so that means sexual pleasure is essentially bad unless It is explicitly done for procreation, and that while “allowed” in marriage, the ideal is procreation alone. They are “allowed” to do it at other times, but only because they are otherwise tempted. Ergo, if they lack such temptation, they should probably give up sex.

    Please tell me how this view sees any good in it whatsoever. So a deep prayer life would mean that I should want my spouse sexually less and less, ad should want to be “free” of sexual thoughts and desiresdor my spouse, since apparently making love regularly is a “sexual compulsion” that the couple should be working to purge themselves of. So married folk should be tryin to purify their love of its sexual side.

    The tradition of the Church seems to me “more sex = less holiness” and that cotinence is not seen as giving up a great good, but as the absence of a necessary evil. Of course you can always use caveats like “great good”, but it’s not, at least in light of tradition. All this talk about the union experienced trough sexual activity, and about the good of sexual desire between spouses is a modern innovation it seems. Things really always have been “if you really love your wife, if you really honor her, you will be continent”, as St Jerome says. Sexual desire is the enemy to love, for many of the saints, it seems. And it seems that that’s what you are saying above. That married couples, if they really want to be holy, should look forward to the day when the can “grow out of it” and get rid of that nasty addictive compulsion.

    I guess the Church allows sex as training wheels for the weak and the morally retarded. So this essentially means, as many saints have said as implied, if I am not married and am not struggling to remain chaste, I’d be more or less displeasing God by marrying.

    It really does seem that tradition teaches that sex is only good explicitly for procreation, and is grudgingly allow to those who cannot limit themselves to this. So why even get married?

    And before you write me off as someone who is just trolling … you have no idea what kind of pain and guilt I have let all this cause me. I am very afraid of ever getting my wife back. Een if my annulment goes through (I’d rather not be doing it at all), I don’t know if I can marry again, since I’d be afraid of displeasing God.

    1. That was meant in response to Elizabeth D way at the top. It seems tradition places an expectation if total Continence on everyone and “allows” the use of marriage to those who have no self-control. This means married people should eventually give up sex altogether if they CAN avoid it.

    2. It sounds like you are at a difficult place in your life and it sounds like you are a really sincere Catholic, Chase, and genuinely desire holiness. Through some of my own experiences I think I can understand why you feel so anxious and for you it seems to have to do with the question of remarriage. You seem able to discern whether to remarry if you get an annulment. If for any reason you don’t or can’t maybe it would be some consolation to you that continence is a virtue (Jesus and St Paul says remaining unmarried for the sake of the kingdom of God is good and preferable “for those to whom it is given”). In marriage you get to practice an awful lot of virtues and help one another on the way to heaven. Matrimony is a sacrament (it is something God does, and not grudgingly or with displeasure, it is good) and if that is licit for you and you pray about it and remarry sacramentally in good faith desiring a holy marriage that serves God then good, that is your vocation then.

      I experience celibate chastity (continence) as a gift in my own life, that I am grateful for, that is good and beautiful to me, so that is part of where I am coming from.

      If you are able to remarry and do remarry, then it will please God for you to live that marriage well.

  29. As a college student in the mid-1980s I had a part-time job in the kitchen of a nursing home. Although the facility was owned by a Jewish man, there never was meat on Fridays. Never, all year round.

    I never thought to wonder about Fish Fridays at the time, but looking back I suppose there were enough residents who refused meat to make it impractical NOT to have Fish Fridays. Of course the changes of Vatican II had been implemented 20 years earlier, but these older folks were then already well into their adult years, and not about to change the habits of a lifetime.

    1. I have a friend who is in a Catholic assisted living home (like a nursing home). They usually/always have at least one meatless meal on Fridays but often there will be something like a ham sandwich for another meal. My friend is not that concerned about it but it bothers me. Of course, I don’t think there is anyone who would say it is important for the frail elderly who cannot cook for themselves anymore to abstain from meat on Fridays.

Comments are closed.