The Law of Fasting and Abstinence [1921]
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The Law of Fasting and Abstinence
Imprimatur Patrick J. Hayes,
Archbishop of New York, 1921

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When He had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards He was hungry.--MATT. iv. 2.

Again the devil took Him up into a very high mountain, and showed Him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them, And said to Him: All these will I give thee, if falling down thou wilt adore me.--MATT. iv. 8-9.


Immediately after our Lord was baptized in the Jordan, before entering upon His public ministry, He retired to a desert and rocky region along the western coast of the Dead Sea, and there fasted for forty days and forty nights. It is in commemoration of this event in the life of our Saviour that the Church has set aside the season of Lent.

I. The meaning of the law of fasting and abstinence. 

1. The law of fasting requires that only one full meal be taken a day; but it does not forbid that, in addition to this, some food be taken in the morning and in the evening in accordance with the approved custom of one's locality. This law does not forbid the eating of fish and flesh at the same meal, and it permits one to take his full meal either at noon or in the evening, as he may wish.

2. The law of abstinence requires that one abstain from meat, as well as soup or broth made from meat; it does not forbid the use of eggs, butter, milk, cheese, etc.

3. The days of abstinence are all the Fridays of the year; this is in memory of our Lord's death on Good Friday. But when Friday falls on a Holyday, e.g., Christmas, meat may be eaten.

4. The times of fasting are: (a) the Ember Days, i.e., Wednesday, Friday and Saturday in a week of each of the four seasons of the year. The purpose of these fasts is to consecrate each season of the year by some days of mortification, to thank God for His graces, ask His blessing upon the harvest, and to pray for those whom it is customary to ordain to the priesthood at those times, (b) The vigils of Pentecost, Assumption, All Saints, and Christmas. These days are called vigils because in ancient times the faithful used to spend the night before them in watching, prayer and fasting, © The longest, strictest and most venerable fast of the year is that of Lent, which goes back to the times of the Apostles. It commemorates our Lord's forty days' fast in the desert, associates us with His suffering by the practice of penance, and prepares us for the great feast of Easter. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and terminates at noon on Easter Saturday. 

5. The days of both fasting and abstinence are: (a) Ember Days; (b) the vigils mentioned above: © Ash Wednesday and the Fridays and Saturdays in Lent.


II. The obligation of the law of fasting and abstinence. 
1. Fasting in general is of the natural law, because nature and common sense teach us that it is necessary for subduing the passions, elevating the mind to spiritual things and making satisfaction for sin. Hence it has been practiced at all times, as we learn from the Old Testament (Exod. xxiv. 18; Jonas iii. 10; Dan. i. 15; I Esdras. viii. 23, etc.). Moreover, fasting has its basis in the law of mortification laid down by our Lord (Luke xiii. 5). But as neither the natural, nor the divine law has fixed the time and circumstances for observing fast and abstinence, the Church, in virtue of her divinely given authority of making laws that are for the advantage of the faithful, has determined the days, the times, and the manner of fasting and abstaining. 

2. The law of abstinence binds all those who have completed their seventh year. The law of fasting obliges all who have completed their twenty-first year, and who have not yet entered upon their sixtieth year. 

3. Reasons which excuse from the law of fasting and abstinence are: (a) infirm health, which would be made worse by fasting; (b) necessary work that is incompatible with fasting; © works of charity or piety for which there is some necessity, or which are more valuable than fasting, e.g., waiting on the sick, making a pilgrimage. 4. Those who are in doubt as to whether they are excused from fasting or abstinence should consult their confessor. Dispensations may be granted by parish priests (See Code, ec. 1243 ff.).


EXHORTATION 
1. Those who are able to fast should do so gladly and cheerfully in memory of the great event which Lent commemorates, and for the sake of the great blessings it brings with it. 

2. Those who are excused from fasting and abstinence should remember that they are not exempt from the law of mortification and self-denial which they can fulfill by saying extra prayers, hearing Mass when possible on week days, giving alms to the poor or for holy purposes, refraining from unnecessary amusements, delicacies, etc.
"So let us be confident, let us not be unprepared, let us not be outflanked, let us be wise, vigilant, fighting against those who are trying to tear the faith out of our souls and morality out of our hearts, so that we may remain Catholics, remain united to the Blessed Virgin Mary, remain united to the Roman Catholic Church, remain faithful children of the Church."- Abp. Lefebvre
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