Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Lent and Fast Days: What is the Church discipline?

Please also read:
Get Good at Fasting
Gluttony, And Why it is One of the Seven Deadly Sins

2 Peter 3:8-10: "But of this one thing be not ignorant, my beloved, that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord delayeth not his promise, as some imagine, but dealeth patiently for your sake, not willing that any should perish, but that all should return to penance. But the day of the Lord shall come as a thief, in which the heavens shall pass away with great violence, and the elements shall be melted with heat, and the earth and the works which are in it, shall be burnt up."

Luke 13:5: "...except you do penance, you shall all likewise perish."

The general rules for the Church discipline of fasting appear to be as follows
(if any readers have more information, please contact me):

All baptized persons between the ages of 21 and 60 are included in the precept of fasting.

On fast days, one meal alone is permitted, which must be taken no sooner than noon.  There is one smaller portion of food permitted in the evening, which must not exceed 8 ounces (collation).

On fast days outside of Lent, meat is permitted at the meal, so long as it does not fall on a Friday.


The days of fasting are these:

The Ember Days (that is the first Wednesday, Friday and Saturday of each of the four seasons)
The Vigils (the day preceding a Holy Day of obligation)

With the exception of Sundays in Lent, all the days of Lent, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, are days of fasting, as are the Fridays in Advent.


The days of Abstinence from fleshmeat are these:

All Fridays throughout the year and the Saturdays of Advent are days of abstinence from fleshmeat (this does not include eggs, fish or dairy products as it used to in previous centuries).


St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Secunda Secundae Partis, Q. 147, Art. 6, Obj 2: "Fasting is of two kinds. One is the natural fast, which is requisite for receiving the Eucharist. This is broken by any kind of drink, even of water, after which it is not lawful to receive the Eucharist. The fast of the Church is another kind and is called the "fasting of the faster," and this is not broken save by such things as the Church intended to forbid in instituting the fast. Now the Church does not intend to command abstinence from drink, for this is taken more for bodily refreshment, and digestion of the food consumed, although it nourishes somewhat. It is, however, possible to sin and lose the merit of fasting, by partaking of too much drink: as also by eating immoderately at one meal."

In this article, we will examine the Church's discipline of fasting and determine its present constitution and how it ought to be observed, but first it is important to establish just how serious the precept of fasting is:

"He who breaks a fast of the Church to which he is bound, does not sin mortally, unless he does this out of contempt and disobedience." - CONDEMNED in decrees of Sept. 24, 1665, by Pope Alexander VII (Denzinger 1123)

In other words, failing to observe the Church's fasts, through weakness or even through culpable ignorance is not sufficient to exonerate one from mortal sin.  You MUST resolve to learn what the Church commands and then observe it or you are in mortal sin.

At the end of this article may be found the excerpt from Goffine's Explanations and Instructions concerning fast days.


Catholic Encyclopedia, Fast: In the United States of America all the days of Lent; the Fridays of Advent (generally); the Ember Days; the vigils of Christmas (Dec. 24) and Pentecost (variable), as well as those of the Assumption (14 Aug.); of All Saints (31 Oct.), are now fasting days.

Wikipedia, Fasting and Abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church: "Advent is also considered a time of special self-examination, humility, and spiritual preparation in anticipation of the birth of Christ. Fridays and Saturdays in Advent were days of abstinence, and until early in the 20th century, the Fridays of Advent were also days of fasting."   - Note that the Catholic Church lost her hierarchy to heretics at the end of the 19th century, thus no further changes were able to be made to the Catholic disciplines since then.

Pope Benedict XIV reiterated what constitutes proper abstinence (rough Google Translation of the Italian):

Pope Benedict XIV, Libentissme Quidem, June 10, 1745: "What are the allowed foods that can not be associated with those banned?

"We answer: The same foods are allowed to those who were allowed to eat meat, except, fish is a forbidden food to the point that one and the other food may not be taken together. However, those who only eat fish may eat eggs and dairy products.

"Does the commandment not to mix the other one kind of food also extend to the Sundays of Lent?

"We assert: It extends.

"Are these two commands valid even outside of Lent?

"They are valid outside Lent, namely that the only meal, with the other laws set out in the second and third answer to these questions, and the other prohibiting the mixing of food with the lawful prohibited, as is indicated in the fourth application."

