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« A Short Primer on Fasting | Main | iTunes, You Just Got Some Serious Competition »

September 24, 2007

Comments

Ed Peters

This might not post, but here goes.

Two fine entries Steve.

One thing: the current law on fast does not even get to the level of token: it is purely legalistic. And I think THAT breeds contempt for law.

Martin

I had scheduled some blood tests at my doctor and the nurse was arrainging for me to come in first thing, 9 AM. I told her that wasn't convineint and I would come at my lunchtime, 2 PM. She was agast. "Don't you realise you can't eat for 12 hours before the test"?

I paused to reflect on how much we live on our bellies and (Hmmm, seems someone else is condemned to live on his)and I assured her I could somehow muster the ability to skip one meal and slightly delay the other.

I am no hermit but I do observe the no meat fridays. It was a while ago that a jewish friend I was eating lunch with remarked on my salmon and rice, "That's no fast". Properly mortified it took me a year to work up the courage to make my friday meals more limited. Ramen for lunch. Still not much but I'll do better later.

SDG

Two fine entries Steve.

One thing: the current law on fast does not even get to the level of token: it is purely legalistic. And I think THAT breeds contempt for law.

Excellent, thanks Ed. I feel so much better criticizing the law knowing that you agree with me!

Esau

I think it would be wholly salutary if US Catholics were strongly and frequently encouraged to embrace year-round Friday abstinence — if not true fasting — as a voluntary practice.


What and upset the laxed lifestyle of lame Catholics in the United States?

Are you mad?

How dare you try to impose such a hardship on poor Catholics who are already oppressed to the extent that attending Sunday Mass is, itself, a hardship!

SDG

Note: Slightly expanded the post to include the one-hour fast before communion. New recommendation: How about skipping breakfast altogether before Sunday Mass?

Mary Kay

Nice post, Steve.

The headache might be due to slight dehydration. Most could easily fast from food, but it's important to stay hydrated.

Esau

New recommendation: How about skipping breakfast altogether before Sunday Mass?

and

Give it a try. Do some penance — extra penance that your confessor didn't give you and the Church doesn't require of you. The soul you benefit may be your own — or it may even be someone else's, to the greater glory of God and your greater heavenly reward.

TYPICAL -- MORE GOOD WORKS!

Do you get extra credit points for those????

STOP BEING SO 'ROMISH'!

Esau

Sorry -- just had to blend in with all the 'Rome-Haters'.


All joking aside, great suggestions, SDG.

Liam

A few thoughts

1. Fasting, like feasting, is better supported when done in community - a family unit, at least. Sustaining that practice alone sucks much of its energy out of it. It's not limited to Christians. Individual Muslims who have moved to non-Muslim nations, for example, talk of this problem in sustaining the Ramadan fast without family or neighborly support. "A family that fasts together, feasts together."

2. It was the making of the fasting discipline into a grave preceptual obligation that was its undoing (while the Lord commands fasting, he didn't prescribe the precept itself nor its gravity in juridical terms). That made it brittle. Somehow, other Christians communities (the Eastern churches) managed to maintain much more vigorous fasting traditions without that. This is an opportunity not to repeat our mistake.

3. A la the Eastern churches, one could come up with a graduated spectrum of abstinence: (1) no non-seafood flesh, (2) no flesh or eggs, (3) no flesh, eggs or dairy (no animal products), (4) no animal products or alchoholic beverage, and (5) no animal products or alcoholic beverage or oil.

4. Many modern medications require the eating of a modest amount of food for proper dosing. Moreover, some medications make fasting present some newer risks. Fasting is spiritual medicine, of course. Another good reason that fasting should be something designed in coordination with a family's spiritual director rather than made into a preceptual issue.

francis 03

Jimmy, why do you sometimes write "SDG" or "Tim J." at the top of your posts?


[*Imagines the apoplectic look on several faces. Hopes it is now turning to a smile.*]

Mary

I do observe the no meat fridays.

No meat on Fridays -- then I don't much like meat anyway -- and so no pasta on Fridays. Unless I don't have anything else to cook. There was a month and a half where I wasn't careful enough about my shopping, but I'm getting better.

Mary

It was the making of the fasting discipline into a grave preceptual obligation that was its undoing (while the Lord commands fasting, he didn't prescribe the precept itself nor its gravity in juridical terms).

And why do you think fasting is "undone"?

Esau

Jimmy, why do you sometimes write "SDG" or "Tim J." at the top of your posts?

francis 03,

ROFL!

Karin

SDG-

Actually, the law of abstention on all the Fridays of the year still holds for Latin Catholics around the world — but not in the US, where any Friday penance is voluntary. Outside of Lent and Triduum, Latin Catholics are not called to fast, or even, so far as I can tell, particularly encouraged to do so, even on their own. Oh, wait, there's also the one-hour fast before receiving communion

I never could understand why in the US only the Friday penance was/is voluntary. And why is this such an overlooked thing? Do you know how many supposed Catholics I know that think they no longer have to do anything on Fridays? Too many! Also why is the idea of fasting (in general) so disdainful to Catholics?

On a side note SDG...are you teaching the RCIA class this year?

Leo

bold off

Leo

off

Jennifer

I observe the friday abstinence here in Canada. I was wondering, are we required to abstain in Canada, or are we lacking that rule like the US? I'll observe it either way, I'm just curious.

the real off

Cody

Part of the problem with the modern Church is that in the dialog with the world, it compromises to it rather than engages with it. What's the problem? Americans are fat? Well, let's dismiss with the fasting regulations then! Can you imagine the collective roar of 300,000,000 bellies?

