601 N. Highland Ave.
Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701
27 November 2016
First Sunday of Advent
Pastoral Letter to the Clergy and Faithful Regarding Advent:
We write to encourage you each to prepare yourself for the coming of our Saviour, Jesus Christ by observing the traditional Advent practices of prayerful fasting and abstinence. Scripture teaches, and experience attests, that prayer and fasting are one’s principle tools for bringing one closer to the Divine. Therefore, we warmly invite each of you to consider and abide the Rules for Abstinence and Fasting in our mission territories for this Advent Season whether you are a member of our congregations or not. My exhortations below are universally applicable, irrespective of your denominational affiliation. No matter the case, the practices of abstinence and fasting coupled with prayer will bring any person who seeks a divine connection with a sincere heart closer to God.
Rules for Advent Season Abstinence and Fasting
During the Season of Advent one should abstain from eating meat on Wednesdays and observe the Friday Fast as prescribed below. Outside of Advent and Lent, the rules below prescribe the Friday Fast, but unless specifically stated, no Wednesday requirement for Abstinence during Advent shall be required except on Ember Days or other day announced by the Bishop.
- Abstinence. All persons over seven years of age must abstain from eating meat on days of abstinence. This means that they may eat meat, meat gravy, or meat soup at all on days of complete abstinence, which are all Fridays during Advent (except on holy days of obligation), and the Vigil of Christmas.
- Fast. All persons over twenty-one and under fifty-nine years of age must also fast on the Fridays of Advent. This means that on a fast day one may have only one principal or full meal and two smaller meals. Note: One may eat meat at this principal meal, except on days of complete abstinence. At the two smaller meals they may not have meat, but they may take sufficient food to maintain their strength. However, these two smaller meals together should be less than a full meal.
- Eating between meals is not permitted on a Fast Day, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, may be taken any time on a fast day.
- Those not bound to fast may eat meat as often as they wish, except on days of complete abstinence (when meat may not be eaten at all), and on days of partial abstinence (when it may be eaten only at the principal meal). When a person's health or ability to work would be seriously affected by fasting or, in even rarer cases, by abstaining, a traditional priest/confessor should be consulted to determine whether the law obliges.
- to attend Mass during the period of fast and abstinence [if this is not possible, one might say all or part of the Divine Office, the Little Office of the Blessed Virgin Mary, or the Most Holy Rosary]
- to receive Holy Communion often
- to take part more frequently in exercises of piety
- to give generously to works of religion and charity
- to perform acts of kindness toward the sick, the aged, and the poor
- to practice voluntary self-denial
- to pray more fervently
- During a period of abstinence and fasting, the faithful should consider dedicating their fast to those less fortunate and set aside an equivalent amount of food or food-stuffs that may be given to the poor and needy through the church.
There are many biblical references to fasting, but wherever one reads about fasting, one will find that prayer is inexorably connected to it. In Mark 9:29, while referencing the healing of a boy with a demon, He “said unto them, this kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.” So, we see there how prayer and fasting are powerful weapons in spiritual warfare. As for sanctification, in Joel 1:14 we are taught: “Sanctify ye a fast, call a solemn assembly, gather the elders [and] all the inhabitants of the land [into] the house of the LORD your God, and cry unto the Lord. . . .” In Acts 13:2, “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them.” And thus, at Acts 13:3, “. . . when they had fasted and prayed, [they] laid [their] hands on them [and] sent [them] away.” An ordination, that was, a commissioning if you will. Prayer, and fasting.
Even in simple service to God, Luke 2:37 teaches about the prayerful widow “of about fourscore and four years, [who] departed not from the temple, but served [God] with fastings and prayers night and day.” Ezra 8:21-23 teaches that when we seek God’s will for us, prayer and fasting are requisite: “Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.”
What we witness of these examples above is that prayer and fasting are integral to seeking spiritual guidance, wisdom, to healing, to spiritual protection, and to prepare one’s self to not only hear the word of God, but to heed it. Ironically, as we practice these forms of self-denial of physical food, we are better prepared for God to fill us with spiritual food. “But he answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
In closing, it is our sincere hope that each of you will benefit by these time-honored and traditional spiritual practices that have existed since before the Church was born and since. We do not prescribe them to you for their own sake, no. We prescribe them because observing these practices will engender profound spiritual development. Like our forefathers and foremothers before us, these practices of prayer, fasting, and abstinence (though now slightly modified from the more severe practices of centuries ago) will bring you closer to God. In truth, their affect may not be immediate for the uninitiated, but if you dedicate yourself to this practice over the 40 days of Advent, even the neophyte among you will feel a palpable connection with God and inner peace. With that will bring the disposition to gratefully receive and appreciate God’s boundless Grace in a world that is in dire need of it.
May God bless you all during this Advent Season.
M. Rev. Raymond L. Niblock,