The Secret of Fasting
Fasting is limiting our intake of food in response to God's call and for the building of His kingdom. Almost all the great men and women of God throughout history have known a secret, the secret of fasting. They have understood the power and the privilege of fasting. We cannot fast unless we have God's permission. But when God permits us to fast, we have the opportunity to be in the forefront of His work. We are honored to be chosen to have such an important part in the Spirit's movement. Fasting is a power, privilege, opportunity, and honor. But only those who know the secret recognize this.
OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT FASTING
Throughout much of the Old Testament, there was only one fast day, the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29). Later, other fasts were called for either because of a state of emergency or on the anniversary of a national tragedy (Zech 7:3-4). Fasting was an attempt to end a terrible circumstance.
In the new covenant, we fast in a different way, as after the wedding feast (Mk 2:20). We fast not only to end tragedy but to begin ministry. Jesus fasted for 40 days to begin His public ministry (Mt 4:2). The church of Antioch fasted to begin the first missionary journey (Acts 13:2). We fast not so much because of destruction and tragedy as because of construction and fulfillment.
FASTING AND DELIVERANCE
Pope John Paul II has taught: "Jesus Himself has shown us by His own example that prayer and fasting are the first and most effective weapons against the forces of evil (cf. Mt 4:1-11). As He taught His disciples, some demons cannot be driven out except in this way (cf. Mk 9:29)" (Gospel of Life, 100). Fasting sets us free (Is 58:6). Even Ahab, the worst sinner in the world, was temporarily freed from destruction by turning to fasting (1 Kg 21:25-29). The Ninevites were also freed from imminent destruction through fasting (Jon 3:5-10). Esther's fasting helped free the Jewish nation from extermination (Est 4:16). Joel announced the same call (Jl 2:15). All these people knew the secret. Fasting frees us from the most impossible circumstances, even from Satan.
For example, in our fight for life and against abortion, we are in humanly impossible circumstances. The pro-death forces dominate the government, business, entertainment, education, and mass media. We are like David fighting the Goliath of Planned Parenthood. However, "it is easy for many to be overcome by a few; in the sight of Heaven there is no difference between deliverance by many or by a few; for victory in war does not depend upon the size of the army, but on strength that comes from Heaven" (1 Mc 3:18-19); see also 2 Chr 20:3; Est 4:16). Fasting is one of the main ways the Lord gives us strength for victory and freedom from the evil one (Mt 4:1ff). Fasting is a way in which the Lord gives the underdog victory.
THE CHAIN REACTION OF FASTING
Fasting is often the fastest way to accomplish anything. When God calls us to fast, more can be done in a short time than in years. Fasting starts a chain-reaction that begins with freedom and then results in compassion, enlightenment, healing, prayer-power, guidance, and strength (Is 58:6-11). Ultimately, fasting results in renewal (see Neh 4:1). "The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you will raise up; 'Repairer of the breach,' they shall call you, 'Restorer of ruined homesteads' " (Is 58:12).
GOD'S WILL FOR YOUR FASTING
God is giving the privilege to fast possibly daily or frequently before receiving Holy Communion, at least weekly throughout the year, and annually during Lent. The Church calls us to imitate Jesus by fasting forty days during Lent (excluding Sundays and feast days). As the Church has traditionally practiced, we should only eat one meal each day of Lent unless the Lord has given us another way to fast. During the rest of the year, the Lord will call you to fast at least once a week, usually on Friday. You may be called to a total fast in which you eat nothing or to a partial fast in which you limit your intake of food. Seek the Lord's will concerning what day (or days) and what way you are to fast each week. Finally, the Lord calls us to fast daily or at least frequently before receiving Communion. We should fast in a way that we are conscious of it. For example, if we go to Mass early in the morning and don't customarily eat before Mass, we should fast the night before by not eating after supper or doing some other fast.
Possibly the Lord will tell you to fast for a special intention. Because fasting can make an average person more powerful spiritually than religious leaders, political figures, and billionaires are, Satan will make fasting as difficult as possible. However, the Lord's grace will give you victory. Fasting can break you free from the lethargy of spiritual anorexia and give you a hearty appetite for feasting spiritually on God's word, the Eucharist, and communal prayer.
Pope John Paul II has taught: "Let us therefore discover anew the humility and the courage to pray and fast so that power from on high will break down the walls of lies and deceit" (Gospel of Life, 100). Jesus is telling you the secret of fasting. Listen to Him.
Code of Canon Law
Days of Penance
Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast
Can. 919 §1. A person who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain for at least one hour before holy communion from any food and drink, except for only water and medicine.
§2. A priest who celebrates the Most Holy Eucharist two or three times on the same day can take something before the second or third celebration even if there is less than one hour between them.
§3. The elderly, the infirm, and those who care for them can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have eaten something within the preceding hour.