Fasting, a voluntary abstinence from food, has been practiced for centuries as a way for the Lord’s people to humble themselves before Him and increase their ability to receive inspiration and blessings. Mormons today practice the fast for these same reasons; they fast to receive spiritual strength.
In Mormonism, one Sunday each month is set aside as “fast Sunday.” On this day all members are encouraged to fast for twenty-four hours (from dinner on Saturday night to dinner on Sunday). On fast Sunday, each family makes monetary contributions to the poor, called “fast offerings,” which are at least equal to, if not more than, the amount they would have spent on food had they not been fasting. These offerings are used by the Church to give support to the poor. The Church has a highly-organized welfare program for this purpose. Thus, the rich are humbled and the poor elevated, and all are edified together.
In the Old and New Testament there are references to fasting and the blessings received from doing so. In Jewish law, the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur, the tenth day of the seventh month) brought with it a required fast. On this day the Jewish high priest would make sacrifices before the Lord as sin offerings. These offerings were symbolic of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and this similitude is described in Hebrews 9:6-28. Hebrews 9:28 states, “So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.” The sacrifices on the Day of Atonement brought an annual recognition of sin, and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ removes this sin and leads to the complete healing of His followers.
However, the Day of Atonement seems to be the only fast required by law. Other fasts were customary as a means of showing devotion to the Lord. Luke 18:11-12 has account of a Jewish priest who considered himself righteous through religious practices such as the fast. It reads, “The Pharisee stood and prayed this with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are . . . I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.”
Also, it seems that in ancient times fasting was accompanied by other customs, such as tearing one’s clothes and appearing humble or sorrowful (see 1 Kings 21:27).
The Lord Jesus Christ taught the importance of the fast and the blessings of doing so with humility (see Matthew 6:16-18). During His life, Jesus Christ was tempted of the devil. During the forty-days of His temptation He fasted. Luke 4:2 states, “Being forty days tempted of the devil. And in those days he did eat nothing: and when they were ended, he afterward hungered.”
Today, Mormons believe fasting is necessary to grow close to God during times of great trial, or temptation. About this experience of the Savior, the Book of Mormon prophet Mosiah wrote, “And thus the flesh becoming subject to the Spirit, or the Son to the Father, being one God, suffereth temptation and yieldeth not to the temptation” (Mosiah 15:5). The fast brings one closer to God, as he or she denies the temptations of a physical body.
There are accounts in the Bible of fasting in the early Christian church, after the departure of Jesus Christ from the earth (see Acts 13:1-3, 1 Corinthians 7:5).
In Mormonism fasting is viewed as an ancient practice, but with modern application. The fast, voluntarily abstaining from food, has great spiritual benefits when practiced with what Mormons to believe the proper humility and purpose. Fast Sunday is not the only time for a fast. In fact, members of the Mormon Church fast often for a variety of reasons. The Book of Mormon contains much information about present-day fasting, and Mormons follow these guidelines for their own lives.
As an example of fasting to give thanks to the Lord, Alma 45:1 gives an account of the people of the Americas. These communities looked forward to the coming of Christ and had been delivered in battle: “they gave thanks unto the Lord their God; yea, and they did fast much and pray much, and they did worship God with exceedingly great joy.”
Mormons accompany their prayers with a fast when they are in need of something or have a righteous desire. This practice helps an individual feel closer to the Lord and to present himself as being worthy of receiving blessings that he is in need of.
A good example of the spiritual strength that comes with fasting, which strength Mormons seek through the practice, is seen again in The Book of Mormon: “Nevertheless they did fast and pray oft, and did wax stronger and stronger in their humility, and firmer and firmer in the faith of Christ, unto the filling their souls with joy and consolation, yea, even to the purifying and the sanctification of their hearts, which sanctification cometh because of their yielding their hearts unto God” (Helaman 3:35).