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Rules for Fast and Abstinence

Rules for penitential days under present Church law

In 1966, Pope Paul VI promulgated a new set of regulations for fasting and abstaining by his apostolic constitution, Paenitemini. These new rules are listed in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canons 1249-1253 and all Roman Catholics are bound to strictly observe them.

There are two sets of laws that apply to the Church’s penitential days:

The law of abstinence: this refers to abstaining from meat.
The law of fasting: this refers to the quantity of food taken, thus also refraining from eating between meals.

Who is bound to observe these laws

*The law of abstinence binds all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 14th birthday.

*The law of fasting binds all adults (beginning on their 18th birthday) until the midnight which completes their 59th birthday.

What is forbidden and allowed to be eaten?

*The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat. This does not apply to dairy products, eggs, or condiments and shortening made from animal fat.

*The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day and two smaller meals. The two smaller meals should not equal the quantity of the main meal (which in the United States is customarily observed as the evening dinner).

*Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids are allowed, including milk and fruit juices.

*Fish and all cold-blooded animals may be eaten (e.g., frogs, clams, turtles, etc.).

In the Universal Church
Obligatory days of fast and abstinence:

*Abstinence is obligatory on all Fridays, except on Solemnities (i.e., I  Class Feasts).

*Fasting and abstinence are obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

In the USA:
In Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI gave authority to the episcopal conferences on how the universal rules would be applied in their region. On November 18, 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops legislated the following to be observed in the United States:

*Abstinence is obligatory on all Fridays of Lent, except Solemnities (i.e., I Class Feasts).

*Fasting and abstinence are obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

*Abstinence on all Fridays, though not obligatory under pain of sin, is “especially recommended.

*Fasting on all weekdays of Lent, though not obligatory under pain of sin, is “strongly recommended.”

The local ordinaries also have authority to grant dispensations from these rules within their dioceses.

Guidelines for traditional penitential practices

Here are the traditional rules of fast and abstinence as observed per the 1962 liturgical calendar and outlined in Canons 1250-1254 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

Who was bound to observe these laws?

*The law of abstinence bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 7th birthday.

*The law of fasting bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 21st birthday and ending at the midnight which completed their 59th birthday. [Note: The USA’s particular law has lowered the obligatory fasting age to 18.]

What was forbidden and allowed to be eaten?

*The law of abstinence forbade the eating of flesh meat and of broth made of meat, but did not exclude the use of eggs, dairy products, or seasonings made from the fat of animals.

*The law of fasting prescribed that only one full meal a day was taken with two smaller meals that did not equal the main one.

*As to the kind of food and the amount that might be taken, the approved customs of the place were to be observed. It was not forbidden to eat both flesh meat and fish at the same meal, nor to interchange the midday and evening meals.

In the Universal Church

Abstinence was obligatory on all Fridays, except on Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent.

Fasting and complete abstinence were obligatory on the following days:

*Ash Wednesday
*Fridays and Saturdays in Lent
*Good Friday
*Holy Saturday (until noon[1]—the end of the Easter Vigil Mass)
*Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday)
*Vigil of Pentecost
*Vigil of Christmas
[NB: both the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and All Saints were omitted from the 1962 calendar]

Partial abstinence
Fasting and partial abstinence were obligatory on all other weekdays of Lent (i.e., Monday through Thursday—Friday was always complete abstinence); this meant that meat could be eaten at the principal meal on these days.

Some further clarifications to universal laws
There are few more distinctions to take into account fasting and abstaining when a usual fast day was in concurrence with a Sunday (always a non-fast day):

*Sundays throughout the year and Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent cancelled the fasting and/or abstinence of any penitential day which coincided.

*If a fast-day Vigil fell on Sunday, the fasting and abstinence associated with the Vigil were not anticipated on the Saturday, but dropped altogether that year.

Particular rules observed in the USA
On January 28, 1949, the United States bishops issued a statement modifying the regulations of fasting and abstinence in America (thus differing slightly from the universal laws) after receiving a ruling from the Sacred Congregation of the Council.

Fasting and partial abstinence was obligatory on the following days:

*Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays
*Vigil of Pentecost
*all other weekdays of Lent including Saturdays

Liquids, including milk and fruit juices, might be taken at any time on a day of fast, but “other works of charity, piety, and prayer for the pope should be substituted” to compensate for this relaxation.

Pope Pius XI granted in 1931 a dispensation to American Catholics from having to abstain on the Friday following the national Thursday holiday of Thanksgiving.

The United States bishops had the faculties to dispense the faithful from the obligation to fast and abstain on penitential days that fell on civic holidays.

(Adapted from SSPX.ORG)

 

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