Historically the Church has called believers to fast on Fridays to commemorate our Lord’s passion. Typically it is a call to a partial fast such as not eating meat. Thus when I was growing up public schools served fish on Fridays and today during Lent all the burger joints are selling fish sandwiches.
But the Prayer Book calls us to a total fast on Good Friday. If you are new to fasting or need a refresher allow me to give you some background and then some suggestions.
WHY FASTING? There are several good reasons for fasting. First it is a way to humble ourselves before God. Ps 69:10. That little two-year-old kid that lives in all of us (the Bible calls it “the flesh”) always wants his way and wants it now. When we fast we are telling the little brat “NO!” It does him good to be put in his place.
Second, when we fast we are reminding ourselves of our true priorities. We are declaring, as our Lord put it, “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Third fasting empowers us during spiritual warfare. We see this when our Lord overcame the temptations of the enemy during His fast. This is particularly important during this plague. I read an article that priests are reporting an increase of demonic activity in part because Mass is not being sad. I do not think that it is just a coincidence that the virus is peaking during Holy Week. There is more going on here than just a virus. Fasting and prayer is how we push back against the forces of darkness.
Fourth fasting intensifies discernment. In Acts 13 the Apostles fasted to discern whom to send out to proclaim the Gospel. It seems that when we quiet our flesh through fasting that our spirit can better hear the Lord’s voice.
Fifth, barring any medical issues, fasting is good for you. It is like a soft reboot to your body and soul.
WHEN TO FAST? It is important not to be legalistic about this because it can be a fast track to being a junior Pharisee. Remember that Jesus said to do it in secret and not before men so that the Father will properly reward you. As mentioned above Fridays are typical fast days. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of total abstinence, which means not just giving up meat but giving up all food. It has also been the tradition to fast before receiving Holy Communion. (That is why the 8 0’clock Mass was so popular.) But if you are not able to do that, the tradition is total abstinence at least one hour before receiving Holy Communion. Other times of fasting are tied to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
HOW LONG TO FAST? Again be careful about legalism. Total abstinence is best kept to a 24-hour period. Ancients would fast from sundown to sundown. Partial fasts can be for a season as we do in Lent. Liquid only fasts can go for more than 24 hours but I strongly advise being under spiritual direction if you choose to go on an extended fast.
HOW TO FAST? In a one day fast it is typical to abstain from all food but allow liquids such as water or juice (no it doesn’t count if you put a cheeseburger in a blender). If the fast is longer than 24 hours the liquids may be more substantial than just water. Use your good judgment here. Remember we are not jumping through spiritual hoops or trying to win God’ favor. He already could not love you any more or any less. Periodic fasts like Fridays and Lent, and sometimes Advent, are when we fast from particular foods or from things other than food such as social media.
This Good Friday we are fasting from one another, which makes it a particularly difficult fast. Let’s stay connected. Morning Prayer will be live streamed at 7am. Stations of the Cross will post at noon. The Good Friday liturgy will be up by 3pm. We fast to humble ourselves but the beautiful promise of God is that when we humble ourselves He will exalt us.