So the pre-Lent time of Septuagésima, Sexagesima and, last Sunday, Quinquagesima, are over, and the forty days of Lent are upon us, starting on Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence. Have we thought about how we are going to live this Lenten season in order to profit from this period of purification?
We bring to your attention a wonderful, traditional, five-part Lenten Mission by the holy and learned Fr. Isaac Mary Relyea. While it is not short, it does go by very quickly, and is easy to follow and understand. It’s clear, concise and bold.
Do not let this time to Grow in Holiness Pass You By!!
Because if you don’t have a specific plan for Lent ahead of time, even better a written plan, you’re really not prepared. HERE is a one to start you off.
Why do we make Penance?
“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 and 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, the 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.
What are the current rules for fasting and abstinence?
Fast and Abstinence required by the Church
Throughout the centuries, the Church has changed the ecclesiastical laws regulating penance, sometimes becoming more strict, sometimes relaxing the discipline.
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 penance to only 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.
Rules for penitential days under present Church law
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:
- The law of abstinence: this refers to abstaining from meat.
- The law of fasting: this refers to the quantity of food taken, thus also refraining from eating between meals.
Who is bound to observe these laws?
- The law of abstinence binds all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 14th birthday.
- The law of fasting binds all adults (beginning on their 18th birthday) until the midnight which completes their 59th birthday.
What is forbidden and allowed to be eaten?
- The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat. This does not apply to dairy products, eggs, or condiments and shortening made from animal fat.
- The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day and two smaller meals (snacks). The two smaller meals should not equal the quantity of the main meal (which in the United States is customarily observed as the evening dinner).
- When fasting, eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids are allowed, including milk and fruit juices.
- On fast days, fish and all cold-blooded animals may be eaten.
Current Church Minimums
Shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI issued an apostolic constitution on fasting and abstaining on February 17, 1966, called Paenitemini, whose principles were later incorporated into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Abstinence from meat which previously began at age 7 was modified to begin at age 14. The 1983 Code of Canon Law also changed the age of fast to begin at 18 – previously it was 21 – and to still conclude at midnight when an individual completes his 59th birthday.
Abstinence beginning at age 14 and fasting beginning at age 18 are the current minimums. There is no terminating age for the law abstinence – it will continue for the rest of a person’s life. Fasting which begins at age 18 ends when a person completes his 59th year and turns 60 years old.
The Previous Practice
One of the only positive changes to fasting in the past 100 years was the lowering of the age of fasting to 18. If an 18-year-old can sin, he should be able to fast. The lowering of the minimum incorporated this change into law. Unfortunately, the change of abstinence to 14 from 7 is an immense disservice to the souls of children as this small weekly sacrifice teaches children the value of penance and the importance of a communal penance uniting us throughout the Catholic world.
Fasting Requires More Than the Legal Minimum
For those Catholics who wish to more closely follow the ancient customs of the Church, Lent is a time of austere penance undertaken to make reparation to God for sin (our own sins and others), to grow in virtue and good works, and to comfort the heart of our Savior much offended by the barrage of sin and filth increasing by the day. Yet, there are very few Catholics who undertake the true discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.
How many of us are observing all 40 days as true fast days and not just Ash Wednesday and Good Friday? Yet our ancestors did. In fact, it was forbidden to eat meat or any animal products (e.g. eggs, dairy, cheese, butter, etc) through all of Lent. How many of us are making this kind of intense sacrifice? How many of us are finding the time this Lent to pray the Rosary every day or go to Daily Mass more often or at least pray the Stations of the Cross each Friday?
While we can talk about the minimums required by Church law or previous laws, we have to remember that these are exactly that – minimums. The Church asks for everyone to perform penance according to their own abilities. While those who were ill (among other reasons) were dispensed from the law of fasting, the sick could still perform other penance or even try to observe fasting if they chose. The same is true for children. Encouraging our children to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year and all of forty days of Lent is very worthwhile. And encouraging adolescent children in high school to fast is also very meritorious even though it is beyond the mere minimum. We recall that Our Blessed Mother was pleased by the penance offered by the three young children at Fatima who were far below the age of fasting. Yet, they fasted and would eat foods they did not prefer as extra penance. And this was pleasing to our Lady and our Lord. Let us encourage our children to do the same – all for Jesus. This Lent is the ideal time to start.