“Ask a Priest: When Is It OK to Fast?”

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Q: Aside from times of the year when fasting is encouraged or required, when is it appropriate to fast? Also, are there any prayers for fasting? I haven’t had much luck finding any. Thank you! – J.R.

Answered by Fr. Edward McIlmail, LC

A: Fasting is prescribed by the Church for the faithful, aged 18 to 59, only twice a year, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Other times are optional, and the day and frequency depends on each person. Some people might do it once a month, perhaps on a Friday. Some do it every Friday. Some might do it for a special intention. There are no set rules on this.

Fasting has two basic purposes in our spiritual life.

The first has to do with our need to discipline our natural desires and cravings. Ever since the coming of original sin, we have had built-in tendencies to overindulge in pleasures, which can even lead to idolizing them — that is, thinking that certain pleasures or material things can satisfy our deepest needs and give meaning to our lives. These tendencies need to be recognized and disciplined. Fasting helps us to do that.

The second purpose of fasting is to willingly share in Christ’s own redeeming self-sacrifice. When we voluntarily choose to make a sacrifice, we can unite it to Christ’s self-offering through a simple prayer, offering up our discomfort or suffering for the conversion of sinners, the reparation of sins, and the strengthening of Christians everywhere. To learn more about this spiritual discipline of “offering it up,” you can watch or read the conference portion of the retreat guide called “A Mother’s Tears.”

With that in mind, it is worth mentioning that fasting can take a lot of different forms. The traditional form of eating less, or making small sacrifices at meals, is tried and true. But you can also “fast” for certain periods from the Internet or from watching movies, for example. Periodic “digital fasts” can open up space in our lives for prayer and greater intimacy with God, in addition to the other benefits of fasting.

Fasting requires a bit of caution. Sometimes we can overdo fasting, only to swing back to the other extreme “to make up” for lost meals. It is good to check with a spiritual director or confessor if you want to undertake a routine of fasting.

Perhaps an alternative to fasting would be to simply give up a little something at each meal — by taking a smaller dessert or forgoing gravy on the meat, for instance. Sometimes the ongoing little sacrifices can be just as valuable as fasting.

I’m not familiar with prayers for fasting, per se. HERE is one sample you might find helpful.

One of the values of fasting is that it can make our other prayers more meritorious. For that reason a special prayer for fasting might not be essential. What you could do is make a simple prayer of your own: “Lord, I offer up my fasting today for X.”


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