What are the current rules for fasting and abstinence? How do I observe the traditional rules?
“Unless you do penance, you shall likewise perish.” (Lk. 13:5)
Because we are sinners, justice requires each of us to make recompense to God for the honor we have denied Him by our sins. Because we have misused our goods, our souls and bodies—as well as those of others—the natural law requires us to strive to restore the order we have disturbed by our sins. Thus, the Natural Law and the Divine Law bind us in a general way to perform acts of penance. In order to help us fulfill this requirement, Holy Mother Church, knowing our weakness and laziness, binds us under ecclesiastical laws to perform works of penance at certain times.
Penance is also useful to obtain better control over our wounded nature. One may refrain himself from a legitimate satisfaction (food, sleep, entertainment, etc.) in order to oblige the body, the passions to obey the direction of the soul. Doing penance, making sacrifices are part of a needed ascetical practice to reform of our inner disorder, heritage of the original sin. Practiced with the grace of God and prudence (conferring with one’s confessor), it becomes a great means of salvation.
Penance can also be a prayer, a sacrifice of a legitimate good, given to God as a way to recognize His power, to beg for a grace or to manifest one’s love by imitating and being united to Our Lord’s Passion.
Throughout the centuries, the Church has changed the ecclesiastical law regulating the penance, sometimes becoming more strict, sometimes relaxing the discipline of penance.
Only the Church can hold us guilty of mortal sin for failing in this or that specific act of penance.
“Rules for penitential days under present Church law” details the bare minimum of penance which we must accomplish under pain of mortal sin.
However we certainly offend God by neglecting penance completely over a length of time. Also, one will easily fall into mortal sin who confines the entire penance for the year to those days and acts required by the current law.
“Guidelines for traditional penitential practices” spells out the strongly recommended practices which were observed until just after the Second Vatican Council.
In 1966, Pope Paul VI promulgated a new set of regulations for fasting and abstaining by his apostolic constitution, Paenitemini. These new rules are listed in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canons 1249-1253 and all Roman Catholics are bound to strictly observe them.
There are two sets of laws that apply to the Church's penitential days:
In accordance with the prescriptions of canon 1253, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops decrees that the days of fast and abstinence in Canada are:
Pope Paul VI reduced it to one hour. The current Code of Canon Law states,
Canon 919: one who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion.
3. Those who are advanced in age or who suffer from any infirmity, as well as those who take care of them, can receive the Most Holy Eucharist even if they have taken something during the previous hour.
The Eucharistic fast is before Holy Communion, not the Mass. It is a fast from food and drink, water is alright, as is medicine. The moral theology tradition teaches that to be food it must be
b) taken by mouth, and
In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, candies, breath mints, lozanges and anything that is put into the mouth to be dissolved or chewed meets these conditions once the dissolved contents are swallowed. Chewing gum does not break the fast, but it is disrespectful of the Sacred Liturgy and once the juice is swallowed the fast is broken. The tradition also teaches that the fast is strict - one hour, that is, 60 minutes. Given that until recently the fast was from midnight, this seems very little to ask of Catholics.
Here are the traditional rules of fast and abstinence outlined in Canons 1250-1254 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law and observed per the 1962 liturgical calendar.
Fasting and complete abstinence were obligatory on the following days:
Fasting and partial abstinence (meaning meat could be eaten at the principal meal) were obligatory on all other weekdays of Lent (i.e., Monday through Thursday). Friday was always complete abstinence).
There are more rules about fasting and abstaining when a fast day was in concurrence with a Sunday:
In 1952, the Canadian Bishops approved these rules:
Abstinence alone on:
Fasting and abstinence was obligatory on:
Fasting and partial abstinence was obligatory on the following days:
Liquids, including milk and fruit juices, might be taken at any time on a day of fast, but “other works of charity, piety, and prayer for the pope should be substituted” to compensate for this relaxation.
All the Fridays of the year
A Holy Day of Obligation is a day on which we are bound to hear Mass and to abstain from servile works. In Canada, the Holy Days of Obligation are: