Fasting and Abstinence Guidelines and a Meditation on Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving!
Abstinence -- Catholics over 14 years of age are bound to the obligation of abstinence. Abstinence is to
be observed on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent. On days of abstinence, meat may not be used
Fast -- Catholics over 18 and up to the beginning of their 60th year are bound to the obligation of
fasting. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are the days of fasting. On these days, only one full meal is
allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to each one’s
needs, but together they should not equal another full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted, but
liquids, including milk and fruit juices are allowed. Regarding other weekdays of Lent, participation in
daily Mass and the voluntary observance of fasting is recommended.
Commendable, particularly during Lent, is generosity to local, national and world programs of sharing
our abundance, the traditional Lenten Devotions and all the self-denial summed up in the Christian concept
Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are works of piety that make space for a right use of reason. Many spiritual people do not connect works of piety with reason or love or freedom. Without making good use of reason, freedom and love, our works of piety will fall short of our Lenten Observance, and the healing that this season offers us will not be realized.
We must confront some popular misconceptions about our human reality. Reason is presumed as cold and calculating, the dispassionate part of our psychology whose purpose is exhausted in minimizing risks and maximizing opportunities. Freedom is associated with selfish indulgence and escape from responsibility. Love is often thought to be irrational or opposed to reason or simply a feeling. Although to the extend that they are isolated from one another some of these presumptions about these spiritual realities might be true, God created these wonderful powers to be related in a kind of sacred harmony resonating in the spiritual interior of our lives.
Frequent confession and extra-sacramental penance like making a pilgrimage or observing Friday abstinences are aids to this difficult work. It is a manner of asceticism, of spiritual practice, out of love for the Lord. It is not a matter of accomplishment or achievement, but a matter of vulnerable surrender and humbling ourselves before an inestimable gift. To fully realize our God-given human vocation, we must do everything we can to tune and discipline our use of reason and piety, love and freedom until they are made to resound in divinizing harmony through our spiritual exercises this Lent.
The harmony of reason, freedom and love with works of piety is gift upon gift - restoring and perfecting the image and likeness of God in us. The gift of human reason is given by God so that we might use our freedom to love in a manner that gives Him glory. Through the Holy Spirit who prays in us, the gifts of prayer, fasting and almsgiving expand the capacity of reason to find the holy freedom such divinized love demands -- a freedom that gives space to everything that is good and authentic in our humanity and that frees us from everything that is not worthy of the noble calling that we have received.
Because of sin and its limiting power, unaided reason by itself cannot secure this kind of freedom. So we surrender to the Holy Spirit who convinces us of sin and the deep things of God. He prompts us to be merciful when we are otherwise thoughtless or resentful, and He moves us to venture with love into situations that we would otherwise find inconvenient and repulsive. When the Holy Spirit raises reason up in prayer, when the limited designs of our hearts are pierced by the limitless designs in His, the vast expanse of human frailty is laid bare and capacities unfamiliar to us are revealed. It is here, in this desert wilderness, that the music of heaven is waiting to fill. It in this emptiness and poverty of heart that the divine harmony of human reason, freedom, love and piety resounds.