Tuesday, 18 February 2014

The Western Lenten Fast

People have often admired the rigorous approach to fasting taken by the Eastern Churches. Our Western custom was once similar, but was diminished principally during the two world wars and further following the Second Vatican Council.

These fasts are no longer of precept, of course, but that doesn't mean that their use wouldn't be spiritually fruitful.

This applies particularly in Lent. The Western Lenten fast is as follows:

The Lenten Fast

All weekdays of Lent are days of fasting and abstinence. That means one single meal. Two lighter meals may be taken as long as their combined quantity does not exceed that of the single meal.
Meat may not be eaten, nor, I understand, fish, though I may be corrected on this. I presume it (and remember reading it somewhere, but I can't find it) on account of fish being specified as permitted on Sunday.

Traditionally, the abstinence also forbids eggs and all dairy products, the so-called 'black fast'. (perhaps because of the milkless tea). This had ceased to be of obligation by the nineteenth century.
In practice, this means observing a vegan diet during the week.

Oil may be used (unlike in the east) to cook or dress food at all times.

Sundays in Lent are days of abstinence, but not fasting. Therefore the normal quantities of food may be eaten, but not meat. Fish is permitted.

Fasting and abstinence are only lifted should the day be a Holy Day of Obligation. I don't think any holy days would fall within Lent these days.

Days of Fasting outside Lent

In addition, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during Ember weeks are days of fasting. Ember weeks are the first week in Lent, (fasting anyway), the Octave of Pentecost, The third week in September and the third week in Advent.

The vigils of the following feasts are days of fasting: Pentecost, Ss Peter & Paul, the Assumption, All Saints, and Christmas Day.

All Wednesdays and Fridays in Advent are fast days.

Should a fast day fall on a Sunday, it is observed on the Saturday. Should a feast fall on a Monday, the fast is also observed on the Saturday.

The only exception to the Friday abstinence traditionally was if Christmas day should fall on a Friday.


Rubricarius said...

I had thought, perhaps incorrectly, that fish was allowed - hence the indults Thurston etc talks about for Barnacle Geese etc.

Ttony said...

Father, in 1846,in the Central District,the fasting days were:

1. The 40 days of Lent;
2. The Ember Days;
3. The Vigil of Whitsunday;
4. The Vigil of SS Peter & Paul;
5. The Vigil of the Assumption;
6. Christmas Eve.

If the feast falls on Monday, the fast is observed on Saturday.

Abstinence days are:

1. The Sundays of Lent, unless leave be given to the contrary by the Vicar Apostolic;
2. All Fridays in the year, except Christmas Day if it fall on a Friday.

Pastor in Valle said...

Rubricarius, as I said, I'm not entirely certain about the fish. But since we both agree that fish may be eaten on the Sunday, that could account for barnacle geese or beaver for that matter.

Sue Sims said...

Father: I haven't been a Catholic long enough to know from personal experience what the pre-VII fasting rules were, but historical records make it quite clear that fish was allowed during Lent in the West (though certainly not in the East, as it still isn't) during the Middle Ages. Have a look at Eileen Power's magisterial Mediaeval English Nunneries, where Lenten diet is discussed on pp. 138-140. The book has been out of print (and wildly expensive whenever it turned up secondhand), but since the author died in 1940, it's now out of copyright, and some public benefactor has transcribed it for Project Gutenberg:


I don't think that fasting rules have become more rigorous since then.

Fr Will said...

"Two lighter meals may be taken as long as their combined quantity does not exceed that of the single meal."

Yeeeess … I've always regarded that as a bit of a cop-out. If that is the definition of fasting, then I probably fast most days. (No one who's ever met me would imagine that I was an habitual faster – which by any realistic definition I'm certainly not,) The definitions of the "black fast" that I have come across restrict food intake to a single meal, taken after sunset. (Now that IS severe!)

As to fish: I don't dispute the historical evidence, but I'm puzzled as to the logic which permits fish but disallows eggs or dairy produce. What, I wonder, is the underlying principle here? (The Orthodox rule of allowing shellfish, but disallowing fish, however curious to our perspective, is at least based on a consistent principle of forbidding the flesh of vertebrates.)

NBW said...

On the feast of St. Joseph can one have sweets if one gave them up for Lent?

Henri Adam de Villiers said...

The fish was allowed during the Middle Ages in Northern Europe, due to the difficulty here to have fruits (strictly vegetarian meals are easiest in the Mediterranean, it's always the rule in Eastern Churches).

Unknown said...

In Gaelic, the word for Thursday is déardaoin, which means "the day between the fasts." It is a reference to the fasting required for the Ember Days.