Saturday, August 13, 2011

Fasting is longing after God and breaks demonic strongholds...Why then have we largely abandoned its practice?

Fasting must accompany our prayer. Why? Because Fasting helps subject our bodies to our spirits (1 Cor 9:27), because fasting disciplines the body, mind, and spirit (Prov. 25:28), because fasting subordinates our flesh with its desires to the desires of the Spirit (Gal 5:17), because fasting helps us to set priorities in our lives. (Mt 6:33) and because fasting is really longing after God. (Ps 63:1-2). The power of fasting is a mystery. Which is probably why those who deem themselves "intelligent," "reasonable" and "rational" cannot understand its importance. But whether such people accept it or not, fasting breaks demonic strongholds and demonic attacks and helps us to walk in the spirit rather than the flesh, to sow to the Spirit, not to the sinful nature.

Before the practice of daily Mass, people were encouraged to fast for 24 hours before Mass.  My mother and father often spoke of how their families observed this day-long fast as they were growing up.  Pope Pius XII changed the rules in an effort to encourage daily Mass participation.  In his Motu Propio Sacram Communionem (March 19, 1957), the Holy Father said that, "Priests and faithful, before Holy Mass or Holy Communion respectively, must abstain for three hours from solid foods..."  But how many actually do attend daily Mass?  Or even Sunday Mass for that matter?  Many Catholics attend Mass when they feel like it.  Some only at Christmas and Easter.  And now the Eucharistic fast is down to one hour before Holy Communion.  How many fail to observe this one hour fast?

This is a real tragedy not only because fasting strengthens us spiritually, but because we must make a good faith effort to prepare ourselves properly to receive the Lord Jesus, Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity in the Most Blessed Sacrament.  Canon 919 of the Code of Canon Law states that, "One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion."

It is easy to think that since the Church has lessened the time of the Eucharistic fast, it is not a serious matter after all.  But as Dr. Germain Grisez has noted, "Traditionally, the Eucharistic fast, required by the Church for the sake of reverence, was considered a grave responsibility which did not admit parvity.  Now, since the requirement is more easily fulfilled, its violation is even harder to excuse...Someone who deliberately disregards the Eucharistic fast out of irreverence for Jesus or contempt for the Church's law plainly is guilty of grave sin.  And, knowing that the fast has been broken, whether by accident or on purpose, in a significant way, anyone as reverent and obedient as he or she should be, will not receive Holy Communion, except for a reason sufficient to justify an exception to the Church's law.."

Because of a lack of sound catechesis, many of the faithful no longer approach the Eucharist - the Holy of Holies - with the reverence required.  In Dominicae Cenae, Pope John Paul II addressed the problem of those who are not properly disposed to receive Holy Communion.  The Holy Father wrote, "In fact, what one finds most often is not so much a feeling of unworthiness as a certain lack of interior willingness, if one may use this expression, a lack of Eucharistic 'hunger' and 'thirst,' which is also a sign of lack of adequate sensitivity towards the great sacrament of love and a lack of understanding of its nature.."

Perhaps we should return to the three hour fast?  Or a longer one?

Why not?  What is the argument against fasting?


  1. BostonCatholic2011August 13, 2011 at 6:37 AM

    I have always believed that the easing of the Eucharistic fast (from three hours to one) was a mistake. But then, I also believe dropping the St. Michael prayer which was recited after Mass, was a mistake.

    But I'm just an "ordinary" lay-person. Who cares what I think? We must worry about pleasing liberals and dissidents like the radical homosexual group at St. Cecilia's in Boston.

  2. Father John Hardon. in his Modern Catholic Dictionary, defines fasting thusly: "A form of penance that imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food or drink. From the first century Christians have observed fasting days of precept, notably during the season of Lent in commemoration of Christ's passion and death."

    Fasting is not popular today precisely because it imposes limits. "Modern man" has a tendency to reject limits or anything which reminds him of his creaturely status, his dependence upon God.

  3. fasting for 24 hours before Communion? That was not the rule before Pius XII.

    The rule was fasting from midnight (and the fast included water). Which is why minimalist early Masses were popular (it is especially why Midnight Mass on Christmas was popular, given that the Vigil was long a day of fasting and abstinence, so going to Midnight Mass was the fastest way to break the fast, and then how!)

    It is said that the devil sends evil in pairs that we may run from one to embrace the other. While no fasting is not, we need to remember what the Desert Fathers learned rather quickly: that asceticism is a *powerful* avenue for temptations of pride and anger and resentment. You don't adopt ascetic life to slay temptation or sin, but only to go deeper into the fire of them. It should never be promoted as a magical path towards virtue, but instead as a a fearsome thing that merits proper spiritual direction.

  4. Liam, you're mistaken. Paul never said that fasting 24 hours before Communion was a rule. He said it was encouraged. He wrote, "Before the practice of daily Mass, people were encouraged to fast for 24 hours before Mass." I actually remember those days. And this is confirmed by a priest here:


    You are reckless and irresponsible to assert that Paul is promoting fasting as "a magical path towards virtue." Rather, he has provided us with the Scriptural basis for fasting.

    It is my hope that Paul will ban you from this forum. You aren't here to contribute anything positive. You're here to attack and ridicule. This makes me believe that you are really the same individual who was constantly attacking Paul at La Salette Journey and at other Blogs: "Jerry."

  5. Michael


    I did not attack or ridicule Paul here. I did not say Paul was promoting a magical path towards virtue, only a caution in the sense that of the common Catholic dictum that an excess of certain acts designed to produce virtue can produce vice.

    And I am not only not Jerry, but have no idea who the heck Jerry is. I've been commenting on Catholic discussion boards (and then blogs) for over 15 years.

    However I will note that you directly accused me of being reckless and irresponsible, that I contribute nothing positive, et cet. Nothing more need be said.

  6. Liam, you were trying to make it seem as if Paul said fasting for 24 hours was a "rule" of the Church. He never said that. Then you wrote that fasting is not "a magical path towards virtue." Who said it was? But it was Hedwig of Silesia who wrote, "Do you not know that fasting can master concupiscence, lift up the soul, confirm it in the paths of virtue, and prepare a fine reward for the Christian?"

    What is your end game here "Liam"? To undermine the intent of this Blog from the get go? Do you really see people overdoing asceticism today for the most part? Why then do you chime in with "asceticism is a powerful avenue for temptations of pride and anger and resentment"?

    I don't see over-asceticism today. I see spiritual laziness. Sloth. Gluttony. The problem today isn't that most people are over scrupulous or engaging in exagerrated asceticism. The problem today is one of lukewarmness. Not excessive zeal.

    Again, no one is claiming that fasting is a magic wand as it were to dispel evil. But fasting in a prayerful spirit does drive out evil. And it is necessary for the spiritual life. St. Dominic wrote, "Fight the good fight, my daughters, against our ancient foe, fight him insistently with fasting, because no one will win the crown of victory without engaging in the contest in the proper way."

    St. Dominic saw fasting as critical in the spiritual contest. You should too.


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