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The Holy Season of Lent -- Fast and Abstinence ^ | 02-18-02 | Colin B. Donovan, STL

Posted on 02/19/2004 9:49:26 PM PST by Salvation

The Holy Season of Lent
Fast and Abstinence.

It is a traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality that a constituent part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance, without which the Christian is unlikely to remain on the narrow path and be saved (Jer. 18:11, 25:5; Ez.  18:30, 33:11-15; Joel 2:12; Mt. 3:2; Mt. 4:17; Acts 2:38). Christ Himself said that His disciples would fast once He had departed (Lk. 5:35). The general law of penance, therefore, is part of the law of God for man.

The Church for her part has specified certain forms of penance, both to ensure that the Catholic will do something, as required by divine law, while making it easy for Catholics to fulfill the obligation. Thus, the 1983 Code of Canon Law specifies the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics [Eastern Rite Catholics have their own penitential practices as specified by the Code of Canons for the Eastern Churches].

Canon 1250  All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.

Canon 1251  Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Canon 1252  All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.

Can. 1253  It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

The Church, therefore, has two forms of official penitential practices - three if the Eucharistic fast of one hour before Communion is included.

Abstinence  The law of abstinence requires a Catholic 14 years of age until death to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of the Passion of Jesus on Good Friday. Meat is considered to be the flesh and organs of mammals and fowl. Also forbidden are soups or gravies made from them. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles and shellfish are permitted, as are animal derived products such as margarine and gelatin which do not have any meat taste.

On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. They must do some penitential/charitable practice on these Fridays. For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere.

Fasting The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem to be contrary to the spirit of doing penance.

Those who are excused from fast or abstinence Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment,  manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.

Aside from these minimum penitential requirements Catholics are encouraged to impose some personal penance on themselves at other times. It could be modeled after abstinence and fasting. A person could, for example, multiply the number of days they abstain. Some people give up meat entirely for religious motives (as opposed to those who give it up for health or other motives). Some religious orders, as a penance, never eat meat. Similarly, one could multiply the number of days that one fasted. The early Church had a practice of a Wednesday and Saturday fast. This fast could be the same as the Church's law (one main meal and two smaller ones) or stricter, even bread and water. Such freely chosen fasting could also consist in giving up something one enjoys - candy, soft drinks, smoking, that cocktail before supper, and so on. This is left to the individual.

One final consideration. Before all else we are obliged to perform the duties of our state in life. Any deprivation that would seriously hinder us in carrying out our work, as students, employees or parents would be contrary to the will of God.

----   Colin B. Donovan, STL

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KEYWORDS: abstinence; ashwednesday; catholiclist; fast; goodfriday; holysaturday; holythursday; lent; triduum
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To: ponyespresso

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Online Edition - Vol. VI, No. 10 - February 2001


Ash Wednesday and the Lenten Fast

"The main current of Lent must flow through the interior man, through hearts and consciences. The essential effort of repentance consists in this. In this effort the human determination to be converted to God is invested with the predisposing grace of conversion and, at the same time, of forgiveness and of spiritual liberation".

This reflection by Pope John Paul II in Lent of 1979, recorded in a collection of his meditations, The Light of Christ, indicates the attitude with which we should approach our observance of this penitential season -- a season which begins with a sign of repentance so ancient as to be almost lost in antiquity, and continues with penitential action equally ageless.


Putting ashes on our heads as a form of penitence is a practice inherited from Jewish tradition. In Old Testament times, fast days expressed sorrow for sins and the desire to make atonement to the Father. Ashes, for Jews and Christians alike, are a sign of repentance, sorrow, and mourning. The King of Nineveh believed the prophecy of Jonah and fasted forty days wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes to save the city, and ordered the people to do so, too [Jonah 3:4-10]. Jeremiah calls Israel to "wallow in ashes" of repentance [Jeremiah 6:26]. Abraham speaks of being unworthy to speak with God because he is "but dust and ashes" [Gen 2:7] - being man, he is created from dust. Jesus also refers to this symbol in Matthew 11:21, "Alas for you, Chorazin! Alas for you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes".

The ashes imposed on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday are a reminder of our unworthiness and sinfulness -- sinfulness that corrupts and stains us and leads to death (we return to the dust from whence we came). Ashes remind us of our original sin and our need of redemption -- of our need to be cleansed of sin and made worthy of Salvation. This is why the priest says, as he imposes ashes on our foreheads, "Remember, O Man, that you are dust and unto dust you shall return". [Genesis 3:19].

