Fast and Abstinence-Everything You Wanted to Know

Fast and Abstinence-Everything You Wanted to Know

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Fast and Abstinence

And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting. Matthew 17:17-20

Old And New Testament Fasting

Throughout much of the Old Testament, there was only one fast day, the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:29). Later, other fasts were called for either because of a state of emergency or on the anniversary of a national tragedy (Zech 7:3-4). Fasting was an attempt to end a terrible circumstance.

In the time of Christ’s Incarnation, practitioners of the Old Testament religion fasted or abstained on Mondays and Thursdays, but Christians opted to take Wednesdays (the day Our Lord was betrayed) and Fridays (the day Our Lord was crucified) as their penitential days. (10)

In the new covenant, we fast in a different way, as after the wedding feast (Mk 2:20). We fast not only to end tragedy but to begin ministry. Jesus fasted for 40 days to begin His public ministry (Mt 4:2). The church of Antioch fasted to begin the first missionary journey (Acts 13:2). We fast not so much because of destruction and tragedy as because of construction and fulfillment. (6)

The Precept and Law

Fasting, The Fourth Precept of the Church

The fourth precept (“You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church”) ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart. (6)

Code of Canon Law

From the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1249 All Christ's faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Can. 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety. (4)

Lent

Why do we say that there are forty days of Lent?  When you count all the days from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, there are 46.

It might be more accurate to say that there is the “forty day fast within Lent.”  Historically, Lent has varied from a week to three weeks to the present configuration of 46 days. The forty day fast, however, has been more stable. The Sundays of Lent are certainly part of the Time of Lent, but they are not prescribed days of fast and abstinence. (3)

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence. If possible, the fast on Good Friday is continued until the Easter Vigil (on Holy Saturday night) as the “paschal fast” to honor the suffering and death of the Lord Jesus, and to prepare ourselves to share more fully and to celebrate more readily his Resurrection.

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards. (2)

Traditional (1962) Discipline

Fasting obligations applied to those between the ages of 21 and 59, inclusive. Abstinence obligations applied to those age 7 and older.

Fasting was required on Ash Wednesday, the three following days, all days of Lent, Ember days, and vigils.

Full abstinence was required on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays during the year, and the vigil of Christmas. Partial abstinence was required on all days of Lent, Wednesdays and Saturdays of the Ember weeks, and all vigils (except Christmas).

The requirements for fasting and abstinence did not apply on Holy Days of Obligation (including Sundays).

Current Discipline

Fasting obligations apply to those between the ages of 18 and 59, inclusive. Abstinence obligations apply to those age 14 and older. Canon law explicitly requires that pastors and parents ensure that minors not under these obligations are taught the true meaning of penance.

Fasting and abstinence are required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Fasting on Holy Saturday is recommended, but not required.

Abstinence is required on all Fridays of Lent unless they are solemnities. Fridays outside of Lent are penitential days: abstinence is recommended, but in the United States other forms of penance may be performed.

The current laws of fasting and abstinence bind under the pain of severe sin. (8)

Definitions

Abstinence

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics according to the USCCB.  Abstinence from meat is further required on the Fridays during Lent, unless a solemnity falls on a Friday according to the USCCB. 

Fasting 

Fasting means we can have only one full, meatless meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday according to the USCCB.  Some food can be taken at the other regular meal times, but combined they should be less than a full meal.  Liquids are allowed at any time, but no solid food should be consumed between meals. Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes.  Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women.  In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting. (3)

When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. Meat may be included in one meal, except as noted above. (3)

Solemnity

The word solemnity is here used to denote the amount of intrinsic or extrinsic pomp with which a feast is celebrated. Intrinsic solemnity arises from the fact that the feast is primarium for the entire Church or for a special place, because in it a saint was born, lived or died; or because his relics are honored. (5)

Meat

Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat. Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat.  Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are technically not forbidden.  However, moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste).  Fish are a different category of animal.  Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted. (3)

Vigils and Ember Days

Vigils and Ember Days no longer oblige to fast and abstinence. However, the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of “a fast before a feast.” There is no fast before any feast-day, but a suggestion that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting. (1)

Fasting on Sundays or a first class Feast

Note that if any of the Fasting and/or Abstinence Days falls on a Sunday or a first class Feast outside of Lent, the requirements (except for the Eucharistic Fast) are totally abrogated. (10)

Exerpt from USCCB Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence

Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law. Our expectation is based on the following considerations:

  1. We shall thus freely and out of love for Christ Crucified show our solidarity with the generations of believers to whom this practice frequently became,especially in times of persecution and of great poverty, no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church.
  2. We shall thus also remind ourselves that as Christians, although immersed in the world and sharing its life, we must preserve a saving and necessary difference from the spirit of the world. Our deliberate, personal abstinence from meat, more especially because no longer required by law, will be an outward sign of inward spiritual values that we cherish. (11)

Over the years

  The laws concerning fast and abstinence have changed over the years just as the missal has. Compare the 1917 Code of Canon Law with that of 1983.

          The 1917 Code

    Canon 1252. § 1. The law of abstinence alone is to be observed on all Fridays.

    § 2. The law of abstinence and fast together is to be observed on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays and Saturdays of Lent, the Ember days [all day], and on the Vigils of Pentecost, the Assumption, All Saints, and the Nativity.

    § 3. The law of fast alone is to be observed on the other days of Lent.

    § 4. On Sundays and days of obligation the law ceases except on a feast of obligation during Lent; and the vigils are not anticipated; likewise the law ceases on Holy Saturday at noon. (13)

The 1983 Code

    Canon 1250. The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

  Canon 1251. Abstinence from meat or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and Fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

    Canon 1252. The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

    Canon 1253. The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

    The 1917 Code was, itself, a liberalization of the previous law which forbade the taking of seafood and meat in the same meal, and which required that fasting vigils the fell on Sunday be observed the day before. Saturday (and Wednesday) abstinence was more extensive.

    Between 1917 and 1983 the Holy See granted permission for various modifications of the abstinence laws for workingmen and their families, for servicemen and their families, and for dioceses to transfer the Saturday abstinence to Wednesdays. In the United States it was quite common for bishops to dispense fasting and abstinence on the more important ethnic celebrations (e.g. St. Patrick, St. Joseph) as well as on the day following Thanksgiving.

    Our calendar attempts to blend all of this in a reasonable fashion, prescribing a regimen that is somewhere in between the two Codes. For those who are concerned that “there are not enough rules,” it should be pointed out that anyone is free to fast and abstain every day of the year if he feels like it. (13)

 

Image: (9)

  1. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm
  2. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/catholic-information-on-lenten-fast-and-abstinence.cfm
  3. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/questions-and-answers-about-lent.cfm
  4. https://www.fisheaters.com/fasting.html
  5. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14133a.htm
  6. http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p3s1c3a3.htm
  7. https://www.romancatholicman.com/the-secret-of-fasting/
  8. http://fssp-tulsa.org/rules_for_fasting_and_abstinence.htm
  9. https://testeverythingblog.com/what-constitutes-fasting-in-the-catholic-church-17972d84dae
  10. https://www.romancatholicman.com/fasting-and-abstinence/
  11. http://www.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-year/lent/us-bishops-pastoral-statement-on-penance-and-abstinence.cfm
  12. https://reginamag.com/michaelmas-embertide/
  13. http://www.rosarychurch.net/answers/qa031998.html

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