Friday, March 20, 2009


The subject of fasting and abstinence comes up often during the season of Lent, and though I have written a rather extensive article on the subject, it seems a bit difficult to follow. I am rewriting that article in hopes to make it easier to follow and hopefully a valuable resource to the reader.
Let us begin with the basics, and then get into the Church teaching and Church Law on the matter.

What Is Fasting?
Fasting can be done in many ways, from complete abstinence from all foods and drinks, except water; or it can be as defined in the Latin Church practice of only having one full meal and two smaller snacks – and the two smaller snacks cannot, if combined, be as much as the whole meal.

What Is Abstinence?
Abstinence is the giving up of something. If one abstains from meat, then they are to eat no meat at all. Fish and seafood are not considered “meat” in this sense in the Latin tradition.

What Is Penance?
A penance is the offering up of something to God.

What Does the Church Require of Faithful Catholics?
All Faithful Catholics are to observe some sort of penance on ALL Fridays throughout the year, not just the Fridays during Lent. Unfortunately many, if not most, Catholics are unaware that this is still part of Canon Law and is a mortal sin to deliberately avoid doing penance of ALL Fridays.
Code of Canon Law (1983): 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.
So, unless a solemnity falls on a Friday, all Latin Rite Catholics are still bound to observe this penance on ALL Fridays, not just those during Lent. And actually, during Lent the obligation is still abstinence from meat, no substitution is allowed as is throughout the rest of the year.

Is It Still Considered to be a Mortal Sin to Reject This Precept?
When I first wrote the initial article, I caught a bit of flack from fellow Catholics who did not believe that not adhering to this precept was a mortal sin. Personally, I could not see how it was not, but one of my acquaintances has contacts at the Vatican and was about to visit there again so she said she would show my article to some of the “higher-ups” there for their opinion. Their first comment to her was, “how long has this person who wrote this been a priest?” I was flattered, she was impressed. In answer to her question, challenging my position that it was still a mortal sin was to look at Paenitemini, Issued by Pope Paul VI on February 17, 1966. That document can be found at:
In that document, Pope Paul VI says:
Therefore, the following is declared and established:
  1. By divine law all the faithful are required to do penance.
  2. The prescriptions of ecclesiastical law regarding penitence are totally reorganized according to the following norms:
  1. The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation through-out the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of "Grande Quaresima" (Great Lent), according to the diversity of the rite. Their substantial observance binds gravely.
  2. Apart from the faculties referred to in VI and VIII regarding the manner of fulfilling the precept of penitence on such days, abstinence is to be observed on every Friday which does not fall on a day of obligation, while abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday or, according to local practice, on the first day of 'Great Lent' and on Good Friday
  1. The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat.
  2. The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing- -as far as quantity and quality are concerned -- approved local custom.
  • To the law of abstinence those are bound who have completed their 14th year of age. To the law of fast those of the faithful are bound who have completed their 21st year and up until the beginning of their 60th year. As regards those of a lesser age, pastors of souls and parents should see to it with particular care that they are educated to a true sense of penitence.
There's much more in this encyclical, but do note the Holy Father's words, "Therefore, the following is declared and established:" Section II.1 applies to the season of Lent, but II.2 applies to “every Friday” wherein we are required to observe abstinence – and during Lent, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are to be abstinence and fasting. This “higher-up” (whom my friend would not name) supported my thesis that it is indeed a mortal sin to neglect and/or reject this precept and that is supported by the post-Vatican II declaration by Pope Paul VI as such and “binds gravely.”

The 1983 Code of Canon Law relaxes a bit the rule that the abstinence must be from meat, and while it can be (and should be, in my humble opinion) still be abstinence from meat – it can be something else as per ones Episcopal Conference. It must also be noted that Paenitemini has never been abrogated by a later pope.

In short - we must observe some sort of penance on EVERY Friday, throughout the year, not merely during Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday that penance must include fasting and abstinence from meat. For a Catholic to knowingly and willingly not observe the precepts involved here - it is a mortal sin. Any Catholic reading this article cannot claim ignorance to the precepts - and if they doubt what I've said - I urge them to research it themselves.

I also urge my fellow Catholics to return to the tradition of giving up meat on all Fridays throughout the year. It once was very symbolic of the Catholic Faith and was so prevalent that many restaurants would offer a special "fish fry" on Fridays - and though most Catholics do not practice this anymore - the secular tradition of the Friday Fish Fry has remained.

Does the name "Friday" relate to the Fish Fry?
Well, though it sounds nice - actually, no there is no relation.

The name Friday comes from the Old English frigedæg, meaning the day of Frige the Anglo-Saxon form of Frigg, a West Germanic translation of Latin dies Veneris, "day (of the planet) Venus." However, in most Germanic languages the day is named after Freyja—such as Frīatag in Old High German, Freitag in Modern German, Freyjudagr in Old Norse, Vrijdag in Dutch, Fredag in Swedish, Norwegian, and Danish—but Freyja and Frigg are frequently identified with each other.

The word for Friday in most Romance languages is derived from Latin dies Veneris, "day (of the planet) Venus" (a translation of Greek Aphrodites hemera) such as vendredi in French, venerdì in Italian, viernes in Spanish, and vineri in Romanian.
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