29 March 2013

The Law of Fasting & Abstinence

Today being Good Friday, Catholics of the Latin Rite are called to fasting and abstinence in observing the penitential nature of this day.  (Catholics of the Eastern Churches generally have their own rules on fasting and abstinence.)  However, the two requirements--fasting and abstinence--do not bind everyone in the same way.  A short discussion of the two:

Abstinence.  This binds only Catholics who have completed their fourteenth year, i.e., those who are 14 years old and older.  Those under 14 years old may have meat this day.  In his 1966 document Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI clarified the contours of fasting and abstinence.  Although superseded by the 1983 Code of Canon Law in many ways, it can be useful in providing interpretive guidance.  By abstinence  we mean those bound must abstain from the eating of meat, which has historically not included fish and other sea animals.  Paul VI said that: "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat."

Fasting.  This only binds those who have reached the age of majority until the beginning of their sixtieth year.  That is, only those between the ages of 18 and 59 are bound to the obligation to fast on Good Friday.  How much does this mean we are permitted to eat?  Pope Paul VI indicated: "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."