No meat is to be consumed during Lent (except on Sundays), except where there is evidence that a Catholic Bishop with ordinary jurisdiction for a particular diocese has granted dispensations in accordance with the Constitution Libentissime Quidem of Pope Benedict XIV.  In other words, the Catholic faithful of a diocese do not "grant themselves" dispensations from the rules of fasting, even in the event of a vacant see.  The only possible exceptions might be those whose fasting might prove disastrous, and this according to epikeia.


Here are excerpts from three sources, the Liturgical Year by Prosper Guéranger, the Devout Instruction of Father Leonard Goffine and the Catholic Encyclopedia, which must be taken with TWO grains of salt, for it was written 32 years after the spiritual fall of Christian Rome AND it has already been shown to contain troublesome and even heretical passages:

The Liturgical Year, Volume 5: "The fourteenth century gave weight, both by universal custom and theological authority, to the opinion held by Richard of Middleton. It will, perhaps; suffice if we quote the learned Dominican, Durandus, bishop of Meaux, who says that there can be no doubt as to the lawfulness of taking one's repast at midday; and he adds that such was then the custom observed by the Pope, and Cardinals, and even the religious Orders.

"We cannot, therefore, be surprised at finding this opinion maintained, in the fifteenth century, by such grave authors as St. Antoninus, Cardinal Cajetan, and others. Alexander Hales and St. Thomas sought to prevent the relaxation going beyond the hour of None; but their zeal was disappointed, and the present discipline was established, we might almost say, during their lifetime.

"But whilst this relaxation of taking the repast so early in the day as twelve o'clock rendered fasting less difficult in one way, it made it more severe in another. The body grew exhausted by the labours of the long second half of the twenty-four hours; and the meal, that formerly closed the day, and satisfied the cravings of fatigue, had been already taken. It was found necessary to grant some refreshment for the evening, and it was called a "collation"."

From Goffine's Devout Instructions: "Was the fast of Lent kept in early times as it is now?

"Yes, only more rigorously; for: 1. The Christians of the early ages abstained not only from flesh-meat, but from those things which are produced from flesh, such as butter, eggs, cheese, and also from wine and fish. 2. They fasted during the whole day, and ate only after vespers, that is, at night."

Catholic Encyclopedia, Lent, Relaxations of the lenten fast: "From what has been said it will be clear that in the early Middle Ages Lent throughout the greater part of the Western Church consisted of forty weekdays, which were all fast days, and six Sundays. From the beginning to the end of that time all flesh meat, and also, for the most part, "lacticinia", were forbidden even on Sundays, while on all the fasting days only one meal was taken, which single meal was not permitted before evening.

"At a very early period, however (we find the first mention of it in Socrates), the practice began to be tolerated of breaking the fast at the hour of none, i.e., three o'clock. We learn in particular that Charlemagne, about the year 800, took his lenten repast at 2 p.m. This gradual anticipation of the hour of dinner was facilitated by the fact that the canonical hours of none, vespers, etc., represented rather periods than fixed points of time. The ninth hour, or none, was no doubt strictly three o'clock in the afternoon, but the Office of none might be recited as soon as sext, which, of course, corresponded to the sixth hour, or midday, was finished.

"Hence none in course of time came to be regarded as beginning at midday, and this point of view is perpetuated in our word noon which means midday and not three o'clock in the afternoon. Now the hour for breaking the fast during Lent was after Vespers (the evening service), but by a gradual process the recitation of Vespers was more and more anticipated, until the principle was at last officially recognized, as it is at present, that Vespers in lent may be said at midday.

"In this way, although the author of the "Micrologus" in the eleventh century still declared that those who took food before evening did not observe the lenten fast according to the canons (P.L., CLI, 1013), still, even at the close of the thirteenth century, certain theologians, for example the Franciscan Richard Middleton, who based his decision in part upon contemporary usage, pronounced that a man who took his dinner at midday did not break the lenten fast. Still more material was the relaxation afforded by the introduction of "collation".

"This seems to have begun in the ninth century, when the Council of Aix la Chapelle sanctioned the concession, even in monastic houses, of a draught of water or other beverage in the evening to quench the thirst of those who were exhausted by the manual labor of the day. From this small beginning a much larger indulgence was gradually evolved. The principle of parvitas materiae, i.e., that a small quantity of nourishment which was not taken directly as a meal did not break the fast, was adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, and in the course of centuries a recognized quantity of solid food, which according to received authorities must not exceed eight ounces, has come to be permitted after the midday repast.

