Fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church historically observes the disciplines of fasting and abstinence at various times each year. For Catholics, fasting is the reduction of one's intake of food, while abstinence refers to refraining from meat (or another type of food). The Catholic Church teaches that all people are obliged by God to perform some penance for their sins, and that these acts of penance are both personal and corporeal. The purpose of fasting is spiritual focus, self-discipline, imitation of Christ, and performing penance.

Contemporary Vatican legislation, which is followed by Catholics of the Latin Rite (who comprise most Catholics) is rooted in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini, and codified in the 1983 Code of Canon Law (in Canons 1249–1253). According to Paenitemini and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, both abstinence and fasting are required of Catholics who are not exempted for various reasons. All Fridays of the year are days are bound by the law of abstinence on all Fridays that are not Solemnities, while the law of fasting binds all Catholics who are aged between eighteen and sixty on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Nevertheless, both Paenitemini and the 1983 Code of Canon Law permitted the Episcopal Conferences to propose adjustments of the laws on fasting and abstinence for their home territories, and most have done so. For example, in some countries, the Bishops' Conferences have obtained from Rome the substitution of pious or charitable acts for abstinence from meat on all Fridays of the year (including Fridays of Lent) except Good Friday. Others continue to abstain from eating meat on Lenten Fridays, but not on Fridays outside of Lent. Still others voluntarily abstain from meat on however, fasting may be less stringent on Holy Saturday than on Good Friday.

Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are obliged to follow the discipline of their own particular church. While some Eastern Catholics try to follow the stricter rules of their Orthodox counterparts, the actual canonical obligations of Eastern Catholics to fast and abstain are usually much more lenient than those of the Orthodox.

The Personal Ordinariates for former Anglicans reconciled to the Catholic Church follow the discipline of the Latin Rite (of which they are a part) including the norms established by the Council of Catholic Bishops in whose territories they are erected and of which their Ordinaries are members. Thus in England the norm is abstinence on all Fridays of the year. The Bishop in the United States has emphasized the statements in the USCCB norms "Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year," and "we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat." The Rogation Days have been re-establised in the Calendar of the Ordinariates, and as long as a Solemnity does not take precedence, the Fridays in September and Advent are days of obligatory abstinence. Obligatory abstinence on Ember Friday in Lent is included in the universal Lenten discipline, and abstinence on Ember Friday on Whitsuntide is not required, as all days of the Octave of Pentecost are Solemnities.

The Catholic practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays popularized the Friday fish fry and inspired the creation of the Filet-O-Fish sandwich at McDonald's.

Rules relating to fasting pertain to the quantity of food allowed on days of fasting, while those regulating abstinence refer to the quality or type of food. The Christian tradition of fasts and abstinence developed from Old Testament practices, and were an integral part of the early church community. Louis Duchesne observed that Monday and Thursday were days of fasting among pious Jews. Early Christians practiced regular weekly fasts on Wednesdays and Fridays.

There has always been a close connection between fasting and almsgiving; the money saved on food should be given to the poor.

The habit of fasting before Easter developed gradually, and with considerable diversity of practice regarding duration. As late as the latter part of the second century there were differing opinions not only regarding the manner of the paschal fast, but also the proper time for keeping Easter. In 331 St. Athanasius enjoined upon his flock a period of forty days of fasting preliminary to, but not inclusive of, the stricter fast of Holy Week, and in 339, after having traveled to Rome and over the greater part of Europe, wrote in the strongest terms to urge this observance upon the people of Alexandria as one that was universally practiced, "to the end that while all the world is fasting, we who are in Egypt should not become a laughing-stock as the only people who do not fast but take our pleasure in those days".

This page was last edited on 6 May 2018, at 19:14.
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