Thursday, July 14, 2011

Practice of the Protestant Reformed Religion: Fasting

This is the second post in a series designed to introduce the reader to a Protestant High Church understanding of the religious life and godly piety. I want readers to know that the renewal of Protestant High Churchmanship is not simply an academic pursuit by the author out of an eclectic curiosity but, rather, a real opportunity to revive Anglicanism in North America.

Fasting is an essential part of Christian practice and especially within the context of Anglicanism. It is important to note the teaching of Jesus on the subject, "And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you" (Matthew 6:16-18). We note that Jesus says, "When you fast," not "if." Our Lord expects that we will fast within our life as a Christian, meaning it is not an option for Christians. The Prayer Book realizes this call from our Lord and gives us some suggestions as to when to fast. Notably, the Prayer Book does not define fasting for us. We can look to certain sources to define fasting. Within the Bible there are three types of fasting: partial fast, full fast, and the absolute fast. Three biblical figures used these types of fasts to grow closer to God. Daniel fasted partially from meats and wine, "In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks" (Daniel 10:2-3). Jesus is most known for the full fast during his time in the wilderness. Paul used the absolute fast in the Damascus Road experience. The last fast is something supernatural that God must specifically call one to and must be maintained by the Holy Spirit. The Western tradition distinguishes between fasting and abstinence. Abstinence is simply the practice of not eating meat. Fasting is the practice of eating only one full meal and two smaller meals. The Roman Catholic Church today requires fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence on all Fridays of Lent. (Thanks to this site for an explanation of biblical fasting). The Prayer Book does not define fasting so I think it is something that the individual can decide on their own. I tend to follow the Roman Catholic practice of fasting (a partial fast) but adding the following observances from the Prayer Book.

The 1662 BCP calls for fasting or abstinence on the following days:

1. The Forty Days of Lent
2. The Ember Days
a. The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the First Sunday in Lent
b. The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after the Feast of Pentecost
c. The Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday after September 14 and December 13, respectively
3. The Three Rogation Days being the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Holy Thursday or Ascension Day
4. All Fridays throughout the year, except Christmas Day

The 1662 BCP also calls for fasts on the vigils of certain feasts:

1. The Nativity of Our Lord
2. Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary
3. The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
4. Easter Day
5. Ascension Day
6. Pentecost
7. St. Matthias
8. St. John the Baptist
9. St. Peter
10. St. James
11. St. Bartholomew
12. St. Matthew
13. Ss. Simon & Jude
14. St. Andrew
15. St. Thomas
16. All Saints

Obviously, this is a rigorous fasting program. I would not advise anyone to start this program "cold turkey." It is crucial when fasting to start slow and work your way up. If you have never fasted or not done so in a long time, start with something very small. Try giving up coffee on Friday mornings or cutting out snacks. After you've mastered that small discipline, try to make it more difficult. Try cutting out a meal or making your meals smaller. Remember to listen to the Holy Spirit and follow His lead.

No comments: