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Heriberto Rosario wrote:

Hello, all —

I am a Cradle Catholic involved in the work of apologetics and evangelization.

I'd like to know how to respond to a prospective critic of the Church's Lenten practices who says that St. Paul tells us that we have been freed from obligatory fasts and other such things.

Thank you,

Heriberto

  { How do I respond to a critic of Lenten practices who says St. Paul tells us we are free of these? }

Mike replied:

Hi Heriberto,

What St. Paul is referring to in his epistles are the Old Testament rituals and such things.
At the time St. Paul's letters were written, there was no known New Testament.

Hope this helps,

Mike

Eric replied:

I just wanted to correct my colleague Mike a bit.

Actually, I don't think Paul said that about fasts, because what Paul was saying is that the Law of Moses no longer applies, and fasting was not part of the Law of Moses. Colossians 2:16 says,

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.

Eating and drinking pertains to the kosher laws; it has nothing to do with fasting. Even if you want to apply this to the Church's holy days, it still is true that Paul here is referring to the Mosaic Law, which Christ fulfilled, not laying down a principal that feast days per se are wrong.

(To demonstrate that he's referring to the Mosaic Law, note the reference to circumcision in verse 11 of Colossians 2, and the Law of Moses in verse 14, and the reference that the Law was a shadow of things to come in verse 17.

Also see Acts 15, Galatians, and Romans for some background. These things have to be taken in the whole context of the New Testament.)

It is true that God himself doesn't oblige us, as such, to fast, but note that Jesus says,

When you fast . . .

in Matthew 6:16, assuming that people are going to fast. The people in Acts fasted (Acts 14:23), and Jesus said that some demons can only be cast out by prayer and fasting (Mark 9:27-29 KJV).

19 Jesus said,

How can the guests of the bridegroom fast while he is with them? They cannot, so long as they have him with them, 20 but the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast. (Mark 2:19-20)

So Jesus definitely envisioned his followers fasting; the only question is whether they did so unified as a community, or only individually.

The Didache, or Teaching of the Twelve Apostles, is a first-century document (around the year 80 A.D.) that, while not inspired or binding, is a testimony to the life of the early Christians.

The Didache (8:1) testifies that the first century Christians fasted every Wednesday and Friday, paying respects to the day Jesus was betrayed and the day he was crucified.

Thus we have evidence of a communal observance of fasting.

Eric

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