Thursday, March 3, 2016

Fasting and Abstinence

Prior to 1966, Catholics practiced what some folks today might consider heavy-duty fasting. Catholics who were 21 years of age and who had not begun their 60th year were obliged under pain of mortal sin to fast every day in Lent except on Sundays. On fast days, only one full meal was allowed (either at noon or in the evening), with about two ounces of bread with coffee, tea or chocolate in the morning, and about eight ounces of food except meat for lunch or supper. On Holy Saturday, the fast ended at noon. People excused from fasting included the sick, the infirm, the convalescent, those engaged in hard labor, the poor who could not get sufficient food for their principal meal, and women bearing or nursing children. Before Vatican II, even December 24 was a day of fasting and abstinence. That’s why, to this day, many families have the tradition to east fish on Christmas Eve. Pope John XXIII in 1959 said that Catholics could fast on December 23 instead if they wished.
In 2014, the Archbishop of New Orleans, Louisiana said that alligator meat was permissible on Fridays during Lent, because alligator is considered part of the fish family. According to the US bishops: “Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chicken, cows, sheep and pigs - all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat.” In particular cases where a person's health prohibits fasting, they may instead try to give up some pleasure, or do more positive outreach, like almsgiving, praying, be more forgiving and helping out.

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