Last week, I wrote about how a 1989 committee that was acting under the authority of the National Council of Churches in Christ U.S.A. removed from the Gospels of Mark and Luke a critically important thing that Jesus told His apostles. While previous versions of the Catholic Bible quoted Jesus as saying that certain evil spirits could only be cast out by “prayer and fasting,” the newly revised version of the Catholic Bible did not include our Lord’s statement that fasting had to accompany prayer before certain evil spirits could be cast out.
According to the Oxford Dictionary, the definition of the word “fast” is “to abstain from all or some kinds of food or drink, especially as a religious observance.” The Modern Catholic Dictionary defines “fasting” as “a form of penance that imposes limits on the kind or quantity of food or drink.”
There was a time in America when fasting was a common practice among Catholics. I need to go back 80 years to give you some perspective of how important fasting was for Catholics.
My mom received her first communion in 1939, when she was seven years old. At that time, whoever wanted to receive the Eucharist at Mass had to fast from food and water from midnight the night before until they received the Eucharist.
The first communion Masses always started at 8:00 am, so the people attending the Mass would not be required to fast until later in the morning.
When I received my first communion, my mom told me that when she received her first communion, her mom (my Grandma Ceil) was not able to receive the Eucharist at Mom’s first communion Mass because the night before the Mass, Grandma Ceil got up in the middle of the night and without thinking, got a drink of water. It wasn’t until the next morning that she realized she had broken her fast and would not be able to receive the Eucharist.
Last week, in an effort to make sure my memory was clear about what my mom had told me about her first communion, I asked her what she remembered. Even though it has been more than 80 years since her first communion, Mom’s memory was very clear about what happened on that day. She said that the reason she remembers what happened was because her feelings were hurt that her mom could not receive the Eucharist at her first communion Mass.*
Before my parents were married in April 1951 (almost 70 years ago), my mom’s dad asked the priest who was going to celebrate the wedding Mass if they could have the Mass at 9:00 am instead of the customary time of 8:00 am. Back then, wedding Masses were usually scheduled for 8:00 am so that everyone who attended the Mass would not have to fast from food and water any longer than necessary. My mom’s dad wanted to start the Mass an hour later to allow more time for the guests who were coming from out of town to attend the wedding. The priest agreed to the change of time for the Mass.
After my parents were married, my dad went through the carpenter apprentice program and was hired by a local commercial construction company to work as a carpenter. The jobs that he worked at were manual-labor jobs. At that time, the Lenten requirements for fasting and abstaining were much stricter than they are today. Because of the strict requirements, my dad’s lunch each day consisted of a tuna fish sandwich.
Back then, Catholics were required to abstain from meat and juice from meat (soup, broth, etc.) on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays and Saturdays during Lent. In addition, on all the days during Lent (except Sundays), Catholics were required to fast by only eating one full meal each day and up to two additional light meals each day.
In 1966, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) changed the rules concerning abstinence and fasting during lent to only require Catholics to fast and abstain on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fasting requirement for all the other days during lent was eliminated, except for Fridays.
Before 1964, besides the Lenten requirements, Catholics were also required to abstain from meat on all Fridays throughout the year. You may not know this, but Canon 1251 of the Code of Canon Law still requires that Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays. The actual language of Canon 1251 is, “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”
In 1964, the USCCB, which is an Episcopal Conference, changed the Friday abstinence requirement by stating that Catholics may perform an act of penance of their choosing on Fridays that are not in Lent, instead of abstaining from meat. Of course, most Catholics are not aware of this requirement and do not abstain from meat or offer an act of penance on Fridays, which is a violation of the Code of Canon Law. My wife and I have abstained from meat on Fridays ever since before we were married.
Why did the USCCB make such a drastic reduction in the fasting requirements for Catholics during Lent and on Fridays throughout the year? I could speculate on the answer to that question, but my thoughts would not be useful or productive. Suffice it to say that by the 1950s, U.S. economic growth had exceeded all expectations and for the first time in history, working-class families had enough household income to purchase housing, appliances, vehicles, TVs, and other consumer goods.
There was also an abundance of food that was available for purchase at various local grocery stores. Again, for the first time in history, in one trip to the store, people could easily buy everything they needed for the next several weeks. Their choices included fresh meat, fruit, and produce, as well as canned goods, frozen food, and refrigerated meat and dairy products.
During the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Americans became accustomed to the comfortable lifestyle that resulted from their ability to easily satisfy their needs and desires. They forgot about the importance of self-denial and fasting, which got in the way of the enjoyment and pleasure they received from eating, drinking, and taking part in the sexually permissive lifestyle that resulted from the invention and widespread use of the birth control pill.
The increasing self-indulgent lifestyle combined with the freedom to engage in sex outside of marriage was an invitation to Lucifer and his evil agents to exercise greater control over the souls and behavior of Americans. Before long, the evils of pornography and abortion gained a solid footing in our country, which led to the greater evils of what is quickly becoming a gender-neutral society that now promotes all manner of depravity and is beginning to demand that we Christians submit to their evil beliefs.
While there are some Americans who fear a civil war, most people don’t realize it but Lucifer and his evil agents have been engaged in a spiritual war in which they have been able to achieve enough control over our government, media, educational institutions, sports conglomerates, global corporations, and tech companies that it is now only a matter of time before our religious freedoms will be lost.
When that happens, if we refuse to submit to the demands of the evil people who are in control of the above-referenced organizations, we will be prohibited from using social media and other forms of communication, and we will not be allowed to use or participate in industries and businesses that are critical to our everyday economic activity, such as the banking system, credit and debit card companies, airline travel companies, and companies that sell various consumer goods. Doing business with these companies will be off limits for those of us who refuse to submit.
What do we need to do to overcome and conquer the evil that is quickly consuming our country? Our Lord already gave us the answer to that question. It can only be accomplished through prayer and fasting.
More on this topic next week.
*On November 21, 1964, Pope Paul VI changed the Eucharistic fast to a period of one hour.