We cannot appreciate God's infinite mercy if we do not realize we need mercy. We cannot understand salvation apart from our recognition of our need to be saved, rescued, from something namely our sin, which otherwise separates us forever from God. Ashes remind us of this need. When we wear the ashes on our heads, we also acknowledge the sacrifice of Christ, who forever substituted His own death for the "burnt offerings" made by Old Testament priests to atone for the sins of the people.

On Jewish fast days, or days of atonement, the penitent customarily wore sackcloth (burlap), placed ashes on his head, and went barefoot. These traditions associated with penance continued to be observed by the early Christians, although Jesus warned against ostentatious public displays of penance [see Matthew 6:16-18].

In the New Testament, fasting had similar significance, but fast times were also a time of intensified prayer and willingness to abide by the will of Christ and the Father who sent Him.

We also fast because of our sorrow at the loss of the Lord: "The days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away, and then shall they fast" [Luke 5:33-35]; also because of our intention of giving our Christian life more depth and more seriousness of purpose. Pope Leo the Great says in his forty-second sermon: "While men are distracted by the many cares of life, their religious hearts are necessarily defiled by the dust of the world". We also fast because of the need to prepare ourselves spiritually for the celebration of Easter: for the renewal of our baptismal vows, and for Easter Communion

According the Didache, a second-century record of early Christian beliefs and practices, Christians were to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year. Emphasis on seasonal fasting became more pronounced in the second and third centuries when a more strict fast was observed from Good Friday until Easter. Eventually this shorter fast developed into the forty-day fast.

In 1099, Pope Urban II called the first day of Lent Feria quarta cinerum or Ash Wednesday. During the early centuries of the Church, only persons who had committed grave sins received ashes and were asked to do public penance, which usually lasted until Holy Thursday when they were reconciled to the Church through confession and the reception of Holy Communion. The custom, as early as the fourth century, was to "quarantine" (from the word for "forty") or separate the penitents from the rest of the community during the forty days of Lent. Ashes were a sign of this separation. The penitential quarantine applied to poor and rich alike.

Fasting and Penance Today
In the same Lenten message quoted above, Pope John Paul II said,

"Penance is not just an effort, a weight, but it is also a joy. Sometimes it is a great joy of the human spirit, a delight that other sources cannot bring forth. Contemporary man seems to have lost, to some extent, the flavor of this joy. He has also lost the deep sense of that spiritual effort which makes it possible to find oneself again in the whole truth of one's interior being. Civilization -- especially in the West -- closely connected as it is with the development of science and technology, catches a glimpse of the need for intellectual and physical effort. But he has lost the sense of the effort of the spirit, the fruit of which is man seen in his inner self. The whole period of Lent -- since it is a preparation for Easter -- is a systematic call to this joy that comes from the effort of patiently finding oneself again. Let no one be afraid to undertake this effort".

The Code of Canon Law states that Fridays throughout the year and in the time of Lent are penitential days for the entire Church. Although fasting usually refers to any practice of restricting food, there is a distinction, in the Church, between a fast (limiting food to one full meal and two small meals a day) and abstinence (abstaining from eating meat). Abstinence from meat on Fridays as the universal form of penance on all Fridays is no longer mandatory. We may choose another way of observing the Church's requirement for acts of penance on Fridays.

Some people have become confused about the requirement to observe penitential days. As a result, the discipline of fasting (or abstaining from meat) or any form of regular penance has all but disappeared.

Both fast and abstinence are required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The rules of the Church in the United States in effect since 1966 state:

"Catholics in the United States are obliged to abstain from the eating of meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays during the season of Lent. They are also obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday. Self-imposed observance of fasting on all weekdays of Lent is strongly recommended. Abstinence from flesh meat on all Fridays of the year [excluding solemnities like Christmas which may fall on Friday] is especially recommended to individuals and to the Catholic community as a whole" (ref. Canons 1249-1253, Code of Canon Law).

The purpose of fasting is to foster pure, holy, and spiritual activity. It is an act of solidarity that joins us to Christ an act of self-donation in imitation of His total self-sacrifice. Fasting can heighten our understanding of Christ's Mystical Body, the Church, and of our total dependence on His love and mercy.

from Family Sourcebook for Lent and Easter, Women for Faith & Family


Copyright © 2001 Adoremus: Society for the Renewal of the Sacred Liturgy

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21 posted on 02/20/2004 4:33:42 AM PST by RockDoc
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To: Salvation
Thanks especially for this and the post on the Stations.