But that being said, in addition to the obesity problem, we have an anorexia problem. Perhaps anorexic people, especially young girls, should have to eat 3 solid meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as penance.

Nevertheless, I never understand how many people complain about fasting on those two days. Out of the world religions which require a fast, we have the easiest.

Liam

Mary

Because Catholics were mostly trained to observe the fast as a preceptual matter. They were taught it was mortal sin to not fast/abstain when precept obliged. And then, suddenly, when it wasn't obliged, so it wasn't sinful to not do it. It's a brittle legalism that invited - and received - contempt. The Eastern churches avoided the legalism (one observes the tradition in counsel with one's spiritual father, not as a matter of law), and fasting/abstinence has endured with greater vigor there.

Kevin Middleton

This is a beautiful challenge. May we all (very much including me) heed its word and begin to truly practice the faith.

Thanks for taking the time.

matt

SDG,
where any Friday penance is voluntary

I believe you are mistaken, the indult for the Friday fast is a substitution for another penance, a technicality rarely mentioned today.

Can. 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

God Bless,

Matt

Diane

Liam--I completely agree with your "the family that fasts together, feasts together" statement. It's much easier to fast when my husband is doing it with me (we do the no food except dinner on all Fridays in Lent).

Still working on what to do for the Friday abstinence, seeing as I don't eat any meat anyway (I do eat seafood, but we count seafood/fish as meat bc we think that's a cop-out, especially in the US where fish is often more expensive than meat).

Everyone looking to fast in community, start fasting on Sept. 26! The 40 Days for Life campaign is calling Christians to fervent prayer & fasting for an end to abortion from Sept. 26 to Nov. 4 (simultaneous to prayer vigils outside local abortion clinics).

So...see if one of the 89 cities involved is near you (www.40daysforlife.com). Yes, I am shamelessly promoting this campaign, but for some reason Catholic media isn't doing a huge job picking up this story and keeping up with it yet...

Jim Cole

This is a great subject to broach, and I hope the thoughts expressed by SDG and the commentators spread a lot farther in the Church.

One thing that helped me to make sense of ascetic practices was to put them into context with the rest of our spiritual life. Here is one layman's attempt to make it all fit together.

By practicing self-denial, we begin to let go of ourselves, our wants and our impulses. In letting go of these self-centered impulses, we open our souls to God’s grace and nourish the virtues. The greatest of the virtues, of course, is charity (love), which is completely directed to others and away from ourselves.

The changes in our interior life that come about when we practice ascesis depend on God’s grace, which we obtain through the sacraments He established. The Lord calls us to “repent” through ascesis and to participate in "the Kingdom of God [that] is at hand" through the sacraments.

We are not to focus on the interior life to the exclusion of what the Lord wants us to do in our exterior life. The Last Judgment as the Lord described it will be all about how we treated those in need, not on how much we fasted or how many prayers we said. By following His will in all things, we reach the balance in our interior and exterior lives that He desires. The interior life powers the exterior life, and as we integrate the works of charity into our daily living, our interior life becomes more and more a turning outward toward others and less and less a preoccupation with ourselves. Ultimately, it is all a complete self-giving that joins in the complete self-giving, and the very life, of the Lord Himself.

Jim Cole

Dr. Eric

Sundays are always Feast Days. Fasting should be relegated to other days such as Wednesdays and Fridays.

Dr. Eric

Addendum:

If you are keeping the traditional midnight fast, that is praiseworthy, but then after Mass/Liturgy celebrate the Resurrection! Have a happy breakfast/brunch!

fernanda

Finally there is something about doing a little bite more for Christ in this blog. Thanks and God repay you for that.I know Jimmy disagree but,how's about fasting one hour before mass starts?

Christopher Fair

One thing I do have to say about fasting, it is pretty easy to do when you lose someone. I lost nearly 30 pounds when my wife was suffering her last stages of melanoma (she died August 25th, 2007), and I didn't even notice that I wasn't eating. In fact eating tended to be more of a hardship than not eating.

It made me wonder, if the greater mortification is to eat...does eating count as fasting? In the morning I still nearly vomit sometimes at the thought of eating anything.

Inocencio

I heard Bishop Salvatore Cordileone on Catholic Answers' Ask a Canon Lawyer show say that we still have an obligation to do penance on every Friday.

Colin B. Donovan, STL comes to the same conclusion here.

Excerpt:

On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. They must do some penitential/charitable practice on these Fridays. For most people the easiest practice to consistently fulfill will be the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year.


Catholic United for the Faith say the same thing here.

Excerpt:

Following Pope Paul VI’s directive, the U.S. Bishops decreed norms for U.S. Catholics in their November 1966 statement on penance.[4] The bishops maintained the traditional law of fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and abstinence from meat on the Fridays of Lent.[5] They also rescinded the traditional law of abstinence under pain of sin for other Fridays. However, in accord with Pope Paul VI’s directives and Canon, no. 1249, the U.S. faithful must do some sort of penance on every Friday, excluding Solemnities or a dispensation by their diocesan bishop. Abstinence from flesh meat maintained its primary place among recommended works of self-denial and personal penance from which the faithful may choose.

I have such great respect for Jimmy Akin but I disagree with his conclusion from his earlier posts on this matter.

