Prayer & Fasting for Our Country & Election
What is fasting?
Fasting, broadly speaking, is the voluntary avoidance of something that is good. When Catholics talk about fasting, we normally mean restricting the food that we eat. We can fast between meals, by not eating snacks, or we can engage in a complete fast by abstaining from all food. The English word breakfast, in fact, means the meal that breaks the fast.
While fasting takes the form of refraining from eating, it is primarily a spiritual discipline designed to tame the body so that we can concentrate on higher things.
Why should I fast?
Fasting is usually mentioned along with prayer and almsgiving (or charity). By controlling the passions of the body, we free our souls for prayer. And by refraining from eating, we free up food or money that we can give to those less fortunate than ourselves. The three spiritual disciplines go hand in hand, and the Church calls us to practice all three together, especially during the season of Lent.
What are the rules of fasting in the Catholic Church?
The Code of Canon Law prescribes (Canons 1250-1252):
- Can. 1250: The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
- Can. 1251: Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
- Can. 1252: The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
In the United States, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has declared that “the age of fasting is from the completion of the eighteenth year to the beginning of the sixtieth.” The USCCB also allows the substitution of some other form of penance for abstinence on all of the Fridays of the year, except for those Fridays in Lent. Thus, the rules for fasting and abstinence in the United States are:
- Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat (and items made with meat) on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
- Every person between the age of 18 and 59 (your 59th birthday begins your 60th year) must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
- Every person 14 years of age or older must abstain from meat on all other Fridays of the year, unless he or she substitutes some other form of penance for abstinence.
What foods should be considered during the fast?
Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat. Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are technically not forbidden. However, moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste). Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.
Because of this, some Catholic parishes in the United States sponsor a fish fry during Lent. In predominantly Roman Catholic areas, restaurants may adjust their menus during Lent by adding seafood items to the menu in an attempt to appeal to Roman Catholics. However, the same USCCB website says that:
While fish, lobster and other shellfish are not considered meat and can be consumed on days of abstinence, indulging in the lavish buffet at your favorite seafood place sort of misses the point. Abstaining from meat and other indulgences during Lent is a penitential practice.
The USCCB also states that:
Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.
In 2010, Archbishop of New Orleans Gregory Michael Aymond clarified that alligator is also considered seafood, saying “Yes, the alligator’s considered in the fish family, and I agree with you — God has created a magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana, and it is considered seafood.” This was in response to a letter from a local alligator wrangler.