Fasting and abstinence are often linked together but are two different disciplines. Fasting has to do with the quantity of food eaten on particular days (little or none). Abstinence refers to the kind of food denied oneself, for example, meat. Fasting has always been a popular religious practice. Denying oneself a basic human need such as food for a period of time may be done for different reasons. It prepares for a feast. It promotes self-discipline. It supports one's prayers. All of these have been motives for the Lenten tradition of fasting. Another motive has always been part of Lenten fasting and abstinence: almsgiving, giving to the needy from one's surplus. Fasting and abstinence began as voluntary practices. A popular fast was the abstinence of meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent. Recently the trend is to emphasize the more positive aspects of discipline and good works. It is not the question of what can I give up, but what can I do?
[Source: Supplement to the Sunday Bulletin of February 3, 2008; St. Paul Parish, Saskatoon, SK, Canada.]