I read all the documentation involved and believe that we have an obligation to do penance on every Friday of the year unless we have a dispensation from our bishop. My two cents.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

deanswife

Diane, Jim, Christopher,

Sometimes when I hear something on the news or read on the Internet about some horrible thing that happened, I am so disturbed that it is difficult to focus on just going about life. That's when I'll do a 6-hour fast. It seems to be long enough to inspire a gnawing sense of emptiness that allows the spirit to mourn the evil, while maintaining health and strength to do what must be done (good for busy mommies who can't get out).

I do believe such personal penances can amount to an external act of charity if we have no other opportunity and we ask God to make it so.

Mark W

And a measly hour before receiving communion — even at a fifty-minute Mass, with communion distributed around the 40-minute mark, it would almost be hard to break that fast without actually eating in church.

It's apparently harder than it sounds. From the bulletin of a parish I recently attended: "Please keep our parish clean ~ We would like to ask our parishioners to help us keep our building and worship area clean. Food and beverage items should not be brought into the worship space."

And another thing

All Fridays are "Penitential" in the USA.
The official never rescinded documents couldn't be more clear.
Just because most people - including, lamentably, some clergy, most RCIA/Parish Faith Life instructors and many bloggers - haven't read them doesn't mean they don't say what they irrefutably say.
Wouldn't it be a great enrichment to our devotional practices - and a great light in the world - if we all actually did what the American bishops called for all those years ago? Imagine: On Fridays, nursing homes have dozens of happy, caring visitors and shut-ins get help with their laundry and yards, etc., etc. What a wave of good feeling and kindness! Wouldn't it be wonderful?

Liam

Well, there are always two Fridays each year that are not penitential: Easter Friday and Sacred Heart. Add any other solemnity (including titular and patronal solemnities of the parish, diocese and nation) that happens to fall on a Friday.

Those days are like Sunday.

Mary Kay

Christopher, I'm sorry to hear about your wife's death. I'll need to come back tomorrow when I have time, but will send a prayer your way.

francis 03

"And another thing" (poster from 11:32), most of us who've been reading this blog for a while are going to be quite skeptical of oblique accusations that Jimmy hasn't done his homework. That's just not like the man. Moreover, he had quite a detailed post a while back, complete with quotations from the relevant documents, explaining his position on the matter. I believe SDG linked to it in this post as well.

francis 03

Right on, Liam. As St. Joseph's solemnity usually (always?) falls in Lent, I dispense myself from my penances on that day. Believe me, it's given me extremely positive feelings toward Our Lord's earthly father!

francis 03

Mark W-- if you're not receiving communion, you could theoretically bring in a snack, right? I had a college professor who, while I don't think he ever actually did it, made a big point that "the rules don't say anything about smoking-- you can puff right up to the Consecration!"

francis 03

Oh yeah-- and many people have small children who can be made much better behaved during mass with a few bites to eat.

My, my. A quadruple post. With that, I desist.

SDG

I believe you are mistaken, the indult for the Friday fast is a substitution for another penance, a technicality rarely mentioned today.

All Fridays are "Penitential" in the USA. The official never rescinded documents couldn't be more clear.

Matt and "and another thing," please see Jimmy's analysis (which, yes, thanks for noticing, Francis 03, I did link in my post above).

Bob LeBlanc

SDG,

Isn't Colin B. Donovan an expert at EWTN just as Jimmy is? It seems to me that it's just as easy to refer people to Colin as it is to refer people to Jimmy. And I don't know if Jimmy's blog entries compares to a page on EWTN. I mean I would feel silly saying that I based my views on a blog entry when I saw something to the contrary on EWTN's experts. I do respect Jimmy, but not every one knows Jimmy. More people view EWTN as a more authoritative source, perhaps not on this blog, but throughout the world in general.

Since neither Jimmy Akin nor Colin Donovan are canon lawyers (AFAIK), and since this seems to be a matter which requires that sort of training, perhaps it would be best for a canon lawyer to weigh in with his independent analysis. Perhaps Ed Peters will look into it and write an article.

Peace,
Bob

Joe

Others have mentioned the way fasting is approached in the east. I'll spell it out a little more, for Orthodox Christians, fasting means abstaining from meat (including fish), dairy, wine, oil, and sexual relations with one's spouse. Also, on fast days, one normally eats nothing from midnight to noon.

Orthodox Christians fast every Wednesday and Friday of the year. They also fast the period of Lent and Advent. Also, they fast two weeks to prepare for the feast of the Dormition (Assumption) and fast for two weeks in June to prepare for the feast of St. Peter and St. Paul.

In order to receive communion one should fast from midnight and also avoid having marital relations the evening before.

There is no proscribed penalty of "mortal sin" for not keeping the full fast. One can also get permission to modify the fast from one's spiritual father. While not fasting at all is looking upon as a sin, the Orthodox prefer to focus more on the ideal, rather than the minimum and no one is threatened with hellfire because they are not successful in fasting. In fact, the Paschal homily of St. John Chrysostom welcomes "you who have kept the fast and you who have not...everyone is invited to the table."

Joe

Clarification, we fast every Wednesday and Friday of the year, but we fast every day during the fasting seasons (Lent, Advent, etc)

SDG

Colin Donovan does not supply any documentation or analysis for his interpretation. He gives us no reason to question the reliability of Jimmy's analysis and reasoning. I'm not saying he couldn't be right, but when one credible source provides documentation and analysis and another doesn't, we have no reason to credit the latter over the former.

As for CUF's analysis, I'm no expert, but it doesn't look convincing to me. Here is what the documentation says:

The traditional law of abstinence as binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, is hereby terminated as the sole means of observing Friday. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Fridays, abstinence from flesh meat has first place. The bishops do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as we formerly did in obedience to Church law.

