Preparing for Lent : How to fast like the Saints (Part 6)

Author: Matthew Plese

The Lenten Fast Virtually Eliminated Post Vatican II

Shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI an apostolic constitution on fasting and abstaining on February 17, 1966, called Paenitemini, whose principles were later incorporated into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Paenitemini allowed the commutation of the Friday abstinence to an act of penance at the discretion of the local ordinaries and gave authority to the episcopal conferences on how the universal rules would be applied in their region. Abstinence which previously began at age 7 was modified to begin at age 14. Additionally, the obligation of fasting on the Ember Days and on the remaining Vigils was abolished. Paenitemini maintained the traditional practice that “abstinence is to be observed on every Friday which does not fall on a day of obligation.”

The NCCB issued a statement on November 18, 1966. Abstinence was made obligatory on all Fridays of Lent, except Solemnities (i.e. First Class Feasts), on Ash Wednesday, and on Good Friday. Abstinence on all Fridays throughout the year was “especially recommended,” and the faithful who did choose to eat meat were directed to perform an alternative penance on those Fridays outside of Lent, even though the US Bishops removed the long-establish precept of requiring Friday penance. The document stated in part: “Even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we … hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to church law.” And finally, fasting on all weekdays of Lent was “strongly recommended” but not made obligatory under penalty of sin.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law largely took Paul VI’s apostolic constitution aside from the modification of the age at which fasting binds. Per the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the age of fast was changed to begin at 18 – previously it was 21 – and to still conclude at midnight when an individual completes his 59th birthday. Friday penance is required per these laws on all Fridays of the year except on Solemnities, a dramatic change from the previous exception being only on Holy Days of Obligation.

Per the 1983 Code of Canon Law, fasting and complete abstinence per these rules are required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The notion of “partial abstinence,” introduced under Pope Benedict XIV in 1741, was also removed along with nearly all fast days.

To be continued…