I know that this is a sign of my own spiritual laziness. Some demons can only be driven out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:29 and Matthew 17:21), and when the bridegroom has departed, then they will fast (Mark 2:20 and Matthew 9:15). I know that fasting teaches us discipline and instills in us a degree of detachment from material things. I know that we can unite any suffering (headaches and hunger) that we sustain as a result of fasting to the suffering of Christ, and thus it becomes redemptive. In the words of Catholic mothers everywhere, “Offer it up!”
In obedience to the authority of the Church, therefore, I fast on the days that the Church tells me I must, but rarely do I go beyond that.
Now (OK, actually it goes back to December 6) it seems that our bishops want us to fast and abstain on every Friday of the Year of Faith. I hadn’t heard that until this week. Back when the bishops had their fall meeting, there were some calls to return to abstinence from meat on every Friday of the year, and that got some attention. This is at least an order of magnitude greater, but I haven’t heard a peep. It's all contained in the bishops' Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty.
Here’s the news release from the bishops’ web site. Here’s a letter from Archbishop Schnurr endorsing the practice for the Archdiocese of Cincinnati. Note that I can’t find the letter on the website of the Archdiocese of Cincinnati, rather I have to go to a parish web site to find the Archbishop’s letter.
The Church has established Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of fasting and abstinence from meat, and all Fridays of Lent as days of abstinence. This year, however, Lent comes at a time when the bishops of the United States have asked us to do more.
As part of a five-part “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage, and Religious Liberty,” the bishops of the United States have called us to fast and abstain from meat every Friday, if we are able, during the Year of Faith.
Archbishop Dennis Schnurr
The weekly fasting, by the way, is only one point in a five point program. Other points include a monthly holy hour and a daily rosary. It’s a pretty rigorous proposition, and if the bishops were serious, it seems like (a) they would make more of an effort to get the word out, at the very least issuing a news release and having the message read from the pulpit at every Sunday mass and (b) the press would take note.
One of the precepts of the Church is to observe days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church. The action points in the bishops' Call to Prayer are suggestions rather than obligations, and they don’t have any real canonical status. However, our bishop is telling us we should do something. He has apostolic authority. We should listen to him.
(H/T to Rich at Over the Rhine and Into the Tiber)