General Laws of Fasting & Abstinence

1966 Pope Paul VI reorganized the Church’s practice of public penance in his “Apostolic Constitution on Penance” (Poenitemini). The 1983 revision of the Code of Canon Law incorporated the changes made by Pope Paul. Not long after that, theU.S. bishops applied the canonical requirements to the practice of public penance in our country.

 To sum up those requirements, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In addition, all Catholics 14 years old and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays of Lent.

 Fasting as explained by theU.S. bishops means partaking of only one full meal. Some food (not equaling another full meal) is permitted at breakfast and around midday or in the evening—depending on when a person chooses to eat the main or full meal.

 Abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, milk products or condiments made of animal fat. Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are not forbidden. Even bacon drippings which contain little bits of meat may be poured over lettuce as seasoning.

CAN. 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following cannons prescribe.

CAN. 1250 The days and time of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

CAN. 1251 Abstinence from meat is to be observed on all Fridays of Lent. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

CAN. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority (18 years of age), until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

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