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Lenten reminders: Fasting and abstinence

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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17, and Good Friday, April 2, are days of abstinence from meat and also days of fast, that is, limited to a single full meal. With regard to Good Friday, the teachings of the Second Vatican Council should be recalled:

Let the paschal feast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday, and where possible, prolonged through Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of the Resurrection may be attained with uplifted and clear mind. (Constitution on the Liturgy, No. 110.)

The other Fridays of the season of Lent are days of abstinence from meat. The law of abstinence binds all Catholics 14 years and older. The law of fasting binds all Catholics from their 18th birthday until their 59th birthday (canons 97 and 1252). With regard to the obligatory days listed above, however, there are frequent questions about the degree of seriousness of the matter. The teaching of the Holy Father may be simply paraphrased: The obligation to do penance is a serious one; the obligation to observe, as a whole or “substantially,” the penitential days specified by the church is also serious. No one should be scrupulous in this regard; failure to observe an individual day of penance is not considered serious.

People should seek to do more rather than less. Fast and abstinence in the days prescribed should be considered a minimum response to the Lord’s call to penance and conversion.

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