The first sentence is admittedly ambiguous: In "terminating" the "traditional law of abstinence as binding under pain of sin" as "the sole prescribed means of observing Friday," the law might be clearing the way to "prescribe" a broader means of observing Friday under the same "penalty of sin" as the "traditional law." But I should think it would have to say so, for this to be the case.

And it doesn't. It merely "commends" "works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance" and expresses the "hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice." I see no language here affirming any ongoing obligatory observance under penalty of sin.

I am open to correction, but I don't see that either Donovan or CUF has made their case.

Ed, care to weigh in?

Dr. Eric

The Eastern Catholics are also supposed to Fast in the manner that Joe posted above.

JoAnna

I more than likely won't be fasting from food at all this Lent, as baby #3 is due on Good Friday. Still, this blog entry has been very helpful when considering what other forms of gluttony I can abstain from instead.

I have to admit I rarely do a Friday penance, usually because I forget it's Friday. I'll have to work on that.

Thanks for a great entry, SDG.

JoAnna

Forgot to add to my above entry -- of course, I'll still observe meatless Fridays, as I can get my protein intake from other sources.

Dr. Eric

JoAnna,

You can still do other forms of penance such as giving up TV or working at a soup kitchen. All of this should be checked with a competent Spiritual Father (Mother.)

matt

SDG,

I'm sorry, I have to disagree with you and Jimmy on this. The canon law seems clear that the nature of the pentintial obligation can be changed but not eliminated. Now, I will not say that the specific canon is violated if a confused (IMHO) Catholic accepts Jimmy's analysis and refuses to perform any "voluntary" penance on Fridays. I will say that to do so comes dangerously close to pride, and a violation of the first commandment by refusing the worship due to God. That's the beauty of the Catholic Church, just because something doesn't violate the letter of the law, it may violate the spirit of the law or any other teaching, and have the same result in the same end if not repented.

We are also obligated to follow the safest path in cases of ambiguity, and that is clearly to observe the Friday penance, not too mention that He deserves it.

God Bless,

Matt

Inocencio

SDG,

If you have a chance listen to the Ask a Canon Lawyer with Bishop Salvatore Cordileone on March 23 2007 at 3:51 mark. Jimmy is actually sitting in for Jerry Usher as the host. I really am seeking the most definitive answer so any insight you have would be greatly appreciated. Bishop Cordileone quotes the same canons and documents as Colin Donovan and CUF. Bishop Cordileone comes to the same conclusion as them.

If the above link doesn't work here is the archive page. Just scroll down to the March 23 2007 show.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J


SDG

The canon law seems clear that the nature of the pentintial obligation can be changed but not eliminated.

I'm not saying you're wrong, Matt, but in which sentence is the clear affirmation of this penitential obligation?

I will say that to do so comes dangerously close to pride, and a violation of the first commandment by refusing the worship due to God... We are also obligated to follow the safest path in cases of ambiguity, and that is clearly to observe the Friday penance, not too mention that He deserves it.

This seems clearly mistaken to me. Any Friday discipline is a matter of positive Church law, not divine or moral law, and while it is correct that "the safest path in cases of ambiguity" is the correct path in matters of divine or moral law, the opposite is true of human legislation, where the maxim is "A doubtful law does not bind." A law must be clearly binding in order to be binding at all.

Inocencio

SDG,

I hope you have a chance to listen to the show with Bishop Cordileone. What is your understanding of the following canons?

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 canons prescribe.


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

Looking forward to your thoughts.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Memphis Aggie

I agree that it's safest to err of the side of fasting, but I'm made uncomfortable by the lack of uniformity in Catholic practice around the world. I must be as faithful as I can but to do that I hope to avoid having to second guess my own Bishops and question ordinary practices. Of course that's why I come here - for clarity.

I've not been fasting on Fridays and I don't know that my works measure up (I help out at a soup kitchen once every 2 weeks - not weekly). Should I confess this?

Inocencio

For anyone interested the specific canons are below:

CHAPTER II : DAYS OF PENANCE

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 canons prescribe.


Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each 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.


Can. 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Liam

Of course, the whole point of this thread was, I thought, to leave behind the canonical aspects in the Roman rite and discuss non-preceptual fasting/abstinence...

ArizCalFlaLaw

Occasional fasting, not carried to excess, and subject to medical supervision, is fine. But it is not an end in itself. If your only concern is not eating, or what others think of your piety, then you might as well have a steak on Good Friday, because you are missing the point.

The objective of fasting is to clear our minds and our bodies so that we can contemplate the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, our own sinfulness and need for redemption and salvation, and the means by which we will accomplish those goals.

If you are not accomplishing that by your fasting, then you are fasting for the wrong reason.

SDG

If your only concern is not eating, or what others think of your piety, then you might as well have a steak on Good Friday, because you are missing the point.

It is correct that that would be missing the point, but not that you might as well have a steak on Good Friday. That would be both missing the point and violating Church law, which would be worse than just missing the point.

The objective of fasting is to clear our minds and our bodies so that we can contemplate the sacrifice that Jesus made for us, our own sinfulness and need for redemption and salvation, and the means by which we will accomplish those goals. If you are not accomplishing that by your fasting, then you are fasting for the wrong reason.

The right reasons for fasting having been very recently discussed at some length — in the previous post, in fact, linked at the top of this post — I think it's reasonable to assume that most readers are mindful of them without needing to harangue anyone on the dangers of having the wrong reasons.

Esau

ArizCalFlaLaw,

AMEN to that!


