As Pope Saint John Paul II said: “Fasting is to reaffirm to oneself what Jesus answered Satan when he tempted him at the end of his 40 days of fasting in the wilderness: ‘Man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.'”
While not common today, a rigorous form of fasting known as the Black Fast in imitation of Christ’s fast in the desert was once a popular practice for pious Catholics.
The rules of the fast, dating back to before the tenth century, prescribe the following conditions:
- No more than one meal per day is permitted
- Meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk are forbidden
- No eating until after sunset
- Alcohol is forbidden
- During Holy Week, the meal consists exclusively of bread, salt, herbs, and water
In the Roman Church, the Black Fast was widely practiced by “kings and princes, clergy and laity, rich and poor.” Traditionally it was kept during the Lenten season and also prior to one’s ordination. The Black Fast is still permissible, but waned in popularity with the advent of the collation, two light meals on fast days.
Today, the Black Fast is practiced by some Eastern Catholics on Fridays during the Lenten season, especially Black Friday.
The Black Fast is also practiced by Eastern Orthodox devout Christians and monks during Great Lent and the three other fasting periods of the year – the Dormition Fast, Nativity Fast, and the Apostles’ Fast.