The Laws on Fasting and Abstinence

Some Notes about Fasting and Abstinence

(Taken from Fr. Harold Parilla’s Facebook)

1. Abstinence means avoiding the consumption of meat, but eggs, milk products and condiments made of animal fat may be eaten. Chicken meat is covered by the prohibition on eating meat on days of abstinence.

Many commentators hold the opinion that the current law forbids only the meat of warm-blooded animals. Thus, the meat of cold-bloodied animals like frogs and turtles may be eaten on days of abstinence. [Hallelujah to lovers of exotic food!]

2. Abstinence from meat is required on all Fridays of the year (not just on Fridays of Lent), unless a solemnity falls on a Friday. The obligation of abstinence binds those who have completed their 14th year and older. The completion of the 14th year occurs at midnight at the end of one’s 14th birthday.

3. Fasting means eating only one full meal per day with two other lighter meals. The quantity of the “lighter meals” is to be measured according to local custom. In the Philippines, one prevalent standard holds that the two lighter meals should, when combined, not equal a full meal. This area leaves much room for individual estimation.

4. Fasting is obligatory only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The obligation to fast binds one beginning at midnight at the end of one’s 18th birthday up to midnight at the end of one’s 59th birthday. Note that the law on abstinence specifies the completion of the 14th year, while the law on fasting mentions the attainment of the age of majority until the beginning of the 60th year. [Praise God for the precision of canonical time!] No snacks are allowed in between meals on days of fasting.

5. Universal law provides that the conference of bishops can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. The conference can substitute in place of abstinence and fasting other forms or penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety (cf. can. 1253).

6. In view of can. 1253, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) prescribes that “Except on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday, abstinence may be substituted with exercises of piety, such as reading the Bible, going to Mass, visiting the Blessed Sacrament, praying the holy rosary, or with acts of charity, such as visiting the sick and prisoners, giving alms to the poor, or teaching catechism”. Based on the wording of the CBCP provision, it would seem that the list of exercises of piety and or acts of piety given is not exhaustive.

7. In light of universal law and the CBCP provision, the following can be said about fasting and abstinence in our context:

a. In the Philippines, fasting and abstinence remain obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these days, substitution is not permitted.
b. In the Philippines, on all other Fridays of the year, the faithful either abstains from meat or does exercises of piety or acts of charity.

8. An important presumption must be cited: the laws on fasting and abstinence bind only those who are healthy enough to observe them.

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