No meat on Friday: Why? What is its deeper meaning? – Part 3


In the concluding part of our interview with Sister Mary David, she explains why fasting is about more than simply giving something up; it is a source of important spiritual benefits.

Catholic Compass: Wouldn’t it be more sacrificial for me to give up foods that I really love such as chocolate rather than meat which maybe I do not like much, or do some other good work?

However valuable works of compassion may be (and they have always accompanied the practice of fasting), fasting is of another order. On the one hand, the purpose of fasting and abstinence is not to “give up” things. Fasting and abstinence, as the new booklet hopes to show, is a much broader reality than, say, giving up chocolate. It takes in the whole person, not just this or that activity. While fasting takes the form of refraining from eating, it is primarily designed to submit the body to a spiritual discipline, “sealing” our entire being so that we can concentrate on higher things.

On the other hand, fasting and abstinence is something we do in common with everyone else in the Church. In the words of Archbishop Nichols: “What we’ve sought to do in this decision is establish a shared practice.” In the past, fasting and abstinence was something we did in common with everyone else in the Church; there is a strength that comes with following the accepted patterns of the Church’s traditions, when, in the words of the bishop’s resolution, all the faithful [are] united in a common celebration of Friday penance. When we choose our own penance, there can always be the danger of secret pride. It is spiritually safer to be humble and do the same as all other Catholics.

Catholic Compass: What are some of the spiritual benefits of fasting and abstinence?

Man is a unity of body and soul, and fasting and abstinence is a practice that involves both. So fasting or abstinence will also include an effort at abstinence from evil thoughts, desires, and deeds. Fasting is part of the struggle against weaknesses and defects to acquire purity of heart. It fosters prayer. It is a way of preparing the body for the resurrection, opening it to grace, and making it more receptive to God’s word. Renouncing taste for earthly nourishment develops the taste for God. It is to liberate oneself from dependence on the things of this world in order to concentrate on the things of the Kingdom of God. Finally, food restrictions train us to be content with what is necessary, by freeing us from artificial needs created by our consumeristic society.

Sr Mary David is a Benedictine nun of St Cecilia’s Abbey, Ryde, Isle of Wight, where she serves her Community as Prioress and Novice Mistress. Keep an eye out for her book, coming soon from CTS.

Of related interest:

SP16 Spiritual Warfare – This booklet enlightens the struggle by searching the wisdom of the scriptures. It gives hope to everyone, because Christ is always by our side to help us in every battle.
D720 Lent and EasterSpanning the seasons of Lent, Easter and to Pentecost, this booklet describes the rich heritage of customs and traditions long practiced by Catholics down the ages, up to today.
lf20-new Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving – The three traditional “weapons of the spirit” used by Christians particularly during Lent.

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7 comments on “No meat on Friday: Why? What is its deeper meaning? – Part 3

  1. Keep an eye out for her book, coming soon from CTS.

    Ah um, but ah cannae see it!

  2. Greatly enjoying the booklets by Abbot Cuthbert Johnson OSB. I think they should be conpulsory reading for everyone! One question,however, comes to mind. In “Participating in the Mass” p.74 in the section ‘Use of a Bell’ it says: ‘A little before the Consecration, if appropriate, a minister rings a small bell as a signal to the faithful.’ Many years ago a very holy priest told me that this was the Epiclesis bell, highlighting the summoning of the Holy Spirit on the gifts to transform them into the food of immortality. If this is so, then the first bell has much more significance as pointing to something very important taking placed at the very moment the bell is rung, rather than a ‘heads up’ for something else soon to follow. Cheers, Michael

  3. All of this about Fasting and abstinence was known before and for a long time. So why was it removed. It seems to me that the main body of the church namley the common people are subjected by the intellectual clergy of the day to unreasonable practices such as the new text.I think them leadership should look at the way Jesus lived and taught the common people without Theological qualification and spoke to them in the language at their level.His language was hebrew and not Latin


    • Thanks for your comment. However, the new translation is not difficult to understand and is in the common language of the people, not Latin. It’s worth saying actually that Jesus’ native tongue was Aramaic, whereas he would have prayed in Hebrew, so it would seem there has always been some difference between the more formal language of prayer and the sort of language spoken in the street. Christ spoke to both the illiterate and to the educated of his day, both to the crowds and to the synagogue, using appropriate language for each circumstance, and the Church tries to continue this today.

    • Paul, Jesus spoke to the people in Aramaic and not Hebrew. The people to whom he spoke were deeply religious and well informed in their faith, they were also people of their time. They had little education and lived simple lives. To speak to them on religious themes was actually quite easy. They were part of a very religious culture. Today people are much better educated. Even since the last war there has been a quantum leap in the general level of education of the population. At the same time we no longer live in a society that is religious to any significant degree and people’s grasp of the faith is generally very poor.

      All of this places a huge burden on the clergy. I dont think the clergy are particularly intellectual, as you seem to think, but ordinary men struggling to communicate the message of the Loid in a very challenging situation. As St. Paul had to conform the Message to the wider world of the Roman Empire, outside of the much narrower confines of confessiopnal Judaism, so too the clergy of today have to take the timeless Gospel and present it to a very different world.

      You are sadly very unsympathetic.

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