Been searching for meditations and found some that viewed fasting and abstinence not as a means to Jesus, but as solidarity with the rest of the third-world and a means to protect the earth.

Very discouraging to have Gaia interjected.
22 posted on 02/20/2004 5:11:09 AM PST by OpusatFR (Kerrycrats are the Know-Nothings of the 21st Century)
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To: Salvation

mark and Bump!
23 posted on 02/20/2004 5:38:51 AM PST by MudPuppy (Young Marines - "Strengthening the Lives of America's Youth")
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To: Salvation
They are traditionally associated with Lent, but they should be performed year-round.
24 posted on 02/20/2004 6:32:50 AM PST by Pyro7480 ("We are all born ignorant, but one must work hard to remain stupid" - Benjamin Franklin)
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To: BlessedBeGod
Is it true that you're not supposed to fast or abstain on Sundays? I always have done so during Lent, but I've heard that Sundays are exempt.

Every Sunday is a feast day, a celebration of the Resurrection, a mini-Easter. As such, a penitential mind-set is discouraged.

That doesn't mean you must engage in something you are otherwise abstaining from, nor that you should make it an occasion of gluttony. But, in general, Sundays are not days for fasting and the like.


25 posted on 02/20/2004 6:45:23 AM PST by SoothingDave
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To: .45MAN

I have to say that after Vatican II I got lazy and only did the fast and abstinence during Lent.

Although I could skip it now due to my age, I am more ardent about following it than ever before in my life.
26 posted on 02/20/2004 7:09:42 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: BlessedBeGod
Sundays are not a part of Lent -- therefore no fast or abstinence is required.

Count the days -- 40.

Sundays are not counted.

(PS. I had to count them too!)
27 posted on 02/20/2004 7:11:10 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: RockDoc
Thanks, RockDoc! Couldn't have said it better myself. I think we have an Ash Wednesday post out there lurking somewhere. I will try to find it.
28 posted on 02/20/2004 7:12:27 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: OpusatFR
Thanks for your kind words. I hope you found this a little more traditional even though it has some justice actions in it.
29 posted on 02/20/2004 7:14:26 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: MudPuppy
Glad to help!

Isn't it amazing that the U. S. Bishops are now saying that we can abstain from meat year around?

30 posted on 02/20/2004 7:15:27 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: SoothingDave
Very good answer. Thanks SD!
31 posted on 02/20/2004 7:16:12 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: All
Sunday Soundbite
by Father Greg Friedman, O.F.M.

What is Lent?
Return to Lent: Call to Conversion

These days, a Catholic may be able to tell your age by the way you explain Lent. Hello, I'm Father Greg Friedman. American presents this series of "Sunday Soundbites" for the season of Lent.

Older Catholics, who remember Lent in the 1930s, 40s or 50s—or perhaps even earlier—may first think of this season as a time of penance. Lent was when you gave up something—like food or going to the movies— in order to do penance for sin.

Since the Church has restored the rite of initiating adults into the Christian faith, Lent has taken on a different meaning—one that goes back to the fourth and fifth centuries. At that time, the 40 days before Easter were the final stage of preparation for those about to be baptized. The rest of the Church prayed and fasted in solidarity with them.

Today, with the presence in most Catholic parishes of a group of adults visibly making ready to receive the sacraments of initiation at the Easter Vigil, Lent has regained that "baptismal" emphasis. We still can decide on a Lenten observance—fasting, prayer, almsgiving—but we do it with the purpose of recalling our Baptism, of deepening our commitment to Christ. And we do it in solidarity with those preparing to be baptized or received into the Church.

The readings for each Sunday in Lent have been chosen by the Church to relate to the journey of faith each of us undertakes, to our basic baptismal call to be part of Christ. Some of the selections, from the Gospel of John, for example, have been used for centuries to recall the meaning of Baptism. For people about to be baptized, these Scripture passages take on a powerful meaning indeed. The meditations you will find here on our Web site will call attention to the various "baptismal connections" for each Sunday.

Those who are already baptized, are still on a journey. Our faith must be renewed, our baptismal promises affirmed, each time we gather with the Church for the Eucharist, where we hear God's Word and come to the table to be transformed into the Body of Christ. We bring to that experience our questions, our sinfulness, our hunger and thirst, our need to grow, our longing for God.

