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What is the point of Lenten fasting for Catholics? The practice has come to be so intertwined with wellness culture that if you do an internet search for “fasting,” you’re likely to get a lot of advice associated with dieting and weight loss. While there are legitimate fasting practices that can help people become more physically healthy, much of the discourse around wellness and weight is potentially harmful, associated with eating disorders and a fatphobic approach to the person.
And losing weight or getting physically fit is not exactly what Lenten fasting is supposed to be about.
Even within the religious and spiritual realm, there’s a lot of confusion on this topic. Some people talk about sacrifice, others about mortifying the flesh. Some of these conversations veer dangerously close to certain theological ideas about human nature as fundamentally depraved, or the body as essentially shameful. These ideas are neither Catholic nor psychologically healthy.
So what is Lenten fasting supposed to be about? Theologian LaRyssa Herrington joins hosts Emily Sanna and Rebecca Bratten Weiss on this episode of the podcast to help clarify the meaning and tradition of fasting in Catholic culture. Herrington is a doctoral student in systematic theology and liturgical studies at the University of Notre Dame. Her current areas of research include the role of Mary in devotional and popular piety, womanist theology, ritual studies, and sacramental theology.
You can learn more about this topic in the links below.
- “What do Catholics mean when they say they are fasting?” by Jessica Coblentz
- “Diet culture complicates Lenten fasting.” A U.S. Catholic interview
- “Rehabbing Lent—with lessons from Ramadan,” by Father Bryan Massingale
- “Toward a theology of the fat body,” by Don Clemmer
- “Giving up diet culture for Lent,” by Kira Austin-Young
- “Catholics Fast for Lent in Support of Pope Francis’ Call for Climate Action,” by EcoWatch
- “With Lent almost over, here’s why most religions fast,” by Drew Kann
Glad You Asked is sponsored by the Claretian Missionaries.