Fasting as proposed by Our Lady of Medjugorje

Fasting as proposed by Our Lady of Medjugorje

The fasting proposed by Our Lady of Medjugorje is just one of the forms of fasting encouraged by the Church since its origins. Why do we fast? What are the physical and spirituals pros of such practice? Moreover, what are the rules to undertake fasting correctly?

Fasting is a practice followed by Christians as a form of penitence and ruled by specific norms. Even better, we can state that fasting and abstinence are part of a faithful’s life such as prayers, donations and charity. They are all ways for Christians to get closer to God, showing they are worthy of His Kingdom. They are instruments meant to ask for forgiveness for our sins and plead for the help of our Father during hard times. In the Old Testament, they believed that fasting could even save them in the event of catastrophes!

Christians practice fasting on some days of the year, in particular on solemn holidays, and that gives fasting and abstinence a social and community value, because it involves the whole Christian community, not just the single faithful.

In order to examine the reasons and pros of such practice, first we need to consider the Christian reasons of such practice, how they were ruled throughout time and the difference between ecclesiastical fasting and abstinence.

Jesus did not impose fasting to his disciples, even though they all practiced it as members of the Jewish people. Jesus respected the practice and value of fasting of his people, in the most interior and religious meaning. According to him, fasting, prayers and donations are all acts of offering and love towards the Father “who is unseen and “sees what is done in secret” (Mt 6,18). Jesus himself undertakes forty day of fasting in the desert to get ready to comply with his duty and face his own destiny for the salvation of men and the triumph of the love of God.

The Church imposed fasting twice a week for a long time, on Wednesday and Friday. Friday fast was just a way to celebrate and honor the passion and death of Jesus. Wednesday fast on the contrary, showed the faithful’s love for Jesus recalling Wednesday of the Holy Week, when Judas went to the Pharisees to establish the price of his betrayal with them.

In 1966, at the end of Vatican Council II, Pope Paul VI promulgated the Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, whose aim was to define and reform the ecclesiastical discipline with regard to penitence.

In particular, for the purpose of our article, we quote the statement by the Pope saying:

True penitence, however, cannot ever prescind from physical asceticism as well. Our whole being in fact, body and soul, must participate actively in this religious act whereby the creature recognizes divine holiness and majesty” (Paenitemini, first part of the Constitution). It is clear from the beginning how the mortification of the flash through fasting and abstinence is considered a fundamental element of penitence, aimed to elevate men above their physical limits in order to open their minds and souls to welcome Christ. “(Penitence) aims at the liberation of man, who often finds himself, because of concupiscence, almost chained by his own senses. Through corporal fasting man regains strength and the wound inflicted on the dignity of our nature by intemperance is cured by the medicine of a salutary abstinence.

The Constitution also established the rules concerning the periods of penitence: on every Friday of the year and on Ash Wednesday.

In 1994, the Italian Episcopal Conference published Il Senso Cristiano del Digiuno e dell’Astinenza (The Christian Sense of Fasting and Abstinence), a regulatory pastoral note, which allowed the faithful to replace Friday abstinence outside Lent with any other kind of penitence, prayer or charity action. The same note reiterated the need to practice fasting and abstinence on Holy Saturday until Easter Vigil, anyway leaving the freedom to refrain from fasting and abstinence for valid reasons, in particular realted to health. Here we briefly summarize the regulatory provisions concerning fasting and abstinence established by the Italian Episcopal Conference:

  1. The law of fastingallows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom” (Paenitemini, III; EV 2/647).
  2. The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, as well as those foods and drinks that are considered as particularly refined and expensive, according to a cautious judgement.
  3. Fasting and abstinence must be practiced on Ash Wednesday and on Friday of Our Lord Jesus Christ’s Passion and death; they are recommended on Holy Saturday until Easter Vigil.
  4. Abstinence must be observed on all and every single Friday of Lent, unless they coincide with a day that is considered a solemnity (such as March 19th or 25th). On all other Fridays of the year, unless they fall on a solemn day, abstinence must be practiced in its strictest sense, or we must practice some other act of penitence, prayer or charity.
  5. Everyone above twenty-one up until the beginning of their 60th year must observe the laws of fasting; to the law of abstinence are bound those who have completed their 14th year of age.
  6. A true reason can justify the obligations of fasting and abstinence, such as health. Furthermore, the priest can grant the dispensation from the penitence or commute it with other pious acts.