As you reflect with me through these "Sunday Soundbites," let's pray for each other as we make our Lenten journey of faith. I'm Father Greg Friedman for

Franciscan Father Greg Friedman, O.F.M., is executive producer of educational religious videos for St.Anthony Messenger Press. He also helps develop Web-based projects for the Press, including and He assists each weekend at a parish that ministers to college students and serves as a member of the leadership team of the Cincinnati-based Franciscan Friars.

32 posted on 02/20/2004 7:42:46 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: ponyespresso
Here are some other links about Lent:

The Holy Season of Lent -- Fast and Abstinence

The Holy Season of Lent -- The Stations of the Cross

Lent and Fasting

Ash Wednesday

All About Lent

Kids and Holiness: Making Lent Meaningful to Children

33 posted on 02/20/2004 7:48:42 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: RockDoc; ambrose; Renlea; Hibernius Druid
Thanks for posting the historical background on Ash Wednesday. Most interesting!
34 posted on 02/20/2004 9:04:10 AM PST by NYer (Ad Jesum per Mariam)
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To: All
Lent: Where Did It Come From?

Do you know that Lent literally means “lengthening of days,” or the “coming of spring time”?

Do you know that Lent is the only season of the Church that starts on a weekday?

Do you know how Lent has come to be what it is today? Here is the story at a glance…

The early Jewish Christians superimposed their worship of Jesus, the new Passover, on the annual celebration and understanding of Jewish Passover. This was preceded by a day of fasting.

The early Gentile Christian’s custom of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays and celebration of the breaking of bread after Sabbath merged with the new Passover celebration and the annual Easter feast was now celebrated on the Sunday closest to the Jewish Passover.

The Saturday before Easter Sunday became designated as a fast day and since the Friday fast was already in place, there emerged a two-day pre-Easter fast that later was extended to begin the Sunday before Easter (weeklong fast).

A process of initiation to become a Christian emerged in the third century that extended over a period of time and included several stages marked by a ritual celebration with baptisms most often celebrated during the 50 days between Passover and Pentecost.

The Council of Nicea set forth a forty day preparatory fast and a determined fixed date for the celebration of Easter.
A three week preparatory fast for baptism emerged in the 5th century.

Lent emerged as a six week period beginning on the first Sunday of Lent in the 4th century.
Since Sundays were not fast days in the sixth century, four more days were added into the six weeks to get the 40 days of Lent (modeled on Jesus’ 40 days in the desert) by beginning Lent on the Wednesday before the first Sunday of Lent.

Three scrutinies for those preparing for baptism emerged in the 8th century and are celebrated on three consecutive Sundays (3rd, 4th, and 5th Sundays of Lent).

The Second Vatican council restored a simpler earlier version of Lenten observance that eliminated the three penitential Sundays that had emerged in the 5th and 6th centuries. Lent now was to begin with Ash Wednesday and continue with the five Sundays of Lent, concluding with the Mass of Holy Thursday.

(Adapted from the Word and Worship Workbook for Year C. Mary Birmingham. New York: Paulist Press, 1998, pp.113-114.]
35 posted on 02/20/2004 10:13:43 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: Salvation
Thank you!!! :-)
36 posted on 02/20/2004 10:27:39 AM PST by BlessedBeGod
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To: SoothingDave
Thank you so much!
37 posted on 02/20/2004 10:28:38 AM PST by BlessedBeGod
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To: BlessedBeGod

Take a few minutes to review the Lenten tradition that you want to know more about. Begin by reflecting on this key passage from the Book of Isaiah.

This, rather, is the fasting that I wish:
releasing those bound unjustly,
untying the thongs of the yoke;
Setting free the oppressed,
breaking every yoke;
Sharing your bread with the hungry,
sheltering the oppressed and the homeless
Clothing the naked when you see them,
and not turning your back on your own.
(Isaiah 58:6-7, NAB)
38 posted on 02/20/2004 11:55:08 AM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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To: BlessedBeGod
You're welcome. I remember as a child being able to have cookies (or candy or whatever was given up for Lent) on Sundays.

Another note, technically, alcohol does not break a fast. It may not be in the spirit (get it?) of a penitential day, but it isn't considered a "food."


39 posted on 02/20/2004 12:05:04 PM PST by SoothingDave
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To: SoothingDave
LOL about the alcohol. Really not funny.

We didn't have any on our poor Nebraska farm, so I guess I grew up quite naive.
40 posted on 02/20/2004 1:03:24 PM PST by Salvation (†With God all things are possible.†)
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