I see people who merely fast -- not for the sake of sacrifice and for Our Lord -- but, all in all, to lose weight!

If there's a selfish motive like this involved, then might as well not call it 'fasting' but what it really is 'dieting' (although not a very good one at that!)!

SDG

I see people who merely fast -- not for the sake of sacrifice and for Our Lord -- but, all in all, to lose weight!

If there's a selfish motive like this involved, then might as well not call it 'fasting' but what it really is 'dieting' (although not a very good one at that!)!

Yes, as noted in the primer on fasting post.

Esau

I remember the Voice of the Reformers shouting:

"Leave therefore, leave, I beseech you, these inventions of men, your foolish Lenten fasts and your childish penance! Diminish never Christ's thanks nor look to save yourselves! It is Christ's death, I tell you, that must save us all--Christ's death, I tell you yet again, and not our own deeds. Leave your own fasting, therefore, and lean to Christ alone, good Christian people, for Christ's dear bitter passion!"


Which came the retort (an extract of it, at least) from Saint Thomas More:

"...fasting serveth but for temperance to tame the flesh and keep it from wantonness, I would in good faith have thought that Moses had not been so wild that for the taming of his flesh he should have need to fast whole forty days together. No, not Hely neither. Nor yet our Saviour himself, who began the Lenten forty-days fast--and the apostles followed, and all Christendom hath kept it--that these folk call now so foolish.

King Achab was not disposed to be wanton in his flesh, when he fasted and went clothed in sackcloth and all besprent with ashes. No more was the king in Nineveh and all the city, but they wailed and did painful penance for their sin to procure God to pity them and withdraw his indignation. Anna, who in her widowhood abode so many years with fasting and praying in the temple till the birth of Christ, was not, I suppose, in her old age so sore disposed to the wantonness of the flesh that she fasted for all that.

Nor St. Paul, who fasted so much, fasted not all for that, neither.

The scripture is full of places that prove fasting to be not the invention of man but the institution of God, and to have many more profits than one.

And that the fasting of one man may do good unto another, our Saviour showeth himself where he saith that some kind of devils cannot be cast out of one man by another "without prayer and fasting."

And therefore I marvel that they take this way against fasting and other bodily penance.

And yet much more I marvel that they mislike the sorrow and heaviness and displeasure of mind that a man should take in thinking of his sin.

The prophet saith, "Tear your hearts and not your clothes." And the prophet David saith, "A contrite heart and an humbled"--that is to say, a heart broken, torn, and laid low under foot with tribulation of heaviness for his sins- "shalt thou not, good Lord, despise." He saith also of his own contrition, "I have laboured in my wailing; I shall every night wash my bed with my tears, my couch will I water."

But why should I need in this matter to lay forth one place or twain?

The scripture is full of those places, by which it plainly appeareth that God looketh of duty, not only that we should amend and be better in the time to come, but also that we should be sorry and weep and bewail our sins committed before.

And all the old holy doctors be full and whole of that opinion, that men must have for their sins contrition and sorrow in heart."


IT IS NOT THE FASTING ITSELF BUT THE VERY PURPOSE IT SERVES TO MAKE THE CHRISTIAN HOLY.

St. Thomas More, Pray for Us Losers!

Dr. Eric

The Eastern Fathers are clear that even if one is fasting, if meat is served and you are the guest, you should eat it because not to go so violates the Commandment of Charity.

Esau

Dr. Eric,

I appreciate that sentiment, but that's almost like saying that one should participate in a pre-feast pagan ritual when visiting the home of a pagan friend for dinner since it would violate the Commandment of Charity if you do not take part in it.

Helen

Jimmy took this position some time ago and has held to it despite objections. Here is a letter I wrote to him and which was published in the 2006 "This Rock". Respectfully, I don't think he addressed my point.

In an "editor replies" in the December issue, you say that penitential practices on all Fridays of the year are "urged" rather than "mandated." If Fridays carry with them no exceptional obligation, then they are no different from Tuesdays, for example, since at all times we are called to repent. Our bishops have made it clear that Fridays are special days.

Your interpretation of the bishops’ use of the word urged in their November 1966 "On Penance and Abstinence" overlooks the careful correlation between their statement and Pope Paul VI’s preceding Paenitemini and misses an important point of both. Paul VI used the words urge, invites, and voluntary several times; this does not connote a lack of authority but a pastoral mode of expressing what is clearly not optional to those who look to him for direction. The essence of both proclamations is the grave necessity to participate in the work of Christ through repentance, particularly on days and in seasons in unison with all the faithful.

As for mandates, only "the supreme ecclesiastical authority can . . . suppress . . . days of penance" (Code of Canon Law 1244) and "each Friday of the whole year" is established as "a day of penance" (CIC 1250) on which "abstinence from meat" is required (CIC 1251). The bishops do not have the power to suppress Friday as a day on which penitential practice is required, nor could the Vatican cede that power to them without violating its own laws.

The day after the bishops released their 1966 statement, the New York Times interviewed Catholics on the street. "I’ve been following the habit on Fridays so long it’s not a sacrifice to me," one of them said. This is exactly the point of the release from the sole practice of abstaining from meat: to leave it to each individual to determine what exactly is a sacrifice. Doing so and following through was not and could not have been made optional. In fact, we are admonished to not judge those who substitute other practices instead of abstention from meat as their penance. That we are not warned about how to view those who do nothing presupposes that the faithful will understand and be worthy of the freedom to choose the penitential practice most likely to deepen their conversion.