Today, the observation of a strict fasting is then limited to Ash Wednesday and Holy Friday, while abstinence is limited to Fridays of Lent and possibly every Friday of the year.

But why fasting?

There are many and varied reasons to why fasting is healthy and right.

First, there is a physical reason. Fasting from time to time is good for your health, and that is well known since ancient times. Fasting allows our body to recover its natural rhythms, often slowed down and twisted by wrong eating habits. Free from the burden of digestion, the body purifies and recovers its balance; that way, it defends itself from diseases, allowing some time to the immune system to ‘reorganize’ itself to protect it.

Then, there is a psychological reason. The excess we are constantly in contact with in our daily lives makes us lose sight of what really matters.

The modern Western world is ‘everything at once’, ruled by the surplus and the extreme easiness we can get anything, with no efforts, and that increases our constant need in a wrong manner, making us more and more greedy and lazy.

We cannot see what we already own, always striving for more. This constant and false need and dissatisfaction makes us forget how important it is to take care of our soul and spirit. We become weak, unable to react to the difficulties in our lives, even the smallest ones, let alone the real problems!

Our capability to endure pain, to feel empathy or even to love others is lacking, and we become victims of easy shortcuts such as drugs, alcohol, medicines, or we believe we are sick, depressed, when we are actually only weakened by our own wealth. We are not able to appreciate things anymore, because we just need to stretch out a hand to have them, and that, to some extent, makes them less precious.

Fasting for two days is a way to expand the distance between us and what we take for granted is owed. Giving up what gives us immediate satisfaction, something we believe we cannot do without, teaches us to relativize and recognize the authentic importance of things; but most of all, it makes us understand that we can easily give them up without being excessively damaged.

Giving up things gets us closer again to people, pushes us to listen and makes us empathic.

It helps us realize that some people feel better than us, but most of all that someone feels much worse, and how lucky we are if compared to them.

We can learn to live with things and appreciate them more, judging them for what they are and not according to our often distorted expectations.

Finally, but this is probably the main point for Christians, there is a spiritual motivation in fasting.

Fasting helps our minds get closer to prayers, with more commitment and attention. As our body is not ‘distracted’ by digestion, so our mind can immerse completely into the contemplation of God and His word. The spirit opens up to Him, and the Eucharistic Bread acquires a new and special meaning fueled by our hunger, which is no longer just a hunger for food, but for spirituality. The prayers during fasting days will then be more effective and will reach God more easily.

The fasting days in Medjugorje: Wednesday and Friday

Those who are devoted to Our Lady of Medjugorje claim that the Queen of Peace imposes them to fast as a fundamental practice and instrument of devotion. If the sick can give their suffering to Her, those who are healthy should practice fasting on bread and water twice a week, on Wednesday and on Friday.

Fasting and prayers for a whole day then, twice a week, without any indulgence in coffee or tea: a sacrifice specifically requested by the Virgin Mary. Other sacrifices can and must be practiced every day, but on Wednesday and Friday in Medjugorje, Mary demands an unmistakable thing of her devotees. They must not deprive themselves of food, but only have bread and water.

Fasting in Medjugorje begins in the morning and lasts until the day after, for all 24 hours. Such particular Marian fasting, according to the words of Mary herself, aims to drive wars away.

In fact, fasting purifies the evil’s body and spirit, helping people to discover their hearts and purify it.

Prayers and fasting for peace then, but also to gain the conversion of someone we love and other precious graces. The seers of Medjugorje always remind how important and precious the sacrifices of those who believe are, how suffering itself and diseases are gifts, because it is only through pain that men can get closer to God.

Therefore, the devotion towards Our Lady of Medjugorje is not just through the rosary practice, the adoration before the statues that represent her, although they are important and powerful weapons the Virgin Mary gave us. Reciting the rosary, always wearing a bracelet or a key holder of Our Lady of Medjugorje is just the starting point. If we want our prayers to be actually heard and appreciated, we must embrace the practice of Medjugorje fasting with commitment and joy. Through fasting, healing and liberation will be granted.