During Lent, we are reminded by Ash Wednesday’s gospel that we are in a time
of prayer, fasting, and self-denial. Surprising to some, page 17 of our Book of Common
Prayer designates Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as “Fasts”, while the weekdays of
Lent and Holy Week, (except the Annunciation on March 25) are considered “Days of
Special Devotion” requiring “special acts of discipline and self-denial”. No specific rules
are provided. The original fast preceding Easter lasted two days. Later in the Western
church, the thirty-six days of Lent were punctuated by Sunday feasting - continuing the
resurrection celebration even during Lent. Forty days of Lenten fasting was begun in
the 7th century when the four days from Ash Wednesday to the first Sunday in Lent
were added. Initially, fasting was strict with only one meal a day towards evening.
Meat, eggs, and fish were forbidden. Beginning in the 4th century, the hour for breaking
the fast was moved to 3 PM and later back to noon. The exact manner of a person’s
fast is an individual one. The important point is to set aside this Lenten time in a special
and personal way.
~Dr. Gil Haas, St. Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church