Please reconsider your position on the observance of Fridays. I do not think your view is consistent with Catholic tradition, the documents in question, or other remarks published at the time.

Helen Stiver
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Jimmy Akin replies: In order to determine the legal obligations of Catholics, one has to look at the law and read it carefully, taking into account its developmental history.

The 1966 papal document Paenitemini was the legal basis for the U.S. Bishops’ 1966 statement "On Penance and Abstinence" (not the 1983 Code of Canon Law, which did not yet exist). Paenitemini gaves the episcopal conferences broad discretionary power in determining the way in which the discipline of penance would be observed in their countries.

In the U.S., most Fridays of the year are ones on which the Church calls for voluntary penitential practices. The 1966 document characterizes them as days for " voluntary works of self-denial and personal penance."

The current complimentary norms of the United States note that the penitential norms of the 1966 bishops’ document "continue in force since they are law" (http://usccb.org/norms/12521253.htm, emphasis added).

studdunker

"And a measly hour before receiving communion — even at a fifty-minute Mass, with communion distributed around the 40-minute mark, it would almost be hard to break that fast without actually eating in church."

For what it's worth, I never try to estimate when exactly communion will be, I take the whole Mass as a communion feast and start the fast 1 hour before the beginning of Mass. I have eight children 14 and under and when they start to receive communion they fast for 1 hour before the start of Mass. Its never been a problem for them either.

SDG

For what it's worth, I never try to estimate when exactly communion will be, I take the whole Mass as a communion feast and start the fast 1 hour before the beginning of Mass. I have eight children 14 and under and when they start to receive communion they fast for 1 hour before the start of Mass. Its never been a problem for them either.

And good for you for going beyond the requirement of the law. I'm just observing that what the law prescribes is rather pathetic.

P.S. If it's "never been a problem" for you, perhaps you might want to consider upping the ante to fasting from midnight, at least for yourself. :-)

Esau

For what it's worth, I never try to estimate when exactly communion will be, I take the whole Mass as a communion feast and start the fast 1 hour before the beginning of Mass.

Great attitude, studdunker!

I know some folks who think in the following manner:

"Well, if I eat this now, I'll be okay since Communion would probably be served 30 +/- 5 minutes once Mass starts since the Intro takes so-and-so long and the priest's homily is so-and-so long; therefore, I'll be okay by the time Communion arrives since it'll be exactly an hour then!"

Inocencio

SDG,

Have you had a chance to listen to the March 23, 2007 Ask a Canon Lawyer show?

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

SDG

Inocencio: No. Much too busy today.

Inocencio

SDG,

Thanks for the response. I look forward to thoughts later.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

and another thing

francis03:

The document, "On Penance and Abstinence", released by US Bishops in 1966 is very clear. It is also just a few pages. I'll try to link to it. Please read it, particularly #22 and #25, and let me know what you think. Also note they were speaking of removing the requirement for "abstinence" rather than the requirement for "penance".
"This said, we emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent."
You can google "On Penance and Abstinence"+1966 or paste what follows into your browser.

http://64.233.169.104/search?q=cache:Ews0dvFBS3MJ:www.usccb.org/lent/2007/Penance_and_Abstinence.pdf+%22on+penance+and+abstinence%22%2B1966&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=1&gl=us&ie=UTF-8

studdunker

SDG:

Actually, I do, but on weekday Masses, I only do the 1 hour because it's later in the day.
I make the comment on kids only because kids have the amazing ability to live up to or down to your own expectations for them.

Joe

This comment:

"I appreciate that sentiment, but that's almost like saying that one should participate in a pre-feast pagan ritual when visiting the home of a pagan friend for dinner since it would violate the Commandment of Charity if you do not take part in it."

To me, this is precisely the weakness of the Latin Church's approach. Why turn everything into law? Charity is the law of the Christian life and we live by the Spirit. We create Church precepts and then define some of them as mortal sins and unbreakable? Isn't this doing what the pharisees did? "you lay burdens on their shoulders and do not lift them," (paraphrase).

Rather, the Gospel and fasting should be preached, the Tradition should be stated, and reasonable rules enforced (if you don't fast, don't commune). But why make these precepts so absolute so that violating a precept of the Church (that is, in itself, non-moral) becomes a mortal sin just as committing a real moral sin?

Did Christ come to set up a new law? We have died to the law and we live in the Spirit and we are guided by the mind of Christ, not by precepts.

And while all of the canonists debate these little technicalties, real fasting is practically non-existent in Roman rite Churches. isn't this missing the forest for the trees?

Inocencio

Joe,

"Did Christ come to set up a new law?"

He came to establish His Church with His authority to bind and loose. When we hear those He sent we hear Him (Luke 10:16).

Most people who have commented in this thread are of the Latin Rite and have said they, like myself and my family, practice fasting.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

SDG

And while all of the canonists debate these little technicalties, real fasting is practically non-existent in Roman rite Churches. isn't this missing the forest for the trees?

I'm afraid my answer to this question is "Yes." Inocencio is correct to defend the Church's right and duty to regulate the normative discipline of the faithful, but (encouraged by Ed's comments above) I would venture to opine that the current implementation of the law does not seem helpful on this point. And the whole point of my post above is that we could use a healthy dose of encouragement to set the bar well above what is required anyway.

Inocencio

Joe,

Even the Eastern Churches have a code of canon law which recognizes we are bound by christian obligations.

