Holy Lent has begun. The Episcopal/Anglican Church has traditionally had a discipline as to fasting and abstinence during Lent. Lent consists of 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Eve, exclusive of the Sundays which fall within this period. Because Sunday is the weekly feast of Christ's resurrection, the rule of fasting has never applied to this day of the week under any circumstances.
Fasting has been seen as a Christian duty in the past, but is strongly suggested as a spiritual discipline these days. In modern times it is customary to distinguish between abstinence (in which the quality of food is lowered, usually by not eating meat) and fasting (in which the quantity of food is reduced as well) although the terms are sometimes used interchangeably. The discipline which the Church suggests (previously required) is widely recognized to be the following:
Rules of Fasting and Abstinence
1. Abstinence from flesh meat on the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday.
2. Fasting, usually meaning not more that a light breakfast, one full meal, and one half meal, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, as well as abstaining from meat.
3. Optional abstention from meat on the Fridays of the year as a discipline, and possibly fasting on the Fridays of Lent, Advent, and all Ember Days. (Ember Days are traditionally observed on the Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays after the First Sunday in Lent, the Day of Pentecost, Holy Cross Day, and December 13.)
Certain Vigils, formerly of obligation, may commendably be observed by fasting and abstinence, in honor of the labors of Our Lord and His Saints, as:
1. Christmas Eve
2. Vigil of Pentecost
3. Vigil of All Saints
Easter Eve is a Vigil, but was never listed as a Fast of Devotion because it is the entire Holy Saturday has been traditionally observed as a Lenten day of fasting.
Some people have had the practice of keeping a Holy Communion Fast by fasting and abstaining from food and drink, except water, for one hour before the start of Mass. Previously it was a required fast and abstinence from midnight the night before.
There are traditionally also Six Precepts of the Church, which were fundamental rules of discipline as part of the catholic heritage of the Episcopal Church. They were once obligatory, but though no longer obligatory, can still form our spiritual disciplines. They are:
1. Of Mass. To assist at Mass every Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation.
2. Of Fast and Abstinence. To keep the fasts and abstinences, prescribed in the Prayer Book, according to local catholic custom.
3. Of Confession. To seek sacramental absolution when nedd for mortal sin, and at Easter time to do so as a matter of obedience to normal catholic custom.
4. Of Communion. To receive Holy Communion at least once a year, during Eastertide.
5. Of Alms-giving. To give regularly to the support of the Church and the ministsry.
6. Of Marriage. To keep the Church's law of marriage. (which today includes the blessing of same-sex unions).
The above information is adapted from the "Saint Augustine's Prayer Book", a book of devotion for members of the Episcopal Church that has been published for years by the Order of the Holy Cross.
But keep in mind that there are many other ways to keep a Holy Lent other than the above. A poem by Robert Herrick from "Celebrating the Seasons" captures the true spirit of this season:
To Keep a True Lent
by Robert Herrick
Is this a Fast, to keep
The Larder lean?
From fat of Veals and Sheep?
Is it to quit the dish
Of Flesh, yet still
The platter high with Fish?
Is it to fast an hour
Or rag'd to go
A downcast look, and sour?
No; 'tis a Fast, to dole
Thy sheaf of wheat
Unto the hungry soul.
It is to fast from strife,
From old debate
To circumcise thy life.
To show a heart grief-rent
To starve thy sin,
And that's to keep thy Lent.