Somehow, every year around this time right before lent, I start seeing the inevitable, “I’m fasting from Facebook for lent.”
There’s usually a host of virtue signaling around it. It is a triumph of the progressives. Sadly, the best intended among us use this language. Idiots.
People have been lied to by do-gooder guitar strumming progressives of the modern church of feel good love felt banner soothsaying. Those lies have become woven into common culture. Today, it is taken for granted because even the best of Catholics have gone along with the downstream drift.
I can remember the advice I heard in my teens: “lent shouldn’t be about giving things up, but doing something more for good.” Or, translated into Catholic: “don’t do mortification, but do some good deeds.” The problem is that we are expected to do both. Prayer+Fasting+almsdeeds. St. Benedict gives the idea of doing some special mortification on top of the prescribed fasts and prayers — that’s where the “Extra” mortification comes in. Giving up chocolate, for instance.
Fasting Means Food
The Modern Catholic Dictionary by Fr. Hardon defines fasting plainly:
Unless I’m missing something, social media, facebook, twitter, and the internet are not “food or drink.” Thus, one cannot “fast” from them.
Fasting is rooted in a means of honoring Jesus’s death on the Cross for us. Explains Fr. Hardon in the rest of the definition of fasting:
“From the first century Christians have observed fasting days of precept, notably during the season of Lent in commemoration of Christ’s passion and death. In the early Church there was less formal precept and therefore greater variety of custom, but in general fasting was much more severe than in the modern Church. In the East and West the faithful abstained on fasting days from wine as well as from flesh-meat, both being permitted only in cases of weak health. The ancient custom in the Latin Church of celebrating Mass in the evening during Lent was partly due to the fact that in many places the first meal was not taken before sunset.Modern Catholic Dictionary
Fasting is a particular species of mortification (penance) pertaining to food and drink. Why? Because food and drink are basic human needs. Mastering these affects all other needs. Most importantly, fasting tends to sharpen and steel the will against the whims of the passions — the passions being those involuntary urges we all experience.
Three Kinds of Fasts
Fans of St. Ignatius that have read the Spiritual Exercises will be familiar with his method of laying out “Three kinds of”. Three kinds of poverty, etc. Since fasting is defined to mean limiting food or drink, there is no room to replace the lent fast with “giving up facebook” or “giving up tv.” Those may be nice mortifications to do as extra penance for lent, but you do have to pick a fast.
The First Kind of Fast
The first kind of fast is someone that doesn’t really worry about limiting food and drink. He likes fried fish and enjoys the fish fries at the parish, but if he has a burger for lunch on Friday in lent, he thinks nothing of it – other than whether it was gluten free and if the fries were salty enough. There is no concern for the amount of food, even though his doctor told him to limit sodium and he knows that the soybean oil in the mayo is GMO and likely killing him so he should not eat the mayo at fast food burger chains.
The Second Kind of Fast
The second kind of fast is someone that does the minimum. The minimum is fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. No meat (abstain), and only one meal those days. Additionally, no meat on the Fridays of Lent. The fast for the rest of the days of Lent may be replaced by some other kind of penance. That is, if you give up internet and TV, then you can consider that penance to replace the expectation to fast.
Fr. Hardon explains the current minimum as promulgated in 1966 by Paul VI in Paenitenimi:
With the constitution Paenitemini of Paul VI in 1966, the meaning of the law of fasting remained, but the extent of the obligation was changed. Thus “the law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, while observing approved local custom as far as quantity and quality of food are concerned.” To the law of fast are bound those of the faithful who have completed their eighteenth year and up until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Prescribed days of fast and abstinence for the whole Church are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Nevertheless, as with abstinence, so with fasting or other forms of penance, “It is up to the bishops, gathered in their episcopal conferences, to establish the norms … which they consider the most opportune and efficacious” (Paenitemini, III).Modern Catholic Dictionary. Hardon, J. quoting Paenitenimi
I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to remind everyone that I have a sneaky suspicion that the US Bishops Conference does not believe in fasting at all. In fact, I’ve written about this many times, especially on this post. But then, I’ve also commented that they seem to think being too busy for any obligation to God is OK, too. So the bar is pretty low. Good for us in many ways — it is easy to complete the second kind of fasting these days. Thank God!
The point is, the second kind of fast is the minimum imposed by law. You are doing what Church asks, even if the bishops seem to think you don’t need to do anything. That means:
- One meal and no meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
- No meat on Fridays in Lent.
- Do some kind of penance the rest of the days of Lent. If you can’t think of any penance, then eat one meal, and two smaller meals that together would not equal a full meal.
The Third Kind of Fast
This is for the person who wants to actually fast. He thinks of Our Lord Who went to the desert for forty days and did not eat. He wonders if his health could sustain him for forty days without food. He considers the will power of Our Lord to turn down the temptation to have the bread loaves offered in the temptation after not eating forty days. He wants to do some kind of fast for the duration of Lent.
There are several varieties of “Strict fasts.” Some speak of water only fasts. Greek monks in Byzantine times write of eating only raw food because it has a displeasurable xerography. But those are monastics. Indeed, staggering limitations of food and drink, like all things, can be extreme and done. But, for a consistent fast throughout Lent, there are norms of Mother Church that were built for lay people who must work, must commute and travel, and must do more than be in a monastery.
The third kind of fast is something greater, but not the extreme.
The Universal Fast Pre-1966 is a good example. Prior to Paenitenimi, the Church asked the lay faithful to do the following during Lent:
- Fast meant taking only one full meal a day, along with some food for breakfast and a collation.
- Days of fast and abstinence for the universal Church were
- Ash Wednesday,
- the Fridays and Saturdays of Lent,
- Ember days, and
- the vigils of certain feasts.
- Days of fast only were the rest of the days of Lent, except Sundays.
- Special indults affected different nations and were provided for by canon law.
Moreover, almsgiving, prayer, and special mortification of some personal kind were done in addition to actual fasting. In other words, give up Facebook if you want, but also fast from food. As that list is concerned, it means, fast every day of Lent (except Sundays). No meat on Ash Wednesday, Fridays and Saturdays of Lent, Ember days and the day before Annunciation.
As mentioned above, there are tougher fasts that monasteries, monks, and ascetics followed. So there is probably a “fourth kind of fast.” I’m not sure but I think the third kind of fast would appeal to those who want to be perfect. The fourth kind would be for those who want to be mystics and ascetics.
Facebook isn’t Food
Whatever else one can say about modern Lent, one should not say that fasting does not pertain to food and drink. It may be meritorious penance for some people to “give up facebook for lent” but it’s wrong to call it a fast. If you’re going to fast, pick one of the above kinds and fast.
What kind of fast would you pick?
This article, You Can’t “Fast” from Facebook – The Three Kinds of Lent Fasting is a post from The Bellarmine Forum.
Do not repost the entire article without written permission. Reasonable excerpts may be reposted so long as it is linked to this page.
About John B. Manos
John B. Manos, Esq. is an attorney and chemical engineer. He has a dog, Fyo, and likes photography, astronomy, and dusty old books published by Benzinger Brothers. He is the President of the Bellarmine Forum.