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Lent for Mothers, Part II

Canisius | 11 March, 2006 17:54

A while back I raised the question of how mothers who are continually pregnant or breastfeeding could participate in the Lenten fast. In the combox, a reader responded:

Throughout the Church's history, nursing and pregnant women have always been exempted from the Church's laws on fasting. Since fasting is simply a means for overcoming concupiscence, I would recommend simply picking some other means to that end. While fasting is one of the best means, it is certainly not the only one.

I wanted to respond to this in a separate blog post because the issue is interesting to me. It is true that nursing and pregnant women have a legitimate dispensation from the fast, but the fact remains that many women in that situation feel a desire to participate in the fast. Here are some reasons:

1. Scripture and tradition place great emphasis on fasting as one of the most basic of penances.
2. The desire for food is a very specific bodily passion, and needs a specific penance to combat it.
3. The whole Church fasts on certain days, making those who don't feel like they are outsiders.

These considerations do not lead to the conclusion that pregnant or breastfeeding women are morally obliged to fast. What they do demonstrate, in my opinion, is that the desire many women feel to take part in the Church's fast is reasonable and in fact healthy. If a pregnant or nursing woman had no desire at all to take part in the fast, even though she knew she could not, that would seem odd to me.

So it seems like a reasonable project to think about how these women could approach the fast without enforcing a fast on their unborn or nursing children. I forgot to mention in my original post that a nursing woman should never skimp on fluids even if she finds that she can go without snacks between meals, etc.


Comment Icon Lent for mothers

Louis | 12/03/2006, 00:19

I see what you are saying, and why nursing and pregnant women might want to participate in the fast, but I'm not sure what you mean by your second reason for fasting.

2. The desire for food is a very specific bodily passion, and needs a specific penance to combat it.

Usually the reason we fast is not to combat gluttony, or even our natural desire for food. Usually the purpose of fasting is to combat all the passions of the body, and this is done through the voluntary denial of our desire for food.

I think you would probably agree with this, but I just wanted to clarify.

Comment Icon Fasting

Canisius | 13/03/2006, 03:06

Usually the reason we fast is to make reparation for our sins, I think. But since it is also useful for stifling inordinate desires, that serves as a secondary purpose.

Any self-denial builds up the ability to deny your self, it seems to me, so in that way fasting is a kind of general anti-vice tonic. But for specific vices it is helpful to apply more specific remedies--one against anger, another against lust, another against gluttony, and so on. While any other fairly difficult mortification would serve as the general self-denial remedy, denying your self food is probably the most obvious remedy for the excessive desire for food.

At least, so it seems to me.

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