"As this evening drink, when first tolerated in the ninth-century monasteries, was taken at the hour at which the "Collationes" (Conferences) of Abbot Cassian were being read aloud to the brethren, this slight indulgence came to be known as a "collation", and the name has continued since. Other mitigations of an even more substantial character have been introduced into lenten observance in the course of the last few centuries. To begin with, the custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid (e.g., tea or coffee, or even chocolate) with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning.

"But, what more particularly regards Lent, successive indults have been granted by the Holy See allowing meat at the principal meal, first on Sundays, and then on two, three, four, and five weekdays, throughout nearly the whole of Lent. Quite recently, Maundy Thursday, upon which meat was hitherto always forbidden, has come to share in the same indulgence. In the United States, the Holy See grants faculties whereby working men and their families may use flesh meat once a day throughout the year, except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigil of Christmas. The only compensation imposed for all these mitigations is the prohibition during Lent against partaking of both fish and flesh at the same repast."


Catholic Encyclopedia, Fast: "According to general usage, noon is the proper time for this meal. For good reasons this hour may be legitimately anticipated. Grievous sin is not committed even though this meal is taken a full hour before noon without sufficient reason, because the substance of fasting, which consists in taking but one full meal a day, is not imperiled. In like manner, the hour for the midday meal and the collation, may for good reasons be conscientiously inverted. In many of our larger cities this practice now prevails.

"According to D'Annibale (Summa Theologiae Moralis, 4 ed. III, 134) and Noldin (Summa Theologiae Moralis, n. 674) good reasons justify one in taking a collation in the morning, dinner at noon, and the morning allowance in the evening, because the substance of fasting still remains intact. Nothing like a noteworthy interruption should he admitted during the course of the midday meal, because such a break virtually forms two meals instead of one.

"Common sense, taking into consideration individual intention and the duration of the interruption, must finally determine whether a given interruption is noteworthy or not. Ordinarily an interruption of one half hour is considered slight. Nevertheless, an individual, after having commenced the midday meal and meeting with a bonafide interruption lasting for an hour or more is fully justified in resuming and finishing the meal after the termination of an interruption. Finally, unless special reasons suggest the contrary, it is not allowed to give immoderate length to the time of this meal. Ordinarily, a duration of more than two hours is considered immoderate in this matter.

"Besides a complete meal, the Church now permits a collation usually taken in the evening. In considering this point proper allowance must be made for what custom has introduced regarding both the quantity and the quality of viands allowed at this repast. In the first place, about eight ounces of food are permitted at the collation even though this amount of food would fully satisfy the appetites of some persons.

"Moreover, the attention must be paid to each person's temperament, duties, length of fast, etc. Hence, much more food is allowed in cold than in warm climates, more to those working during the day than to those at ease, more to the weak and hungry than to the strong and well fed. As a general rule whatever is deemed necessary in order to enable people to give proper attention to their duties may be taken at the collation.

"Moreover, since custom first introduced the collation, the usage of each country must be considered in determining the quality of viands permitted thereat. In some places eggs, milk, butter, cheese and fish are prohibited, while bread, cake, fruit, herbs and vegetables are allowed. In other places, milk, eggs, cheese, butter and fish are permitted, owing either to custom or to Indult. This is the case in the United States. However, in order to form judgments perfectly safe concerning this point, the Lenten regulations of each diocese should be carefully read.

"Finally, a little tea, coffee, chocolate or such like beverage together with a morsel of bread or a cracker is now allowed in the morning. Strictly speaking, whatever may be classified under the head of liquids may be taken as drink or medicine at any time of the day or night on fasting days. Hence, water, lemonade, soda, water, ginger ale, wine, beer and similar drinks may be taken on fasting days outside meal time even though such beverages may, to some extent, prove nutritious. Coffee, tea, diluted chocolate, electuaries made of sugar, juniper berries, and citron may be taken on fasting days, outside meal time, as medicine by those who find them conducive to health.  Honey, milk, soup, broth, oil or anything else having the nature of food, is not allowed under either of the two categories already specified.

