Lent Fight Update!

by Jimmy Akin

in Canon Law, Liturgical Year, Liturgy, Moral Theology

Ash_wednesday In the years I have been maintaining this blog, I have uploaded something over 4700 posts (according to current statistics). This makes it a bit hard to remember everything I've put up.

Fortunately, I have the memories of readers to remind me, and one reader in particular has reminded me that there are some posts that I had forgotten to include in the Annual Lent Fight that I uploaded yesterday. 

These posts concern, in particular, the Church's laws concerning Ash Wednesday and its laws regarding fasting.

As a result, I've done some link updating.

Since Ash Wednesday is a day of both fast and abstinence, I have chosen to repeat here the relevant links, along with this introductory note citing the main differences.

I hope this helps, and I wish all a tranquil and spiritually productive season of Lent.










What do you think?


If you liked this post, you should join Jimmy's Secret Information Club to get more great info!

What is the Secret Information Club?I value your email privacy


joye March 9, 2011 at 1:01 am

Jimmy, I’ve always taken it for granted that the sick and pregnant/lactating women can forgo fasting and abstinence without having to get the permission of their pastor. But I was just trying to find where it says this and I cannot find anything in universal canon law nor in the Canadian bishops’ conference website (I live in Canada) saying this. (I also checked the USCCB website and it is likewise silent.)
Is this wrong? Do I actually have to call my priest and get his specific ok not to fast today? (I am pregnant and I know from experience of even having meals delayed that Bad Things Happen when my blood sugar or whatever it is suffers this way–not only do I get REALLY grumpy, but I even start to feel faint.)
My husband just told me that under no circumstances am I to fast while I am pregnant/lactating unless our priest overrules him. I’ll certainly ask the priest when we see him next. My husband says that if we’re wrong he will take the fault/responsibility. What my husband says is, the baby is certainly under the age of exemption from fasting, and the baby only gets nourishment through me, therefore it would be wrong for me to fast. This seems reasonable, but then, that’s what I thought the Church formally taught!
Your expertise would be much appreciated.

joye March 9, 2011 at 1:14 am

I should add that I don’t find any physical difficulty in adhering to the abstinence aspect of Ash Wednesday/Fridays, so I personally do so, but I would still be interested to know if I am bound by law to do so. (I have known some pregnant women to experience strong food aversions, especially in conjunction with nausea, that might make it medically necessary for them to get protein from meat, if they were unable to keep fish or beans down, but at least currently this doesn’t apply to me.)

Jimmy Akin March 9, 2011 at 7:59 am

If a person has a medical condition that precludes fasting or abstinence then that person is not required to keep the practice. No special permission is needed. Medical reasons to avoid fasting are fairly common. Reasons to avoid abstinence (given the availability of alternate foods–e.g., fish, eggs, cheese, tofu) are less common, but the same would hold in principle.

Casey Truelove March 9, 2011 at 9:38 am

The Apostolic Constitution on Penance says that fasting starts at 21, but Canon Law says “those who have attained their majority” (i.e. 18). Does CIC 1983 trump Paenitemini because it came after, or does the Constitution trump Canon Law because it came directly from the pope? What are the 18-20 year-olds to follow?

Jimmy Akin March 9, 2011 at 10:14 am

The 1983 Code of Canon Law supercedes Paenitimini anywhere the two are in conflict. Therefore 18-20 year olds are now bound by the law of fast unless they have an excusing reason such as a health condition.

joye March 9, 2011 at 11:04 am

Could you give me a citation, though, Mr. Akin? It isn’t that I don’t believe that what you say SHOULD be correct, it’s just that I was surprised that I couldn’t find it written in canon law or in bishops’ policies. Is it purely a matter of custom? If that’s the case, then why do you find custom insufficient in the other matters of Lenten practice such as the “two meals not adding up to a meal” thing?
I guess, from reading your posts about Lent, I’ve started thinking “common knowledge is out, only what is actually written in black and white is in”, and I can’t find this in black and white. I was frankly stunned not to find it; it makes no sense to me that it wouldn’t be mentioned in canon law, something like “those who have medical reasons are not bound”. But that line isn’t there.
Why is age mentioned explicitly but medical conditions not?

Diane March 9, 2011 at 11:34 am

I was extremely disappointed about two years ago, when a priest wrote a column for our local diocesan newspaper addressing this. He explicitly stated that pregnancy is not a medical condition and does not fall under the exemption.
Personally, I think he was confusing “not a medical condition” with the “not a disease” argument used by pro-life groups.
My question became, if pregnancy is not a medical condition, then why do I have to visit a doctor regularly throughout my pregnancies?
I am a woman who will get extreme, debilitating nausea if I fast during the first trimester.
I once fasted while lactating (right after reading that article), and my poor baby suffered the consequences. I did not have enough milk to satisfy her the next day.
It would be nice if the Church would address these issues directly.

Jimmy Akin March 9, 2011 at 1:07 pm

Joye: There is not an official citation on this. The matter is dealt with in manuals of moral and pastoral theology. Reading the older ones makes it clear that there are many unstated exceptions to the law of fast (e.g., workers needing to keep their strength or mental alertness up) and that what counts as an exception can vary by the condition of the individual person.
The relevance of a person’s bodily state is also implicit in the law itself. The reason that the law of fast ceases when you turn 59 is a recognition of the fact that older people have a different bodily condition than younger ones and correspondingly are released from the fast.
As to why this is not dealt with in the law, the Church has always had these exceptions recognized by moral and pastoral theologians and it expects the same kind of obvious, common sense pastoral exceptions to be recognized now. If it didn’t want them to be then the burden would be on it to explicitly prohibit them.
In other words, the exception is considered to be so obvious and well known that it does not need explicit mention in the law.

Jackie Parkes March 16, 2011 at 1:17 am

Thanks for all the information..

Karen Caruthers March 23, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Thanks for the post! My son was just asking today about “Good” Friday! Also, to comment on the fish on Friday line of thought, I have always thought the reason why fish is permitted is because according to kosher dietary laws, fish is parve (neither milk nor meat) I don’t have anything to back that up (other than the fact that fish really is parve!) but it makes sense to me :)

Previous post:

Next post: