Zion Tract Series: “On Fasting”

The following text of the tract “On Fasting” is reproduced here with the permission of Fr. Mark P. Braden, pastor of Zion Lutheran Church, Detroit, MI.


Artwork by Edward Riojas.

FASTING IS AN act of bodily discipline. Regarding preparation for receiving Holy Communion, our Catechism says “Fasting and bodily preparation are indeed a fine outward training…” Not eating at the regular time brings an immediate response from the body. When we feel hunger, we remember how frail the flesh is. This reminds us of our weakness, for hunger is but a little taste of death. Confronted with our weakness, we confess our need for a Savior. So fasting is frequently part of repentance.

Perhaps you have never thought of it in this way, but there was fasting in Eden before the fall. In keeping God’s command not to eat of the fruit of the tree, Adam and Eve fasted from that tree, demonstrating their trust in God by their obedience to Him. Indeed, not eating from that tree was an act of worship.

After the fall into sin, throughout the Old Testament, God’s people engaged in fasting. In the Scriptures fasting is frequently accompanied by prayer as an act of worship and repentance. Consider the declaration of God through the Prophet Joel, read among us every Ash Wednesday: “Blow the trumpet in Zion, Consecrate a fast, Call a sacred assembly; Gather the people. Sanctify the congregation.” (loci 2.15-16)

In the New Testament, our Lord Himself fasted: “…and when He had fasted forty days and forty nights…” (St. Matthew 4.2)

So, too, did His disciples fast. Jesus says to them: “Moreover, when you fast…” (St. Matthew 6.16)

He does not say “if you fast,” but “when you fast.” His expectation is that they would fast. So does our Lord say of His disciples:

“But the days will come when the bridegroom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (St. Matthew 9.15)

So has the Christian Church observed fasting from the earliest days and throughout the centuries.

Fasting is not something that the Church commands in order that men earn favor with God. This would be a gross confusion of Law and Gospel. Our works cannot save us. Salvation comes by God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone. Christians, however, have always seen fasting as a beneficial exercise of discipline over mind and body, indeed even a God-pleasing act. Our Lutheran Confessions teach:

[R]epentance ought to bring forth good fruits for the sake of God’s glory and command, and good fruits, true fastings, true prayers, true alms, etc., have the commands of God (Apology of the Augsburg Confession XIII, 39).

Luther, speaking about fasting, said:

It is right to fast frequently in order to subdue and control the body. For when the stomach is full, the body does not serve for preaching, for praying, for studying, or for doing anything else that is good. Under such circumstances, God’s Word cannot remain. But one should not fast with a view to meriting something by it as by a good work (What Luther Says, 506).1

It is in this spirit, following the words of the Old and New Testaments, the example of Christ and His disciples, the tradition of the Church, and the Confessions of our Church, that we at Zion encourage the Christian to fast appropriately and as faith compels. To assist in this, we publish anew the following suggestions to guide fasting.


Guidelines for Christian Fasting

Every Friday

Abstain:

From all meat (except fish)

Exceptions:

Fridays from Dec 25 – Jan 13
Fridays from Easter Sunday until Pentecost Day
Fridays on which a major feast falls (June 42; June 24; June 29; Aug 15; Sept 29; Nov 1)

Sunday Eucharistic Fast

Fast:

From all foods after midnight until after receiving the Sacrament on Sunday

Exceptions:

None

Weekday Eucharistic Fast

Fast:

From all foods after midnight until after receiving the Sacrament

Exceptions:

If Mass is celebrated in the evening (Wednesdays in Advent & Lent; Christmas Eve; Ascension Day), then fast from all foods three hours before the Mass

Advent

Abstain: 

From all meat (except fish) on Wednesdays and Fridays

Special:

On the Ember Days (the third Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Advent) and on 24 December, abstain from all meat (except fish) and eat only one full meal after Vespers (6:00 PM) plus two quarter-meals3 during the day

Exceptions:

December 8
December 24 (when it falls on a Sunday)

Lent and Passiontide

Abstain:

From all meat (except fish) on Ash Wednesday, and all Fridays and Saturdays in Lent

Fast:

Eat only one full meal after Vespers (6:00 PM) plus two quarter-meals during the day every day except Sunday

Special:

On the Ember Days (the first Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in Lent), abstain from all meat (except fish) and eat only one full meal after Vespers (6:00 PM) plus two quarter-meals during the day

Exceptions:

March 17; March 25 (unless it occurs during Holy Week)

Rogationtide

Abstain:

From all meat (except fish) on the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Day

Pentecost & September Ember Days

Dates:

The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after Pentecost Day
The Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after 14 September

Custom:

Abstain from all meat (except fish) and eat only one full meal after Vespers (6:00 PM) plus two quarter-meals during the day

Other Times

Dates:

December 7
The Saturday before Pentecost Sunday
August 14

Custom:

Abstain from all meat (except fish) and eat only one full meal after Vespers (6:00 PM) plus two quarter-meals during the day

Exceptions:

These rules are ignored if the day falls on a Sunday

Notes:

  • Fasting is practiced in conjunction with increased prayer and almsgiving
  • Simple inexpensive foods (soups, vegetables, etc.) during fasting maintain the spirit of the fast
  • House rules may also be established (e.g., abstain from wine when abstaining from meat, etc.)
  • During Lent, married couples are encouraged to follow St. Paul’s admonition in I Corinthians 7.5
  • Excepting Advent and Rogationtide, these rules follow the norms of the Western Church prior to the reforms after Vatican II.

[Guidelines for fasting compiled by Fr. John W. Fenton*, Zion’s Fifth Pastor (1995-2006)]


So far the text of Zion’s tract.

*Nota Bene – The fact that the foregoing rules were compiled by the lugubrious erstwhile Lutheran, now Eastern Orthodox, Fr. John Fenton, in no way undercuts their legitimacy. Not everything he did as a Lutheran bears the taint of his fall into theological error. We should not do history in reverse and imagine that he, or any other man who errs, was “never not always going to be” (fill in the blank). We may as well suggest that every editorial choice Jaroslav Pelikan made as editor of the American Edition of Luther’s Works is suspect, because he later swam the Bosporus.

 

+VDMA

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Notes:

  1. For more of what Luther had to say on the subject of fasting see “Martin Luther on the Proper Good of Fasting— yes, you read that right.”— TDD
  2. This is a local observance particular to Zion Church: June 4 is their church anniversary.
  3. “Quarter-meal” should not be taken overly literally— honestly, I haven’t seen it used elsewhere. The idea is that the two meals earlier in the day, when combined, do not equal a full meal. Do with that what you will.— TDD

2 Comments

  1. This is great! Thanks so much for posting. Exactly what I was looking for. Would be great if @WLMartyrologium would also post a heads up for fast days, ember days, etc.

    • So historically in the West it was abstinence from meat on Fridays and Saturdays, and was later changed Wednesdays and Fridays?

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