"It is impossible to decide mathematically how much food is necessary to involve a serious violation of this law. Moralists as well as canonists concur in holding that an excess of four ounces would seriously militate against the obligation of fasting, whether that much food was consumed at once or at various intervals during the day because Alexander VII (18 March, 1666) condemned the teaching of those who claimed that food so taken was not to be regarded as equalling or exceeding the amount allowed (Denzinger, Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum, tenth ed. Freiburg im Br., 1908, No. 1129).

"The ecclesiastical law of fasting embodies a serious obligation on all baptized individuals capable of assuming obligations provided they have completed their twenty-first year and are not otherwise excused. This doctrine is merely a practical application of a universally accepted principle of moralists and canonists whereby the character of obligation in human legislation is deemed serious or light in so far as the material element, involved in the law bears or does not bear a close and intimate relation to the attainment of a prescribed end.

"Inasmuch as fasting considered as a function of the virtue of temperance bears such a relation to the promotion of man's spiritual well-being (see Lenten Preface in the Roman Missal), it certainly embodies an obligation generally serious. To this a priori reason may be added what Church history unfolds concerning the grave penalties attached to transgressions of this law. The sixty-ninth of the Apostolic Canons decrees the degradation of bishops, priests, deacons, lectors or chanters failing to fast during Lent, and the excommunication of laymen, who fail in this way.  The fifty-sixth canon of the Trullan Synod (692) contains similar regulations. Finally Alexander VII (24 Sept., 1665) condemned a proposition formulated in the following terms: Whoso violates the ecclesiastical law of fasting to which he is bound does not sin mortally unless he acts through contempt or disobedience (Denzinger, op. cit., no. 1123).

"Though this obligation is generally serious, not every infraction of the law is mortally sinful. Whenever transgressions of the law fail to do substantial violence to the law, venial sins are committed. Inability to keep the law of fasting and incompatibility of fasting with the duties of one's state in life suffice by their very nature, to extinguish the obligation because as often as the obligation of positive laws proves extremely burdensome or irksome the obligation is forthwith lifted.

"Hence, the sick, the infirm, convalescents, delicate women, persons sixty years old and over, families whose members cannot have the necessaries for a full meal at the same time, or who have nothing but bread, vegetables or such like viands, those to whom fasting brings loss of sleep or severe headaches, wives whose fasting incurs their husband's indignation, children whose fasting arouses parent's wrath; in a word, all those who can not comply with the obligation of fasting without undergoing more than ordinary hardship are excused on account of their inability to fulfil the obligation.

"In like manner unusual fatigue or bodily weakness experienced in discharging one duty and superinduced by fasting lifts the obligation of fasting. However, not every sort of labour, but only such as is hard and protracted excuses from the obligation of fasting. These two conditions are not confined to manual labour, but may be equally verified with regard to brain work. Hence bookkeepers, stenographers, telegraph operators, legal advisers and many others whose occupations are largely mental are entitled to exemption on this score, quite as well as day-labourers or tradesmen. 

"When these causes begetting exemption by their very nature, do not exist, lawfully constituted superiors may dispense their subjects from the obligation of fasting. Accordingly the Sovereign Pontiff may always and everywhere grant valid dispensations from this obligation. His dispensations will be licit when sufficient reasons underlie the grant. In particular cases and for good reasons, bishops may grant dispensations in their respective dioceses. Unless empowered by Indult they are not at liberty to dispense all their subjects simultaneously.

"It is to be noted that usually bishops issue just before Lent circulars or pastorals, which are read to the faithful or otherwise made public, and in which they make known, on the authority of the Apostolic See, the actual status of obligation, dispensations, etc. Priests charged with the care of souls may dispense individuals for good reason. Superiors of religious communities may dispense individual members of their respective communities provided sufficient reasons exist. Confessors are not qualified to grant these dispensations unless they have been explicitly delegated thereunto. They may, however, decide whether sufficient reason exists to lift the obligation.

[...]

"No student of ecclesiatical discipline can fail to perceive that the obligation of fasting is rarely observed in its integrity nowadays. Conscious of the conditions of our age, the Church is ever shaping the requirements of this obligation to meet the best interests of her children. At the same time no measure of leniency in this respect can eliminate the natural and divine positive law imposing mortification and penance on man on account of sin and its consequences. (Council of Trent, Sess. VI. can. xx) "








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