An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church


Fasting is abstaining wholly or partially from all or certain foods, for physical or spiritual health. The extent and rigor of abstinence depends largely on custom and circumstance. Ancient Jews used fasting extensively. Christ taught it and practiced it. Early Christians fasted on specific days of the week, especially Wednesday and Friday. Baptismal candidates fasted for up to two days before their baptism. By the late middle ages abstinence from food was required before the reception of communion, and western Christians also fasted during Lent by abstaining from meat. As a spiritual discipline, fasting is an act of contrition, cleansing, and preparation. The BCP recommends fasting for the season of Lent, which Christians should observe “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's Word” (BCP, p. 265). The BCP designates the weekdays of Lent and Holy Week and all Fridays except in the seasons of Christmas and Easter as days of “special devotion” with “special acts of discipline and self-denial” (which normally include fasting). An exception is made for the feast of the Annunciation in Lent and feasts of our Lord on Friday. Although modern social habits have led to a decline in fasting on Fridays, and in Lent and Holy Week, the BCP calls for fasting, discipline, and self-denial on those days.

Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from “An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians,” Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.