Fasting and Abstinence

Fasting and Abstinence

Matthew 4:1-2: Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.

Matthew 17:17-20: 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.

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.

Wednesdays and Fridays are still days of penance in most Eastern Catholic Churches (and among the Orthodox), but in the Roman Church, only Fridays, as memorials to the day our Lord was crucified, remain as weekly penitential days on which abstinence from meat and other forms of penance are expected as the norm. 1 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.

Check with your local Bishops to see what you are bound to in your area. (Most traditional Catholics keep the Friday abstinence whether bound to by their local Bishops or not).

Other penitential days are listed in the table below. In this table, I give the fasting and abstinence practices for those who, out of personal devotion, want to keep the older practices given for the Universal Church in 1962. I also give the requirements according to the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which is what we are bound to.

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. Those who need to be excused from the obligations of fasting and abstaining for medical reasons (pregnancy, the demands of extraordinarily hard labor, hypoglycemia, etc.) should speak with their priests for a dispensation. True charity trumps all law, and law exists to serve true charity!

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