Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fasting: a quick public service announcement

As we all know, Lent begins tomorrow. Following a discussion I had with a family member I'd like to share some helpful links about fasting:

EWTN on fasting

Jimmy Akin on the question of beverages and fasting

From the above link:

When we do that, it is immediately clear that in interpreting the Church's laws regarding fasting the terms "meal" and "food" are understood as being food rather than beverages. If you go look in old moral theologies, they invariably talk about the fact that you can drink things--including things other than water--on days of fasting.

Some moralists have considered alcoholic beverages contrary to the spirit of the day, but they don't consider beverages other than water to be contrary to the spirit. Examples they commonly cite of beverages that are okay to have on fasting days are milk and fruit juices and coffee with cream, all of which contain calories.

Beverages just are not included under the law of fasting.

This means that, if I wanted, I could drink can after can of low-carb protein shakes on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and consume 3500 calories of them and still be within the letter of the law.

I would not, however, be within the spirit of the law, which is to encourage moderate hunger as a form of spiritual discipline. If I use calorie-laden beverages (or hunger suppressants) to get around that then I am violating the spirit though not the letter of the law.

The above is helpful to me, because as someone who deals with those pesky migraines on occasion, I used to just accept the fact that I would just about always have a migraine on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday and on Holy Saturday. It was just part of the fasting package.

But when I found out that it was okay to drink a little fruit juice or milk between meals if necessary, I also discovered that the post-fasting migraine wasn't a foregone conclusion. True, as Jimmy writes, you aren't supposed to be drinking calorie-rich beverages in order not to feel hungry--but if you are drinking them to ward off mild hypoglycemia that isn't in itself bad enough to exempt you from fasting (which some of my skinny sisters suffer from), or to keep from the kind of blood-sugar crash that is implicated in some types of migraine, or to be able to serve at the altar at an evening E.F. Ash Wednesday Mass without fainting halfway through, or to be able to drive safely home from work or to that Mass, then you can drink the beverage with a clear conscience, because such beverages are not forbidden on fasting days.

Now, if you do suffer from a bona fide health condition which makes fasting unduly burdensome or even dangerous, or are pregnant or nursing, chances are that you aren't subject to the strict fast anyway. When in doubt, ask your pastor (preferably before the fast day begins). Of course, not being subject to the strict fast does not preclude offering up some voluntary sacrifice to unite yourself with the spirit of the fast day.


Deirdre Mundy said...

If you're pregnant, you could actually be sinning BY strict fasting (since you then endanger the health of your child.) It's also interesting that, if you read the old Catholic encyclopedia entry, people engaged in 'brain work' for pay are exempt from the strict fasting (the old 'no eating' kind) because they would be depriving their employer of their just work by being stupid from hypoglycemia.

When I was pregnant during Lent, I always fasted from NON-NUTRITIVE food. So I'd have a peanut butter sandwich, but leave off the jelly. Ot I'd have a glass of milk instead of the icecream I REALLY wanted. It's a practical way for pregnant women to keep to the spirit of a fast without harming the baby or themselves.

I'm also (according to my husband) not PERMITTED to fast from coffee, because lack of caffination makes me a bad mother! :) So I leave the sugar and milk out and drink it black.

BTW-- been menaing to post an update, but I've been busy--Thanks for the advice and encouragement! Last week's Mass went much better. (We also splurged and got sausage links. Cleaner than oatmeal, and it turns out the high-protein and fat breakfast turned my 3 year old from a psycopath into an angel!)

Charlotte (Waltzing Matilda) said...

"because they would be depriving their employer of their just work by being stupid from hypoglycemia."

Deirdre!!! This made me snort laugh! Thanks for the chuckle!
My husband usually does the no cream or sugar in his coffee for Lent. Like you, he needs the caffeine sometimes for his sinuses and head, but the cream and sugar just makes it a treat.

melanie said...

Red, you would know better than me, but I would think migraines as you suffer them would be considered serious enough? Especially if fasting exacerbates them? Seems you could do what Deirdre is suggesting and give up non essential things? Anyway, there wasn't going to be much fasting around here until Deirdre made the point that ice cream is somehow non essential when pregnant, are you crazy!? I'm totally kidding of course, that's actually a great idea. We'll see what I can manage given the first few months are pretty much imposed fasting and now that food finally seems appealing again, it's time to give it up! Certainly I can TRY to do without brownies....;-) happy Lent all.

Deirdre Mundy said...

Melanie-- Ice Cream IS essential when you're pregnant! Just not on Ash Wednesday! :)

I always think of Pregnancy as a long Lent. If you're like me, the nausea really never goes away, and then labor is Good Friday, and Baby is Easter!

Martha said...

The one time I asked our pastor about not fasting while nursing, he blushed, stammered, looked around, and finally got out, "Well, you have to take care of your baby of course." It was though I had asked about ... well, something explicitly sexual (which nursing is not!!! .) Does someone actually have a pastor who 1) will take the time to talk to a parishioner about a lowly matter such as this and 2) act like a grownup about it? If so, lucky you! Otherwise, I'd say just assume you cannot do a strict fast. Seriously, I cannot envision the scenario in which the Church says, "Sure, you're depriving a baby of nourishment - but hey, it's time for them to learn to offer things up!" Even with a nursing toddler, can't picture that.

Martha said...

Hey - it took out my soapbox tag. Well, just imagine it right in there. :)

Deirdre Mundy said...

Martha-- traditionally Nursing women were exempt, if you look at the OLD rules. Also, Francis De Sales had something about nursing moms fasting.

Catholic.org says:
Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.