Guidelines for traditional penitential practices
Here are the traditional rules of fast and abstinence as observed per the 1962 liturgical calendar and outlined in Canons 1250-1254 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
Who was bound to observe these laws?
- The law of abstinence bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 7th birthday.
- The law of fasting bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 21st birthday and ending at the midnight which completed their 59th birthday. [Note: The USA’s particular law has lowered the obligatory fasting age to 18.]
What was forbidden and allowed to be eaten?
- The law of abstinence forbade the eating of flesh meat and of broth made of meat, but did not exclude the use of eggs, dairy products, or seasonings made from the fat of animals.
- The law of fasting prescribed that only one full meal a day was taken with two smaller meals that did not equal the main one.
- As to the kind of food and the amount that might be taken, the approved customs of the place were to be observed. It was not forbidden to eat both flesh meat and fish at the same meal, nor to interchange the midday and evening meals.
In the Universal Church
- Abstinence was obligatory on all Fridays, except on Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent.
Fasting and complete abstinence were obligatory on the following days:
- Ash Wednesday
- Fridays and Saturdays in Lent
- Good Friday
- Holy Saturday (until midnight 1)
- Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday)
- Vigil of Pentecost
- Vigil of Christmas
- [NB: both the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and All Saints were omitted from the 1962 calendar]
Fasting and partial abstinence were obligatory on all other weekdays of Lent ( i.e ., Monday through Thursday—Friday was always complete abstinence); this meant that meat could be eaten at the principal meal on these days.
Some further clarifications to universal laws
There are few more distinctions to take into account fasting and abstaining when a usual fast day was in concurrence with a Sunday (always a non-fast day):
- Sundays throughout the year and Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent cancelled the fasting and/or abstinence of any penitential day which coincided.
- If a fast-day Vigil fell on Sunday, the fasting and abstinence associated with the Vigil were not anticipated on the Saturday, but dropped altogether that year.
Particular rules observed in the USA
On January 28, 1949, the United States bishops issued a statement modifying the regulations of fasting and abstinence in America (thus differing slightly from the universal laws) after receiving a ruling from the Sacred Congregation of the Council.
Fasting and partial abstinence was obligatory on the following days:
- Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays
- Vigil of Pentecost
- all other weekdays of Lent including Saturdays
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.
In 1931, Pope Pius XII gave an indult to the American bishops allowing them to dispense with Abstinence on any penitential day that was a civic holiday and on the Friday that followed Thanksgiving Day. (Canon Law Digest, vol. 1.)
The United States bishops had the faculties to dispense the faithful from the obligation to fast and abstain on penitential days that fell on civic holidays.
Holy Days of Obligation in the USA
A Holy Day of Obligation is a day on which we are bound to hear Mass and to abstain from servile works. In the USA, the Holy Days of Obligation are:
- All Sundays
- Octave Day of the Nativity ( January 1)
- Ascension Day
- Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15)
- Feast of All Saints (November 1)
- Immaculate Conception (December 8)
- Christmas Day (December 25)