Fasting And Ramadan


I work with a lot of medical colleagues who are Muslim. They are great guys, great doctors, and good friends to me. I am glad they have recently seen the end of Ramadan because their tempers have been thus returned to normal for another year.

For them, Ramadan means a total fast from food and water between sunrise and sunset for one complete lunar month. That’s hard, by any standard of fasting! Catholics also fast and abstain, but on a weekly basis. Every Friday, and for some every Wednesday, they should not eat meat and should reduce their food intake to one-and-a-half meals a day instead of three. Over a year, and every year, this amounts to 52-104 days of fasting, which is not inconsiderable. Ramadan only lasts 29 days in comparison!

Of course, some people are excepted from fasting: The very young, the very old, the unwell. Something I learned this year is that Muslims who live above a certain latitude are spared from Ramadan should it occur in the Summer when the daylight is too long. I used to live in the North of Scotland when the Sun set at 2am and rose again at 3am. That was just not enough time for any soul to get all their fluids and vittles onboard for the next 23 hours, was it!

The forty day continuous fast undertaken by Jesus was a superhuman feat. None of us is either capable or expected to do such a thing. My medical knowledge informs me that nobody can survive more than three days without water, and none can survive more than three weeks without sustenance (approximate figures, of course).

Fasting, rightly done, is actually very good for us, as is all asceticism as long as it isn’t done to win the “Ascetic of the Universe” award!

(please forgive my poor sense of humour….)


About Brother Burrito

A sinner who hopes in God's Mercy, and who cannot stop smiling since realizing that Christ IS the Way , the Truth and the Life. Alleluia!
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10 Responses to Fasting And Ramadan

  1. mmvc says:

    I am glad they have recently seen the end of Ramadan because their tempers have been thus returned to normal for another year.

    I’m glad for you too, Burrito. I imagine that allowances are made for short tempers during such extreme fasting, though possibly not for tragic cases such as last year’s fatal stabbing of a 33 year old Syrian by a 22 year old compatriot in a German town centre for eating an ice-cream before sunset! God rest his soul!

    Knowing how grumpy, headachy and foggy-brained I get when trying to fast, I wonder how someone who is not eating or drinking all day for a whole month is able to perform demanding and risky tasks such as lengthy and intricate surgery safely…

    Every Friday, and for some every Wednesday, they should not eat meat and should reduce their food intake to one-and-a-half meals a day instead of three.

    I thought that the reduced meal discipline was for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday only, though choosing to extend this to every Friday and/or Wednesday must be a most worthy and meritorious thing to do.

    This article from Catholic Online provides a helpful summary of Church teaching on Fasting and Abstinence:

    It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved (Jer. 18:11, 25:5; Ez. 18:30, 33:11-15; Joel 2:12; Mt. 3:2; Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38). Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man.

    The Church for her part has specified certain forms of penance, both to ensure that the Catholic will do something, as required by divine law, while making it easy for Catholics to fulfill the obligation. Thus, the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics [Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches].

    Canon 1250: All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.
    Canon 1251: Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
    Canon 1252: All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.
    Canon 1253: It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.
    The Church, therefore, has two forms of official penitential practices – three if the Eucharistic fast of one hour before Communion is included.

    The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Also forbidden are soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal derived products such as margarine and gelatin which do not have any meat taste.

    On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. They must do some penitential/charitable practice on these Fridays. For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere.

    The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday (Canon 97) to the 59th Birthday (i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday) to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem to be contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

    Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

    Aside from these minimum penitential requirements Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. It could be modeled after abstinence and fasting. A person could, for example, multiply the number of days they abstain. Some people give up meat entirely for religious motives (as opposed to those who give it up for health or other motives). Some religious orders, as a penance, never eat meat. Similarly, one could multiply the number of days that one fasted. The early Church had a practice of a Wednesday and Saturday fast. This fast could be the same as the Church’s law (one main meal and two smaller ones) or stricter, even bread and water. Such freely chosen fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys – candy, soft drinks, smoking, that cocktail before supper, and so on. This is left to the individual.

    One final consideration. Before all else we are obliged to perform the duties of our state in life. Any deprivation that would seriously hinder us in carrying out our work, as students, employees or parents would be contrary to the will of God.

    —- Colin B. Donovan, STL


  2. Brother Burrito says:

    Thanks mmvc, my short post was very short on detail.


  3. mmvc says:

    And my long comment interminable ;o)


  4. johnhenrycn says:

    I think it must be hard to have goods friends and colleagues who are Muslims. I mean, is there ever a situation where the two faiths can converse about something more important than the weather without treading dangerous waters where the risk of giving or receiving offence is on everyone’s minds or should be? Yes, I have acquaintances who are Muslim, and I certainly wish them no harm, but unless our discussions are purely professional or purely anodyne, there’s not much else to say.

    Equally awkward are talks with people – especially relatives – who are *gay*, as they say.

    God is raining on our Gay Pride Parade today set to start in 41 minutes.


  5. Brother Burrito says:

    Dear mmvc, that fatal stabbing incident is terrible! I never knew.

    From all unhinged zealots, may the Good Lord deliver us!

    My Muslim colleagues cope well with their fasting. It is a communal thing for them, and they often all meet up at sunset to break the fast together. I wish my parish could be so with-it: we are riven by all kinds of daft factionalism.

    I have never witnessed any misbehaviour by them, personal or professional, that I could attribute to their fasting. They greatly appreciate it if one acknowledges the sacrifices they are making for their faith. On several occasions this year, I asked them if they had had some food and drink if they were required to work around sundown.

    I understand that they can all bend the rules about Ramadan, for extenuating circumstances, such as if life is at risk. Muslims are very very pro-life, in my experience.


  6. Brother Burrito says:

    Dear JH,

    It must be difficult for you working in such a “cut-throat profession” (sic) as law, perhaps.

    When I cut a throat, it is to perform a tracheostomy, a life-saving procedure.

    The Muslims I encounter are all well-off, educated, and cultured. They and I respect each other, we are not at war. We share many values such as love for life, and family, and chastity. They appreciate my serious attitude towards God and holiness, but we also both love good-natured joshing, and good food, and good goods.

    I have had similarly rich encounters with Jews and Hindus.

    I think the trick is to avoid getting all zealous and extremist etc. That way lies violence.


  7. johnhenrycn says:

    “One final consideration. Before all else we are obliged to perform the duties of our state in life. Any deprivation that would seriously hinder us in carrying out our work, as students, employees or parents would be contrary to the will of God.” — Colin B. Donovan, STL

    Which is why I would like to have been a great Catholic chef, like Auguste Escoffier.

    “Digestion is one of the most delicately balanced of all human and perhaps angelic functions…”


  8. johnhenrycn says:

    Brother (21:55):
    A friend of mine, an usher at our parish, was asked recently by a Muslim next door neighbour why he hadn’t been seen around much – which is because my friend is having cancer chemotherapy – and on being told this, the neighbour hugged him and promised to pray for him. I guess we won’t be able to prove whose prayers – the Muslim’s or ours – were efficacious. Which reminds me: is Toad’s sentence just about up?


  9. Brother Burrito says:

    Toad still has most of a month to spend in pokey, so it goes.

    I guess if I’m really sweet-talked, I could grant some visiting rights….though nuttin’ conjugal ya’ unnerstand?

    (I have a very red neck at the moment, very temporary look you…)


  10. johnhenrycn says:

    Ha! I think the Dogman of Alcatraz needs another month to finish reading the Bible for the first time.


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