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Are silent prayers heard by God?/ Shouldn’t we ‘fast before a feast’?

Q. I am an 88-year-old Korean War veteran with a question that is not earth-shattering but one that bothers me almost every day. I talk and pray to God, to Jesus and to the Blessed Virgin Mary out loud — every morning and at night before I go to bed. (I live alone.)

But there are also times when I pray silently — just in my head — especially if I wake up during the night. So what I need to know is whether those prayers — the silent ones — are heard. (Georgia)

A. Please relax and be at peace. The Lord (and Mary, too) hears all our prayers, including the silent ones. In fact, the Bible speaks directly to that. The Letter to the Hebrews says: “The word of God is living and effective … penetrating even between soul and spirit … able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (4:12).

Even when we are burdened and find prayer difficult, the Lord is there to help us. Paul’s Letter to the Romans says that the Spirit “comes to the aid of our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit itself intercedes with inexpressible groanings” (8:26).

So God can hear our thoughts just as easily as he can hear our words. (This may serve as a helpful reminder; even our thoughts should be kind and prayerful, too.)

Q. What happened to the rule of “no meat before a holiday” — for example, fish dinners on Christmas Eve? I haven’t seen these regulations in years, and I’m wondering whether they still exist. I don’t know anyone today who abstains from meat on Christmas Eve. (Somerset, New Jersey)

A. For many centuries of the church’s history, the vigil of Christmas was observed as an obligatory day of fast and abstinence, marking the conclusion of the penitential season of Advent. The 1917 Code of Canon Law mentioned the obligation of complete abstinence on Christmas Eve, along with the vigils of Pentecost, the Assumption and the feast of All Saints. But that obligation ceased in the mid-1960s.

Nevertheless, many Catholics do still abstain from meat on Christmas Eve. One notable example is the Italian custom of the feast of the seven fishes — typically consisting of seven different seafood dishes (said to be in honor of the seven sacraments and the seven days of creation).

The tradition comes from southern Italy, where it is known as “The Vigil,” the wait for the birth of the baby Jesus. It was introduced into the United States by immigrants in New York City’s Little Italy during the late 1800s.

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