LITURGY MATTERS: Fasting – There is much to be gained!

By Michael McKenna, Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies

Social media is abuzz with another weight loss craze – intermittent fasting. A plethora of “app” options for iOS and Android are promoted to track, inform and encourage us to bust the bulge through intermittent fasting.

Among the most popular apps, features include all the timers, journals and tools you’ll need to realise the new you. One app even boasts a fasting “mood graph”, although, from Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 6:17), it seems to me that no chart ought be necessary to gauge mood if we are encouraged to “anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to others to be fasting”.

As Catholics we are frequently told of the power of fasting, particularly when it is accompanied by prayer. Pope Francis reminds us that Jesus taught the weapons of God are prayer and fasting.

The Holy Father says that the corporal fasting to which Lent calls us fortifies our spirit for the battle against sin. Certainly, to restrain our desires is to strengthen the soul through which our prayer becomes more powerful.

To master the human condition through such discipline is to protect ourselves from the soul-destroying effects that, left to reign free, our human excesses ensure.

Saint Thomas Aquinas said that fasting was virtuous. We should fast he said for three reasons which are good and noble:

  • to restrain the desires of the flesh;
  • to raise the mind to contemplate sublime things;
  • to make satisfaction for our sins.

St John Chrysostom poses the question: “Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honoured, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies… Let the mouth also fast from disgraceful speeches and unjust criticism. For what does it profit if we abstain from fish and fowl and yet bite and devour our brothers and sisters?”

This Lent let us approach our fasting anew guided by Aquinas, Chrysostom and so many others who have testified to the efficacy of Christian fasting. If the apps are right, you’ll lose a few pounds. But if the saints are right, that new you… well, that person, will be more beautiful and more content than any app could possibly promise!

Tags: Liturgy