Canon 15

1. The Christian faithful, conscious of their own responsibility, are bound by Christian obedience to follow what the pastors of the Church, as representatives of Christ, declare as teachers of the faith or determine as leaders of the Church.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Inocencio

I would add #28 to the list of paragraphs we should read from On Penance and Abstinence

28. In summary, let it not be said that by this action, implementing the spirit of renewal coming out of the Council, we have abolished Friday, repudiated the holy traditions of our fathers, or diminished the insistence of the Church on the fact of sin and the need for penance. Rather, let it be proved by the spirit in which we enter upon prayer and penance, not excluding fast and abstinence freely chosen, that these present decisions and recommendations of this conference of bishops will herald a new birth of loving faith and more profound penitential conversion, by both of which we become one with Christ, mature sons of God, and servants of God's people.
(emphasis added)

When read with canon 1249 & 1250 above it seems clear to my untrained in canon law mind that a penance is obligatory on Fridays in general.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Esau

To me, this is precisely the weakness of the Latin Church's approach. Why turn everything into law? Charity is the law of the Christian life and we live by the Spirit. We create Church precepts and then define some of them as mortal sins and unbreakable? Isn't this doing what the pharisees did? "you lay burdens on their shoulders and do not lift them," (paraphrase).


Joe,

You missed the section where I posted an excerpt from Thomas More.

See here:

Thomas More on Church Practice of Fasting

Esau,

I looked at it again, more closely. My point was not that the Church shouldn't have a set tradition of fasting. But, my point had to do more with prudentially promoting the tradition of fasting. Harping on the law does not seem to do much good. I am Orthodox. We have no strict law, though we have a strict Tradition. You are not committing a mortal sin if you do not fast, though you are slowing your Christian growth since fasting is necessary for the Christian life. Fasting is necessary for bodily training and to cultivate humility and dependence on God. Having appointed fasting times is necessary. But, making everything out to be a matter of precept and a matter of sin is not necessary.

Joe

Joe

And just for the record, I'm not trying to bash the Catholic Church (Latin rite). I am just giving my opinion (for what it's worth) on how to approach the subject with the faithful. I could say the same thing about Holy Days of Obligation. If you make the high feast days Holy Days of Obligation, then they become precepts to put a list that Joe Layman can check off as having done his duty. But, if you simply elevate the high feast days and invite people to come out of love for God, then you appeal to people's faith.

Joe

Memphis Aggie

"no one has even thought about doing penance so lets stop the non sense "

So now you know what I'm thinking too.

Your categorizing everyone together try a less black and white approach if you want to be respected.

Esau

Joe,

If you're saying that we should make everything voluntary since having such things as to the level of precepts and canon is only defeating its purpose; then, to start, let's do away (for example) with education itself.

After all, people should want to learn.

Forcing children to learn only defeats the entire purpose of education to begin with where you have them going to the extent of cheating and what have you, without paying any actual attention to the significance of learning.

Yet, the fact of the matter is that just as children require such standards, such things as these in order to discipline them, so do we as Christians!

In fact, the analogy I have here makes all the more sense when you consider Saint Paul's words:

Eph 4:14:
14 That henceforth we be no more children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the wickedness of men, by cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive. (DRV)


For without the discipline of the Church, we would, indeed, be like such children.

Liam

The juridical/canonical/preceptual approach to fasting is, frankly, a failure at this point. It's time to move beyond it. I think the Church has largely conceded the practical substance of the first point - but, by virtue of centuries of catechizing fasting/abstinence primarily in preceptual rather than medicinal terms, has yet to find its sea legs with the second point (moving forward, that is). Frankly, the more I read in this thread about the minutiae of what obliges and how in preceptual terms nowadays, the less clear it becomes. It's not merely not helpful, it's quite negative.

Inocencio

Joe,

Is this an Orthodox view of fasting or not?

What an amazing and un-Christian relationship so many people now have to these fasts. The fasts are violated by people without a qualm of conscience, as if the matter was about some nonsense which had no significance. The Church, on the other hand, takes a very serious view of the matter, and excludes from Holy Communion those who refuse to keep the fasts without cause. Indeed, St. Seraphim of Sarov very pointedly said, "One who does not observe the fasts is not a Christian, no matter what he considers or calls himself... and you should not pay attention to him, no matter what he says."

If not, could you direct me to an authoritative source?

It seems to me that violating the fast and being excluded from Holy Communion shows the same obligation and consequence as the Latin Rite canon law makes clear.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Inocencio

Liam,

The juridical/canonical/preceptual approach to fasting is, frankly, a failure at this point.

May I ask what authority you give your opinion?

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Esau

The juridical/canonical/preceptual approach to fasting is, frankly, a failure at this point.

Yes, Liam -- just as education itself is a failure at this point as well.

We shouldn't make education such a mandatory standard.

It should only be voluntary since making it mandatory only defeats the entire purpose of learning.

Who's to say that if we make it voluntary, children will not want to go to school?

Just like fasting, who's to say that if we don't make it such a standard, folks won't actually fast on their own and not think, "Well, the Church doesn't require it, it probably means that fasting is not that important."

Liam

Inocencio

Your implied appeal to authority is logically tangential at best.

The more apt question appears to be: What authority counts for you in order to condescend to be attentive to the opinion offered? Who's got it and who doesn't? That way, those who don't have it will understand they are not writing to you.

Esau

The issue is *how* the Church requires it. You assume that requiring necessarily equals legislation. That's simply not so. There is abundant evidence of how something can be required but not reduced to a legislated grave obligation. In fact, the problem is that reductionism commonly found among canonically inclined Catholics. Though any lawyer worth his or her salt will advise that, if you're trying to dispose of an issue by appealing first to law, you're usually missing something important.

