Lenten Fasting and Your Health

A simple fasting meal consisting of an apple, a glass of water, and a piece of bread
This article is geared towards our Catholic patients who may be fasting this Lent.  Catholic or not, please read on if you would like to learn about healthy Lenten fasting within the Catholic Church.

What is Lent?

Within the Catholic faith, Lent is the time of spiritual preparation leading up to Easter.  Lent is 40 days long, calling to mind Christ’s 40 day journey into the desert before beginning His public ministry.  During this time, Christ fasted and prayed to prepare Himself for the mission that would end in His passion and death.  Every year in preparation for the celebration of that passion and resurrection, the Church follows the example of Christ by symbolically going into the desert for 40 days as well.

Fasting

In general, fasting is the act of doing with less than one is accustomed to.  Specifically, fasting involves eating less food than one usually would.  In the Catholic Church, those ages 18 – 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, by eating only one full meal, along with two smaller meals sufficient to maintain strength.  Seen together, the two smaller meals should not equal a full meal.  Additionally, eating between meals is not permitted, although liquids are allowed at any point.

What does this mean for me?

Even in the “desert” time of Lent, the Church recognizes the importance of healthy living, and makes this a priority.  Thus the Church excuses certain people from the Lenten fasting obligations.  Men and women who are not between the ages of 18 and 59 are automatically excluded from the fasting requirement.  Additionally, those who are frail, pregnant, or participating in heavy manual labor are also pardoned from the obligation. The Church understands that it could be harmful for some people to commit to the Lenten fast, and upholds the health, well-being, and flourishing of all people over the fulfillment of the requirement.  After all, while fasting can greatly aid in spiritual growth, ultimately it is a contrite and merciful heart that the Lord requires rather than “sacrifices or burnt offerings” such as fasting.

  As part of this “desert” experience, the Church focuses in particular on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving during the Lenten season.  These sacrifices are not made because God wants His people to suffer.  Rather, they are for the sake of growing in spiritual discipline.  Lenten sacrifices are to encourage people to turn away from sin, purify their souls, and gain the inner strength necessary to take up their crosses along with Christ.

Fasting

In general, fasting is the act of doing with less than one is accustomed to.  Specifically, fasting involves eating less food than one usually would.  In the Catholic Church, those ages 18 – 59 are required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, by eating only one full meal, along with two smaller meals sufficient to maintain strength.  Seen together, the two smaller meals should not equal a full meal.  Additionally, eating between meals is not permitted, although liquids are allowed at any point.

What does this mean for me?

Even in the “desert” time of Lent, the Church recognizes the importance of healthy living, and makes this a priority.  Thus the Church excuses certain people from the Lenten fasting obligations.  Men and women who are not between the ages of 18 and 59 are automatically excluded from the fasting requirement.  Additionally, those who are frail, pregnant, or participating in heavy manual labor are also pardoned from the obligation. The Church understands that it could be harmful for some people to commit to the Lenten fast, and upholds the health, well-being, and flourishing of all people over the fulfillment of the requirement.  After all, while fasting can greatly aid in spiritual growth, ultimately it is a contrite and merciful heart that the Lord requires rather than “sacrifices or burnt offerings” such as fasting.