I happen to have in my possession a couple of copies of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s Kalendar (as it was called in those days) from the 1990s. I’m interested that they include a section called “A Summary of the Bishops’ Instruction on Fasting and Abstinence”
To the best of my knowledge, this isn’t published anywhere now but I don’t think that I’m aware that it has ever been changed or withdrawn.
Here’s what it says:
Fasting: A reduction in the quantity of food and drink consumed during the day.
Abstinence: Abstaining from some particular kind of food – traditionally meat.
Note. The Bishops consider that changing circumstances and social habits necessitate adjustments from time to time in the practise of these disciplines. Present circusmstances tent to make abstinence from meat unreal, but this ought not to mean that Fasting and Abstinence should cease to be practised.
THE BISHOP’S RECOMMENDATIONS
i. That Fasting be observed by partaking of only one solid meal in the day; other meals to be of a light character.
ii. That Abstinence be observed by abstaining from some form of food or drink which is normally enjoyed. It is to be noted that for this purpose tobacco and sweets may be considered as forms of food.
iii. Ash Wednesday and good Friday are to be regarded by members of the Church as of obligation; and as days of Fasting and Abstinence.
iv. That other days ought to be observed in a spirit of voluntary devotion. These are:
Days of Fasting:
The Vigils of Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun.
The Fridays in the four Ember Season.
One of the Rogation Days.
Days of Abstinence:
All other Fridays throughout the year, except Christmas Day, Epiphany and the Fridays in the Octaves of Christmas, Easter and the Ascension of our Lord.
v. The whole of Lent, except the Sundays, is a time for special self-denial, which should find expression in Prayer, Fasting and Almsgiving. We encourage all members of the Church to make their own rule of general self-discipline to be observed throughout this season. Such a rule would include additional time for prayer and Bible reading, greater frequency in receiving Holy Communion, and increased giving to the service of Christ by spending less on self.
I’d be interested to know what people think of these, looking at them now.
You can see clearly that circumstances were changing from a time when the church laid down rules to a time when the bishops were trying to get people to make their own decisions about religious devotions.
Is it helpful to see these guidelines? Have we got far enough away from the old rule-based religion to find it helpful to have some guidelines to think about? I’ve no doubt that some people still keep to these guidelines because it was the way that they were taught the faith. However, I don’t think I’ve heard anyone ever mention them to me since I joined the church over 20 years ago.
Does our consciousness of the way others fast through greater awareness of the Muslim faith make us more willing or less willing to have a go nowadays? Does the emergence of the 5:2 diet make us want to go back to look at our spiritual practises afresh?
Thoughts and comments welcome.