Traditionally, in the Christian tradition, Lenten observance has included a variety of practices including prayer, fasting and abstinence, penance and almsgiving. The goals of these practices are to experience spiritual awakening, purification and renewal. The earliest available evidence suggests Lent probably began with pre-Easter rituals for catechumens.
Fasting involves limiting the amount of the food that we consume. For example, limiting our intake to one small meal per day. Abstinence involves refraining from particular foods. For example, one may refrain from eating meat, or chocolates, or from drinking
soda or alcohol. Many who grew up Roman Catholic, for example, may recall the requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent; and to maintain a general fast (i.e., a simplified diet) throughout Lent.
Some undertake periods of fasting and/or abstinence for reasons other than spiritual practice; for example, to loose weight. Others undertake them without much of a spiritual focus; for example, habitually 'giving up chocolate for Lent.' Therefore, our motivation is as important as the actual practice. When undertaken as part of an intentional spiritual practice, fasting and/or abstinence have proven to be beneficial for many.
Among the spiritual benefits that such practices can yield include:
- An increased capacity to live in the present moment;
- An increased awareness of one's dependence upon one’s creator, higher power, or God;
- An increased sense of gratitude for the gifts and blessings which one experiences;
- An increased spiritual sensitivity
- An increased compassion for the poor, who routinely go without sufficient food.
If you are interested in undertaking an intentional spiritual practice of fasting and/or abstinence, during Lent or at another time, here are some practical suggestions. First, consider why you are undertaking this practice, and what you hope to experience
through it. Talk with God about your thoughts and feelings, hopes and goals. Second, decide on a reasonable practice that will be sustainable for the period of time. This should not be so severe a practice that it poses a risk to your health. Third, begin each day with a moment of refocusing; remember what you have chosen to do, and why. Fourth, be mindful of the spiritual dimension of what is happening. For example, when you are experiencing consequences of fasting and/or abstinence (such as feelings of hunger, preoccupation with food, etc.), reflect on how these experiences are impacting you spiritually. Finally, if you 'slip' and are temporarily not able to keep the practice you have chosen, do not feel too guilty about it. Simply observe what has happened, and learn what lesson there is to learn from the experience. Then, continue with the practice you have chosen.
The Ecumenical Catholic Communion does not prescribe or require the Lenten practices of fasting and abstinence. Our refraining from prescribing these practices should not suggest that we do not recognize the potential benefits of such practices for many people. Rather, we choose
to honor each individual's right to decide for themselves what practices might be of benefit to them. Thus, we strongly encourage folks to enter deeply into this important season of Lent; to adopt a general attitude of simplicity and humility; and to engage in whatever spiritual practices will help you experience spiritual renewal, and more fully enter into the mysteries that we celebrate. And, for some, this will include fasting and abstinence.