The staggering fact that the Lord Himself died for us calls forth, by grace, a worshipful response… (Largely reposted from the second part of our earlier post, Reminders for Lent: Fasting and Abstinence, to which we refer the reader for an explanation of the spiritual reasons for fasting and abstinence. This post merely repeats the norms in view of Good Friday.)
Today, Good Friday, we commemorate the crucifixion and death of Christ our Lord. It is a day for solemn prayer and reflection in the one true Church; for indeed, the very fact that the eternal Word, God from God, would become man and die for our salvation is nothing less than staggering-and to those unblessed with faith, it is a madness, a stumbling block-, and calls for an obedient and worshipful response that is itself generated in us by the Lord our God.
Therefore on Good Friday, Latin Christians are mandated to practice fasting and abstinence, which (as we sought to explain here) are fitting acts of love for the Lord our God and for our neighbor, following the witness of Christ our Lord and His Apostles. In particular, the following general norms for fasting and abstinence on Good Friday are to be strictly observed by Christians of the Latin Patriarchate (or Roman Catholics as distinguished from Eastern Catholics)*:
Latin Christians aged 14 to 17 years old, as well as those 60 years old and older, must practice abstinence. However, they are exempt from the command to fast. 3
Fasting as thus ordained does not mean eating nothing at all (though Christians may also, with permission from their superior or spiritual director, voluntarily choose to fast in this manner). Rather, the fasting ordained by the Church consists in eating less: that is, they must eat only one full (meat-less) meal, and while they may take some (non-meat) food in the morning and evening, they must observe as to quantity and quality the approved local custom4. This is generally taken to mean that the food taken in the 2 smaller meals must not, taken together, equal the larger meal, which must of course be of moderate amount.
On the other hand, abstinence means not eating meat5, though they are not required to abstain from eggs or the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat6. Some other food may be abstained from as determined by the Episcopal Conference7.
The foregoing rules do not cover Eastern Catholics, who are subject to the rules prescribed by their Patriarchs and synods in accordance with their canons and liturgical traditions. Likewise, please note that the norms may be modified by the legislation of Episcopal Conferences and are subject to lawful dispensations by bishops and pastors8. Therefore, it is necessary to inquire with the bishops of our countries to determine if they have enacted legislation changing the obligations, as well as to ask what is the approved local custom regarding the Lenten fast. If no legislation has been enacted, then the foregoing general norms apply with undiminished force. Where there is some confusion as to the norms, as obtains in some countries, then we recommend consulting with one’s bishop, parish priest, or superior.
But these norms are just the minimum, of course, and we may, subject to advice from our spiritual director, observe additional times and further measures of fasting and abstinence. What we may do well to remember, in every case, is to follow the law in good faith. For instance, we submit that, when practicing abstinence, we should not then feast on permitted foods or eat them richly cooked, lest we follow the letter without “the spirit that giveth life” (II Corinthians iii, 6) and be judged for lying to God with our actions (see Acts v, 1-11). For fasting and abstinence are intended to unite us to our Lord Who emptied Himself (Philippians ii, 6-8), and so we should accompany them with the observance of simplicity and, unless stricter austerities are permitted, of moderation (see Proverbs xxx, 8-9).
Furthermore, we should remember the command of the Church that fasting and other devotions are to be practiced together with works of justice and mercy: “But woe unto you, Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (St. Luke xi, 42). For when we rightly view the whole of God’s revelation as one whole, then we shall see that the sacraments (see St. John iii, 5; vi, 53-56), the obedience of the understanding (see II Corinthians x, 5), prayer and devotion (see Matthew xvii, 21), and works of justice and mercy (see St. Matthew xvi, 27; St. James ii, 26) are to be practiced together as the four pillars of that lifelong conversion that is the Christian life.
“And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers” (Acts ii, 42).
If you’d like to read further:
- The norms on fasting and abstinence on Good Friday may be found in Canons 1249-1253 and Canon 919 (communion fast) of the 1982 Code of Canon Law, which is binding on Latin Christians, supplemented by the 1966 Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini of Pope Paul VI. One may also examine the relevant canons of the 1917 Code of Canon Law, some of whose rules are used to interpret the existing legislation (as explained here).
- The said rules, as well as their rationale, are discussed in the very enlightening essay “Lent: Discipline and History” by Catholics United for the Faith (CUF), and in the excellent summary of the relevant norms published by Women of Faith and Family (WFF).
- A simple explanation of the specific legislation for the United States is provided by the above-mentioned CUF and WFF webpages. Its basis is the 1966 Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), supplemented by the issuance Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics.
- The specific norms applicable to the Philippines were discussed in the CBCP News article “Canon lawyer says fast, abstinence on Good Friday is mandatory” (March 19, 2008), which is also available here. However, I have not been able to find the issuance (if any) of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) on fasting and abstinence, and have therefore been unable to verify to what extent the norms may have been modified.
Have a blessed Good Friday.
*Latin Christians or Latin Catholics are Christians subject to the jurisdiction of the Pope as Patriarch of the West as well as Supreme Pontiff. In contrast, Eastern Catholics are under the jurisdiction of other Patriarchs, Primates, or Metropolitans-Major, subject to the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff. We avoided the term ‘Latin Church’, though it was used in the Code of Canon Law, to avoid confusion with the particular churches of Latin Europe and Latin America.
1 Code of Canon Law, canon 1251, in relation to canon 97 §1. Note that this amends Paenitemini, under which the norm of fasting started to be binding at the age of 21 years.
2 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1251.
3 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1251.
4 Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution “Paenitemini”, February 17, 1966, III, 2.
5 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1251.
6 Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution “Paenitemini”, February 17, 1966, III, 1.
7 Code of Canon Law, Canon 1251.
8 Pope Paul VI, Apostolic Constitution “Paenitemini”, February 17, 1966, VI-VII; Code of Canon Law, canon 1253.