Of the three traditional Lenten practices: prayer, almsgiving, and fasting, it is the last one that is perhaps the one that is hardest to extract from the historical record. This is for two reasons. First, fasting was part and parcel of medieval Christianity. Second, Francis mentions fasting, but does not expound upon its meaning directly.
The meaning and context of medieval fasting. In the OT there were two kinds of fasts, public and private. The most notable, and only one required by the law of Moses was on the great Day of Atonement, thus fasting was a penitential practice associated with reconciliation from sin. In addition, there are biblical records of public fasts being proclaimed in times of distress, lamentation, and at the prophetic insistence for various situations. The public fasts were generally connected to communal sins and lasted a day. Private fasts were generally acts of penance. Continue reading