More on “No Second Meal”

by Jimmy Akin

in Canon Law, Liturgical Year

I expect this'll be the last I post on this topic (at least for a while), but regarding the idea that the two times you can take "some food" on a day of fast can't add up to a second full meal, a reader writes down yonder:

Perhaps it is simply from the fact that one is allowed only "one full meal" and thus ….since one is allowed only one…and yet are permitted 'some food' at two other times…it is simply the case that these can not add up to 'a full meal' for one is only allowed one 'full meal' (if the other two add up to another full meal…well then you will have had 2 full meals!)

This makes sense to me. (of course each persons judgment of a full meal may be different)

Let's look again at Paul VI's language:

The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom.

The possibility that the reader raises is consistent with the first part of what Paul VI says. He could have meant:

(a) The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, so long as they don't add up to a second full meal.

But he could also have meant:

(b) The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, so long as neither is a full meal.

If the pope had said either of these things, we would know what he meant and nobody would be charging that the added statement (the part in red) contradicts the first part of what he said. The two added interpretations in red are thus both consistent with the first part of the statement.

Therefore, from the language of the first part alone, we cannot rule out either interpretation.

But there are additional considerations that allow us to decide which interpretation is correct:

1) In law liberty is presumed. Therefore the less restrictive interpretation (b) is presumed until the more restrictive interpretation (a) is proved.

2) The overarching thrust of Paul VI's labors in this document is a relaxation of ecclesiastical discipline (more on that a couple of posts from now, when I deal with the question of "substantial observance"). Therefore, if it is known that the mind of the legislator is an overall relaxation of discipline and one has two interpretations of what he says–one more restrictive and one more relaxed–it seems unwarranted to suddenly assume the more restrictive interpretation. This is inconsistent with the overall tone of what the legislator is trying to accomplish.

3) This one is the real clincher: While both interpretations in red are consistent with the first part of what the pope says, there is also the second part, in which he goes on to say: "observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom." This explicitly kicks the question of the quantity of the two "some food" down to the local area. He is thus not dealing with the question of how much (quantity) you can eat on one of these occasions. If the pope expressly refers us to approved local custom to determine the quantity of this food then we cannot insist that the quantity be restricted to any particular amount based on what he said. (Beyond the obvious that each be less than a full meal, per the first part of what he said.)

4) Since our previous post (so far as I can tell) demonstrates that there is no approved local custom in America that restricts the two occasions where we can take "some food" to less than a second meal, the restrictive interpretation above (i.e., option [a]) does not obtain in the United States.

Finally, even if the above line of reasoning is wrong, it still shows that there is a substantial doubt as to whether the law requires this. That triggers canon 14, which is as follows:

Can. 14 Laws, even invalidating and disqualifying ones, do not oblige when there is a doubt about the law. When there is a doubt about a fact, however, ordinaries can dispense from laws provided that, if it concerns a reserved dispensation, the authority to whom it is reserved usually grants it.

Next: The Morning and Evening Issue

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Richard February 19, 2010 at 3:47 am

It raises another question with me. It seems that the pope, living in Italy, presumed that the full meal was going to be your lunch, as this is the most important meal of the day around the Mediterranean. So he proscribes two small meals in the morning and in the EVENING. But, we, who don’t live in the south, probably have our main meal in the evening, so are we then allowed to take the second small meal around lunch time?

Tim J. February 19, 2010 at 7:07 am

Jimmy’s logic is impeccable, and I have no doubt he is correct, but as that is the case, just let me say, “blehh” and again “blehh”.
It seems we can pretty well be certain of what Paul VI was thinking, but then that still makes me want to ask “What was he thinking?”.
His regulations for fasting seem to be an answer to the question, “When is a fast not a fast?”.
How is a full meal + the equivalent of another full meal considered a “fast”?
Maybe he was trying to be pastoral, but IMO, he did no one any favors by relaxing the rules for fasting. It would have been better to say, “Look, fasting isn’t really going to be required any more.”.

Father Gregory February 19, 2010 at 8:52 am

There was also the principle of “si potus noceat” that allowed the taking of some food with drink on fast days, “lest the drink harm.” In other words put something in your belly before you drink your coffee, or whatever, so that it won’t hit an empty stomach and cause a tummy ache. A condescension to our humanity well worth remembering.

Matt S. February 19, 2010 at 1:43 pm

Well, I certainly don’t want to meet Our Lord and say, “Look God! I did exactly the minimum required by the law and no more!” Therefore on fast days I… fast. And for me that means fasting every single day of lent, not just Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It’s really not that much to ask, and I am sorrowful that the Church relaxed these rules. The world could really use more fasting and penance right now. If you are able to, please consider fasting throughout this Lent.

Yeoman February 19, 2010 at 1:44 pm

Richard, your question was the same I asked in a commnet on the first in this line. There was a good response to that in there, but I still hope Jimmy will give us his opinion. You may want to look down below and see the couple of comments on that question, however, as you asked the same one.

Pat February 19, 2010 at 2:51 pm

I see people have advanced to the “second meal” while I still haven’t finished my first “full” meal. How long can I take to finish my first full meal which consists of an aperitif plus five courses plus dessert and a digestif? My “some food in the morning and evening” consists of another eight less-than-full meals. It would be nine but because I’m fasting, I’m skipping my usual before-bedtime slice of triple-layer chocolate cake.

George February 19, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Someone made some of the same points about the complexity of old fasting rules vs the laxity of modern fasting rules here:

Ed Peters February 21, 2010 at 8:33 am

Of course, it is pure legalism to call a full meal day a “fast day”, let alone a full meal day thatallows two smallers meals. Pure legalism.
That doesn’t mean it doesn’t bind. Just that what is binding is purely legalism.

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