FAST-DAY: A day specially appointed for penitence and prayer. Repentance is a demand of God upon humanity which has fallen into sin. It ever remains the duty of the individual as well as of the Christian congregation, and has at all times been acknowledged by the people of God, who give public expression to it by observing general fast-days, when the individual is reminded not only of his own sins, but also of the fact that his sin stands in the closest connection with the sin of the whole,--"Whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it" (I Cor. xii. 26; Eph. iv. 16).
In Israel the Day of Atonement (Lev. xvi.) was a general fast-day and special fast-days are mentioned (Judges xx. 26; I Sam. vii. 5-6, xxxi. 13; Joel i. 13-14; Jonah iii.; Matt. xii. 41; see ATONEMENT, DAY OF; FASTING, I.). In the first centuries of the Christian Church Wednesdays and Fridays were fast-days, and special seasons of fasting arose (see FASTING, II.). In Protestant countries special fast-days have been appointed and annual fast-days have been instituted. For example, in Germany, the elector John George I. of Saxony ordered a day of general repentance and prayer in 1633 because of the misery following the Thirty Years' War, and at the outbreak of the Franco-German War in 1870 the king of Prussia appointed a fast-day for his realm. The number of annual fast-days has varied from one to four. As early as 1852 the effort was made to have a common fast-day for all Germany, and at present the Wednesday before the last Sunday after Trinity is so observed in Prussia and in most States of North and Central Germany. (J. L. SOMMER.)
The New England Fast-days.
The New England Fast-day of the early settlers was an inheritance of Hebrew, Continental, and English custom, and has significance as indicating the recognition of divine providence in colonial affairs. The history of its observance naturally falls into two periods: (1) The period of special fasts, preceding 1694; (2) the period of regular annual fasts, since 1694 (in Massachusetts only to 1894). The story of New England fast-days begins at Plymouth, where a prolonged drought in the early summer of 1623 was the occasion of an order of the governor appointing July 16 (old style) as a day of humiliation and prayer, an event followed almost immediately by refreshing showers. In 1636 a new law code at Plymouth provided for the civil appointment of both fast and thanksgiving days as occasion should demand. In the Massachusetts Bay colony the first fast-days were church observances, and such were frequent in later history, entirely independent of civil appointment. The first fast-day sermon now extant in full was that of John Wheelwright, preached Jan. 19, 1637, in the midst of the Antinomian Controversy. Connecticut observed special fasts almost from the beginning. Various causes produced these particular appointments, such as drought, devastation of insect plagues or of epidemic diseases, Indian wars, earthquakes and religious indifference. The days were observed with scrupulous religiousness after the manner of the Puritan Sabbath, and after 1675 they were for some time made the occasion of a renewal of church covenants to promote spiritual reformation.
In the later years of the theocracy the practise prevailed of observing an annual fast-day in the spring. In Massachusetts this became fixed during the troublous years of charter alterations. In Plymouth it became regular after King Philip's War. In Connecticut it began even earlier. Out of deference to the Episcopal Church Connecticut made Good Friday the fast-day of the State in 1795, and it became the regular custom. New Hampshire had followed the same practise a few times, but like Maine was influenced by Massachusetts to adopt the first Thursday of April. Rhode Island has never adopted fast-day. The ministers of the colony were active in promoting the observance of the day; and after its appointment became purely a civil function their influence remained in the manner of observance and often in the wording of the proclamation. The character of the annual fast long remained religious. Until the nineteenth century two church services were held, occupying most of the day; and the people abstained from food until late afternoon. It was only later that they presumed to walk abroad, to visit, and even to indulge in sports. With the passing of time it took on a more secular, and even political character, until at last it was abolished in Massachusetts by act of the legislature Mar. 16, 1894. Its religious observance has been transferred in a measure to Good Friday, and its holiday features to Patriots' Day on Apr. 19. Fast-day never enjoyed permanent national observance, though on special occasions it has received recognition.
HENRY K. ROWE.