I was raised in the Mormon Church and my parents taught that we fast from two meals and give a fast offering based on that; and we fast for 24 hours for personal fasts. In my house, 24 hours can include six meals and several snacks (teenage boys). This may be one of those spirit of the law versus letter of the law things. If we fast 24 hours according to our meeting schedule, we would be fasting from Friday night (around midnight I’d say is when the boys get done eating for the day) until Sunday between 1-2 as we get out of our meetings at 12:30–much longer than 24 hours. Don’t think that this is a complaint, we are OK with it. I just have never seen anything specific, or as specific as I seem to need, even from the General Authorities of the Mormon Church. Is this a personal decision on both types of fasting or is there a specific pathway our fasts should take?
Those Pharisee Jews who determined how many steps we should take on the Sabbath would have welcomed you in their midst! You have most emphatically outlined “one of those spirit of the law versus letter of the law things.” There is not, in the Mormon Church, a protocol for two types of fasts–one for 24 hours and one for two meals. The practice, not the law, of the Church is to fast for approximately 24 hours, i.e. a full day, once a month. The Church has even designated a Fast Day, usually the first Sunday of the month, during which all the members of a given congregation could join in a fast at the same time. It is customary to end the fast after the Sacrament service, which Sacrament service is dedicated to the bearing of testimonies to the truthfulness of the gospel by those members of the congregation so inclined. Fasting with the proper attitude invites the presence of the Holy Spirit, and it is specifically of knowledge gained from the Holy Spirit that one testifies.
So, if Sacrament meeting is scheduled for a Sunday afternoon, one would normally not break his fasting until the regularly scheduled evening meal. In that case, it would be normal to enjoy your regular evening meal on Saturday, and then fast from that time until the evening meal on Sunday–and noone should be holding a stop watch to mark the passing of exactly 24 hours. If, on the other hand, fast meeting were held on a Sunday morning, then it would be appropriate to fast from the noon meal on Saturday until the noon meal on Sunday.
There are other times during which a person may wish to fast for the purpose of inviting the Holy Spirit by resisting all the temptations of the flesh, including the temptation to satisfy the appetite. The length of such fasts is not as important as the spirit that should accompany them. Fasts in the Mormon Church are normally complete fasts, i.e., no food or water–nothing ingested. Such a fast would normally be fatal within less than a week. Extended fasting, such as the 40-day fast by the Savior, does not exclude the taking of water in order to sustain life.
Some fasts are enjoined for the purpose of losing weight. A complete fast is of little value for such a purpose, as the person would die before much weight were lost. But a fast using only water, or in some cases fruit juice, may be endured for extended periods, during which time fat tissue, and frequently also muscular tissue, are consumed to provide the energy needed by the body. Such fasts are purely personal choices for personal reasons, and have nothing to with the monthly fasts practiced by the Mormon Church.
Perhaps we could venture a comment on your statement that “we fast from two meals and give a fast offering based on that.” That, indeed, is the recommendation. But how much should that fast offering be? It could be calculated as the cost of the two meals, but from what two meals would we have abstained? That fast offering is used by the Church specifically to feed the poor and to provide for the needy. With that in mind, we are enjoined to be generous in contributing to the fast offering fund. Reminds me of the boy who ran home behind the streetcar and told his dad that by so doing he had saved fifty cents. The father responded, why didn’t you run home behind a taxi and save five dollars? So the money we save by not eating depends on what we would have eaten had we not fasted. In the following excerpt from an article in the Ensign, President Thomas S. Monson quotes two earlier presidents of the Mormon Church regarding their opinions on how much we should pay as fast offerings—
“Are we generous in the payment of our fast offerings? That we should be so was taught by President Joseph F. Smith. He declared that it is incumbent upon every Latter-day Saint to give to his bishop on fast day an amount equivalent to the food that he and his family would consume for the day and, if possible, a liberal donation to be so reserved and donated to the poor. (See Improvement Era, Dec. 1902, p. 148.)
“President Spencer W. Kimball suggested that, in our generosity, we go beyond a minimum amount. He urged that we give, instead of the amount we saved by our two meals of fasting, perhaps much, much more, ten times more where we are in a position to do it” (In Conference Report, Apr. 1974, p. 184). (President Thomas S. Monson, Goal beyond Victory, Ensign (CR), November 1988, p.44)