Friday, March 08, 2013

Friday Abstinence (Don't Forget It's Friday)

Abstinence and fasting are not the same thing.  In fact, I wrote to a well-known Catholic teacher's site recently about this very thing. They had a nice worksheet for Lent that included the most important things to do for lent:  Prayer, Almsgiving, and Fasting.  However, the worksheet said fasting was giving up meat on Fridays during Lent and giving up meat or something else on Fridays the rest of the year.  I wrote to her and said, "With all due respect fasting is when all food is given up on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday."  Actually, canon law prescribes one light meal and just enough food the rest of the day to keep one safe, but not enough to add up to another meal.  Anyway, she wrote me back the same day.  She said I was "technically" correct and that she did not want me to teach my class inaccurate information.  So, she changed the worksheet that very day to reflect the actual meaning of fasting and abstinence.

Abstinence in connection with Lent is abstaining from meat.  Abstinence (and fasting) from certain food actually predates the Church.  As far back as Genesis 2:16-17, God ordered the abstinence from a certain fruit from a certain tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The purpose was to lead the "moral head of the human race to recognize" his "dependence of creature on Creator."(1)  Adam's eventual transgression of this proscription led to more debt owed by the creature to the Creator.  Thus the necessity of penance was born.  Abstinence is not only a form of penance, but a work of charity.  Meat was chosen because it helped those who had more to sympathize with those who had less (a feeling of charity/love of neighbor).  When the poor could afford it or catch it, they ate fish.  Thus we identify with the poor by eating fish on Fridays.  It is a penitential opportunity that helps us remember our dependence on and gratefulness to God.

There are many examples of fast and abstinence in the Old Testament.  The practice had a long, respected tradition before the Church was founded by Jesus Christ.  Our Lenten practices honor and imitate His fast in the desert for 40 days, before His Passion.  There is much evidence that fasting and abstinence was an important part of early Church practices.  The practices we know today are part of the noble Tradition of the Church imitating and obeying our Lord Jesus Christ.

PS Sorry, I did not send out last Friday's reminder, but there was a better post on the blog anyway and I did not want to take away for it.

(1) "Abstinence," Catholic Encyclopedia.

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