How do I explain obligatory fasting and abstinence?


I have a lunch date scheduled with a co-worker on Ash Wednesday. Church rules, however, state that I am obliged to fast. If I attend, am I allowed to eat anything? If I cancel, how do I explain this act of obedience to my christian but non-catholic friend so as not to sound legalistic? We happen to be in a lunchtime bible study at work, so this issue may be a good apologetics opportunity.


Dear th,

Ash Wednesday is not a day to “do” lunch. Perhaps you didn’t realize the date when you made your plans. Yon can have a snack: a bowl of soup or a meatless half sandwich… Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the season of Lent in which we give special attention to the passion and death of our Savior. There is nothing legalistic about giving such attention. Certainly, we can give lip service to His self-giving gesture. But it doesn’t take much integrity to say nice things. By fasting, we actually deny ourselves of something. It’s a sacrifice and sacrifice (not words) is the measure of love. We know how much we care about people by how willing we are to put ourselves out for them. We know how much they care about us by the same token.

The sacrifice that Jesus endured tells us of His love for us. When we respond to His sacrifice with sacrificial acts such as abstaining from meat and denying ourselves of some food, we are responding in the same mode, though not in the same degree.

In requiring such penance from us, the Church is reminding us of just Who Jesus Christ is and what we mean to Him. Our tendency is to center on ourselves. It is good that the Church, in various ways throughout the year, turns our attention toward Him and what He means to us.

Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.

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