Inocencio

Liam,

I seek to learn and live my faith, as the Church teaches, to the best of my ability regardless of what others do or say. I carefully present the documentation when commenting on any subject. If my understanding is incorrect, I want to be corrected.

You seemed to imply that the Church needs to move on from requiring fasting, I disagree with your opinion.

Now may I ask if and when you fast? If you do why or if you don't why not?

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Esau

Liam,

What do you think would happen if the Church were to say that it's NOT a sin to miss Mass on Sundays?

1. Do you actually think folks would think more highly of Mass?

You don't actually believe that such folks would, on the contrary, look down further on the importance of Mass even more as a result of this?

Just how less significant would the Mass become to the laity if all of a sudden the Church were to say that missing Mass on Sundays was not a sin?


2. Would more people attend it since it has become a voluntary option that's been regarded not a sin to miss?


The fact of the matter is that there is to be such standards, such canon, in order to ensure the integrity of the Church and her Teachings!

After all, if it were not so for such Tradition, we wouldn't have had the Bible to begin with!

Everything would be a matter of a subjective nature -- all up to the whims of the individual.

This is the very point St. Paul makes in his epistle.

Liam

Inocencio & Esau

You entirely miss my point again and again. I am talking about going beyond mere requirements - you insist on sticking with the requirements. Go ahead. It's just an impoverished conversation. And my personal practices are irrelevant to it (ad hominem fallacy - which is falacious both ways - that is, if I am super-virtuous or not) - that's quite the red herring to throw out there.

Inocencio

Liam,

I apologize that I am not intellgent enough to see all the brilliant points you made. I also understand that you are way to smart to answer my simple questions.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Inocencio
Inocencio

Sorry I did not close the link

Maureen

Re: fasting before Mass

I was raised to fast at least an hour before Mass, and I have no intellectual problem with fasting all night until Mass, as I've done it often enough.

However, I have learned the hard way that if I walk more than a half-hour to Mass, I really need to eat _something_ before I start. Also, if you are singing in two Masses in a row, I really ought to have a bite -- especially if I intend to walk home again afterward.

I assume that this is also a problem for many priests who have to say more than one Mass on a Sunday.

So the "hour before Communion" rule is probably intended to have mercy on those of us who aren't just climbing in the car, zipping off to Mass, and then zipping off to a restaurant afterwards. :) People hate it when folks faint in church.

Joe

Inonencio,

No, that is not an official statement of the Orthodox Church. I tried to identify who that site belonged to, but since it seems to be a "Traditional Orthodox Mission" it might be one of the more severe jurisdictions. The official position, or the closest thing that could call official, is that one should keep the fast as he is able and should do so under the direction of his spiritual father who can guide the Christian and bind as well as dispense.

Fasting is indeed essential for the Christian life. One who complete despised the Church's fasts out of haughtiness would be showing that he is quite impure of heart and perhaps walking down the road to perdition. Or it could just show that he is immature is needs more instruction and guidance. Someone who breaks the fast out of weakness may not be sinning at all. In any case, no Orthodox would say that if you break the fast or don't observe it strictly, you are going to hell. And being denied communion does not mean that one is in a state of mortal sin. It just means that the Church wants you to be prepared when you receive. I can have marital relations with my wife Saturday evening and not sin in the least, but I should abstain from receiving communion.

By the way, Orthodox confessions can (and sometimes do) assign abstention from communion as a penance. Some spiritual Fathers require that a person who has committed a grave sin abstain from receiving communion for months. This is in accordance with the ancient canons of the Church.

Inocencio

Joe,

"The official position, or the closest thing that could call official, is that one should keep the fast as he is able and should do so under the direction of his spiritual father who can guide the Christian and bind as well as dispense."

May I ask where I could read this?

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Joe

Inocenio,

If you are looking for a "magisterial" document that utters official decrees, then I will have to disappoint you. We do not have a single office that issues decrees for the whole of Orthodoxy. One can look at the canons of the Ecumenical Councils and see what they have to say and one can look at what is commonly practiced and accepted at the parish level.

Inocencio

Joe,

Then may I ask where you got that definition? Which councils, which canons?

You said the website I quoted was not an official position of Orthodoxy, and it seems as though you are saying no official position exists. But you are giving me the closest thing to an official position based on your opinion?

If I contacted the website and asked them if that was an official position of Orthodoxy and they said yes, who would I then believe?

I ask in all sincerity and appreciate you taking the time to respond.

Take care and God bless,
Inocencio
J+M+J

Here are two representative answers to questions about fasting.

http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=245&SID=3

http://www.oca.org/QA.asp?ID=93&SID=3

The next article is excellent.
http://www.orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/fasting_principles.aspx

Inocencio,

We do not need to have an official position for everything. Fasting is precisely one of those activities that should vary from individual to invdidual depending on his circumstances and that is why, though the traditional rule is given, the ultimate judgment concerning how to fast is given to the person under the guidance of his spiritual Father.

Esau

...the ultimate judgment concerning how to fast is given to the person under the guidance of his spiritual Father.


That is the same for us -- whereas in our case, it is under the guidance of our spiritual Mother, the Church, the Spouse of Christ.

Joe

But the Church is the people and the spiritual Fathers are the elders in the Church who represent and have the authority of the Church. So, with us it is no different. The Church says, "fast, this is the tradition, do what you can." The spiritual Father helps you apply what the Church says according to your particular state.

The comments to this entry are closed.

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