Fasting on Ash Wednesday

Why Fasting?

Today the word 'fasting' means a total abstention from all food. In the historic Church, it means a disciplined diet so that your animal appetites become a sort of spiritual snooze alarm. Although no such period of fasting was ascribed in the Bible, fasting and penitence came to be associated with Lent following the way Jesus did. The Lenten tradition of fasting commemorates the forty-day fast of Jesus in the desert after his baptism and before the beginning of his public ministry.

Today in the United States, Roman Catholics in the age groups of 21 to 59 are required to fast and abstain only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence from meat is recommended for the other Fridays of Lent. Voluntary fasts and abstinences are encouraged for the entire season.

Earlier, in Catholic Europe, fasting was decreed first by church laws. England enforced it also by its statute law. Meat, eggs and milk were forbidden and any lapse into gluttony could be severely punished.James II issued a proclamation in the London Gazette a year before the Bloodless Revolution of 1688 urging that the people abstain from meat. However, by giving alms to the poor, a license permitting the eating of meat could be acquired in St. Paul's Churchyard. In the days of stricter abstinence the money saved through fasting was to be donated to the poor.

The practice, however, fell into abeyance later. Being out of the purview of the Bible the devotion to Lenten food laws waned, especially by the time of the Puritans. Finally, in 1863 England repealed the food laws. And gradually the practice came to be reduced to only two days. The first day and the final day.

While the Lenten tradition of fasting has its religious connotation, the practice could also be regarded to be backed by some hygienic prudence. A light eating practice between two session of heavy feast is always helpful to tone up the digestive system. So instead of continuing with the usual practice of gluttony or overindulgence in the food habit, a controlled dieting of low animal protein could always be helpful at least as a preparation for the great feasting session of Easter.
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