Fasting and Abstinence in the Lutheran Tradition

Pastor Weedon has a blog on the question of “Is there a Lutheran way to Fast?”. Surprise, surprise, he concludes “Yes”, and, even greater surprise, the way to do it is to go without food.

Glad we cleared that up. Quite different from Catholic fasting, of course. Or Muslim fasting. Or Buddhist fasting. Of course, Buddhist monks fast every day after 12 noon, and Muslims observe a complete fast even of fluids from sun up to sun down in Ramadan, and Catholics in Australia fast only on two days of the year (Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) when they are allowed one normal meal and two smaller ones (one colleague once asked a priest what a “small” meal was and was told “A beer and a sandwich”…)

Okay. So there are different ways of fasting, but the same thing is meant. Fast = go without food/drink.

Problem is that Pastor Weedon confuses fasting with abstention, such as the “no meat on Friday” custom. He seems to suggest that Lutherans, faithfully following St Paul and in contradistinction to Catholics, do not make a “distinction of meats”, and don’t fast to impress God. In fact the practice of abstention, especially in Lent, differs among the Lutherans I know almost in no way from that of the Catholics I know. Here in Oz, the “no meat on Fridays” rule was relaxed some time ago, although many continue to observe it voluntarily. My nine year old Lutheran daughter decided on Ash Wednesday that she was going to do a completely non-meat Lent (fish included, however) and in general we have all joined her on this one.

Now I’m not saying that the oven-fried frozen calamari we had for tea tonight wasn’t very nice, but it wasn’t meat. An Australian farm boy notices these things…

Overall, our “meat-less” diet has made us much more conscious of Lent this year than ever before.

And while we are at it, check out this Thomistic argument on the matter of whether you can substitute carob for chocalate during Lent on Ironic Catholic.

Which raises the question, what would the Lutheran confessions have had to say about chocolate during Lent?

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5 Responses to Fasting and Abstinence in the Lutheran Tradition

  1. Past Elder says:

    Holy Week miracles continue! I agree with Schuetz!

    The practice of abstention, especialy in Lent, differs among Lutherans I know almost in no way from that of the Catholics I know — oh wait, that’s because rather few in either camp take it seriously if at all.

    I’m a veteran of fasting, not just for Lent (don’t tell anybody, but in the dark old days of mediaeval triumphalism before the light of the Spirit at Vatican II, we were taught that fasting observances were an outward aid to the real matter of getting rid of sin in our lives and “giving up something for Lent” should really focus on giving up the occasions and near occasions of those favourite sins we love to excuse) but year round, fasting from midnight before Communion, meatless Fridays every Friday not just in Lent (something about every Friday being a little Good Friday as every Sunday is a little Easter Sunday, how quaintly unenlightened of us) and so on.

    So if you’re going to fast, fast and shut up about it, which loosely translates the Gospel advice about not making a big fuss about it or even looking like you’re fasting.

    But as usual, post conciliar “Catholicism” is about which of the bits and pieces of Catholicism are Catholic this year.

    I’m not against fasting. It’s a practice one can undertake as Pastor described. These days, I’m more inclined to uncharacteristically go with Bertrand Russell on this one, who I think once said something about there being no difference from drinking much and seeing snakes and eating little and seeing God.

    But I have no issue with those who choose to fast. Choose.

    What’s nice is, in the real catholic church, this is a decision one can make either way without finding someone else’s different decision or practice any the less valid — and in no case with some goof balls in stylised Roman Imperial garb elevating the customs of men to the law of God and deciding for you.

  2. William Weedon says:


    I know the diff between abstinence and fasting, but among my people the usual way to think of the Lenten “fast” is to talk about abstinence and think that’s fasting. It is clearly the “distinction of meats” that the Lutherans in the 16th century objected to, NOT the discipline of fasting. So I was simply trying to encourage my members to truly HUNGER and find in God the one who alone can satisfy that hunger.


  3. Schütz says:

    What I am complaining about, Pastor Bill, is the confusion of categories. “Abstention” has nothing to do with the “distinction of meats”. I believe it might have suited the Lutheran confessors to deliberately confuse this issue, as it was then easy for them to dismiss the practice of abstention from meat on Fridays etc. as “Jewish” legalism.

  4. William Weedon says:

    Well, David, then I am confused. Distinction of meats is used in the AC to discuss the requirement of abstention from flesh meats on Fridays, for example. It’s not referring to the Jewish practice of kosher and non-kosher meat, but does draw the parallel that all foods groups are free to the Christian, for all is cleansed in Christ. I think I’m missing your point a bit. Help me out. And if I don’t get back

  5. William Weedon says:

    oops. If I don’t get back before the the Triduum and Pascha are through, I want to wish you the most joyous celebration of our Lord’s paschal mystery. I’ve come to value your thoughts and your words a great deal, and you are one of hte people I’ll be thanking our Lord for in these holy days.

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