Friday, March 3, 2017

Lenten Friday Abstinence

File:Salvelinus fontinalis.jpg
Catholics can eat this fellow on a Lenten Friday (a speciman of Salvelinus fontinalis)

As we have entered Lent, it is a fine time to recall the discipline of abstinence that, by canon law, binds Catholics of a certain age on Fridays of the season, in addition to Ash Wednesday.

Abstinence from the flesh of warm-blooded creatures on the day that Christ shed His Precious Blood for us is both fitting, as we refrain from shedding blood in a kind of symbolic way, and a helpful way in which to recall His Sacrifice for us, even in what we choose to eat!

The 1983 Code of Canon Law lays down for us the current law:
"Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.


Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. 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, 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."
[cf., Code of Canon Law]

Further, the entire season of Lent is a time of general penance -- penance that traditionally includes fasting, even if that is not required by Church law!  In a similar way, every Friday of the year is a day of canonical penance for Catholics.

Finally, the age of those bound to abstain from meat on Friday is for those that have turned 14 years old until the "beginning of their sixtieth year."

The following link goes to an entry of a commentary on Canon Law that explains the above canons a bit more -- in particular as regards what is meant by "meat":
New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law, canon 1251.

That commentary sites the Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, Paenitemini, in Chapter III, as he expresses the currently understood interpretation of abstinence: "The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat."
Cf., Pope Paul VI: Paenitemini

It is well worthwhile to recall the traditional practices and laws on the subject, as they are the context in which we understand the current legislation and customs of the Church.  Here is the text of the 1917 Code of Canon Law:
"Can 1250. Abstinentiae lex vetat carne iureque ex carne vesci, non autem ovis, lacticiniis et quibuslibet condimentis etiam ex adipe animalium."
translated:
"Canon 1250. The law of abstinence prohibits meat and soups made of meat but not of eggs, milks, and other condiments, even if taken from animals."

Giving yet a more lengthy explanation of the background of the discipline of abstinence, including the medieval world, is this article in the Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Old Catholic Encyclopedia: Abstinence

This site, too, gives some good perspective it what has been traditionally observed as far as abstinence, and fasting, is concerned: Fisheaters: Fasting

One of the interesting details is that, considering the understanding of the prohibition as extending to warm-blooded animals only, reptiles, amphibians, and fish would not break one's Lenten abstinence.  Fr. Zuhlsdorf has a splendid entry on that subject: Fr. Z's Blog: Lent and the Old Alligator Dilemma

May your Lent be fruitful, may your penances draw you ever closer to love of God, and may you ever remember the blood shed by Christ for our redemption -- blood shed on a Friday.

Live well!

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