Saturday, February 27, 2021
Abstinence from Meat & Animal Products on Sundays in Lent

It is a long-standing practice that fasting is never practiced on Sundays. However, is the same true for abstinence and how has this changed over the Church's history? And specifically, what is meant by abstinence as it concerns Sundays in Lent.

Fasting & Abstinence Defined

Before addressing these questions, a recap is in order of fasting as compared with abstinence. 

Fasting refers to how much food we eat. It means taking only one meal during a calendar day. The meal should be an average-sized meal as overeating at the one meal is against the spirit of the fast. Fasting generally means that the meal is to be taken later in the day. Along with the one meal, up to two snacks (technically called either collations or frustulum) are permitted. The collation became permitted around the 8th century and became widespread since the 14th century. The practice of an additional morning snack (called the frustulum) was introduced only in the 18th century around the time of St. Alphonsus as part of the gradual relaxation of discipline.

Abstinence in this context refers to not eating meat. Meat refers to the fleshmeat of mammals or fowl. Beef, poultry, lamb, etc are all forbidden on days of abstinence. Fish is permitted along with shellfish and other cold-blooded animals like alligators. In times past, days of fast were always days of abstinence as well; however, not all days of abstinence were days of mandatory fasting. Abstinence also during Lent prohibited lacticinia (i.e., animal by-products like cheese, butter, milk, or eggs) until only the 19th century (exceptions aside).

Lenten Fasting & Abstinence

The observance of Lent stretches back as far as Apostolic times. Lent was for centuries observed as forty days of fasting in the Roman Church with Sundays excluded. That is, from Ash Wednesday (since its institution) through Holy Saturday were days of fasting. And until the relatively modern era, days of fasting were by definition days of abstinence from meat. What is meant by abstinence here? Father Weiser in "Feasts and Customs":

"In a letter to Saint Augustine of Canterbury (604), Pope Saint Gregory the Great announced the final form of abstinence which soon became the law: 'We abstain from flesh meat and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, eggs' (and butter of course). For almost a thousand years this remained the norm of abstinence for all except those who were excused for reasons of ill health."

Thus, Lent was kept as forty days of fasting and forty-six days of abstinence (Durandus). However, we know that Sundays do not count towards the forty days of Lent and deserve special consideration.

Sunday Abstinence from Meat

Fasting on Sundays was never obliged and never encouraged in the Roman Church at any point in history. The Decretum Gratiani from the 12th century, which was a collection of canon law compiled at the time stated that “the fast is not to be lifted in Lent except on Sundays.” It also adds that Pope St. Gregory the Great in the 6th century specifically exempted Sundays in Lent and says the faithful distinguish themselves from some heretics who did fast on Sundays. It would not be appropriate to fast during Lent on a Sunday. 

However, abstinence is not the same as fasting and while fasting was neither obligatory nor encouraged on Sundays, abstinence was actually mandatory for centuries.

There is no question that during the holy season of Lent the faithful were obliged to abstain from meat. The first major weakening of discipline and rupture with the immemorial prohibition of meat during Lent came in 1741 when Pope Benedict XIV granted permission to eat meat on fasting days. This is where partial abstinence comes from - meat was allowed at the one meal but not during the collation. He also explicitly forbade the consumption of both fish and flesh meat at the same meal on all fasting days during the year, in addition to the Sundays during Lent. 

Beforehand, the forty days of Lent were held as days of complete abstinence from meat. Sundays in Lent, for centuries, were unequivocally days of abstinence from meat. On this point, historical evidence is unwavering. Now, for the first time, meat was permitted on Sundays in Lent.  

Sunday Abstinence from Animal Products

Besides meat though, abstinence even on the Sundays of Lent included animal products, for centuries. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Lent states in part:

"From what has been said it will be clear that in the early Middle Ages Lent throughout the greater part of the Western Church consisted of forty weekdays, which were all fast days, and six Sundays. From the beginning to the end of that time all flesh meat, and also, for the most part, "lacticinia", were forbidden even on Sundays, while on all the fasting days only one meal was taken, which single meal was not permitted before evening."

The Modern Catholic Dictionary by Fr. John Hardon SJ, p. 306 explicitly states that lacticinia was avoided on the Sundays of Lent in the early middle ages: "Milk (Latin, lac) and milk products, e.g., butter and cheese, and eggs or animal products formerly prohibited during Lent, along with flesh meat. In the early Middle Ages, lacticinia was forbidden even on Sundays during the Lenten season."

However, the prohibition of animal products during Lent extended further than just the Middle Ages. Until the time of Pope Leo XIII, abstinence by definition included not only abstinence from meat but also generally from eggs and dairy products, though exceptions were granted in various localities. Father Anthony Ruff relates, in his article “Fasting and Abstinence: The Story,” the changes made by Pope Leo XIII in the document entitled Indultum quadragesimale:

“In 1886 Leo XIII allowed meat, eggs, and milk products on Sundays of Lent and at the main meal on every weekday [of Lent] except Wednesday and Friday in the [United States]. Holy Saturday was not included in the dispensation. A small piece of bread was permitted in the morning with coffee, tea, chocolate, or a similar beverage.”

Writing regarding the then-new 1917 Code of Canon Law, Rev. Charles Augustine, OSB in "A Commentary on the New Code of the Canon Law, Volume 6" stated the following regarding a subsequent change in discipline also under Leo XIII:

"The indult of Aug 3, 1887, granted by the Holy See reads: (a) The use of flesh meat, eggs, and lacticinia is allowed on every Sunday of Lent, at every meal, and on every Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday of Lent at the principal meal, expect on the Saturdays of Ember week and Holy Week. There is added a clause forbbding the promiscuous use of meat and fish; this clause is now abolished by can. 1251§ 2 (b) Lacticinia and eggs are permitted on every day of Lent on which no flesh meat is allowed at the mail meal and lunch (supper)... (e) Lard or fat may be used for cooking. No indult required. (f) Those exempt from the law of fasting may eat flesh meat, eggs, and lacticinia several times a day on all days on which their use is permitted to all the faithful (as on the Sundays of Lent)." 

The Catechism of Father Patrick Powers, published in Ireland in 1905, mentions that abstinence includes refraining from flesh meat and “anything produced from animals, as milk, butter, cheese, eggs.” However, Father Patrick notes, “In some countries, however, milk is allowed at collation.” The United States was one of those nations, whereas Ireland and others were not granted such dispensations. Fr. Francis Weiser in "Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs" from 1952 some clarification on those regional exceptions:

"Abstinence from lacticinia (milk foods), which included milk, butter, cheese, and eggs, was never strictly enforced in Britain, Ireland, and Scandinavia because of the lack of oil and other substitute foods in those countries. The Church using common sense granted many dispensations in this matter in all countries of Europe. People who did eat the milk foods would often, when they could afford it, give alms for the building of churches or other pious endeavors."

The Irish Ecclesiastical Record from 1881 further confirms the prohibition against animal products up until the time of Pope Leo XIII:

"The Fast of Lent includes the obligation of abstinence in its strictest form; so that where its rigour has not been tempered by usage or by dispensation, the use even of lactincinia, as well as of eggs or meat, is absolutely prohibited, even at the principal meal, on every day in Lent."

The Record further elaborates specifically and clearly on Sundays in Lent:

"But although the Sundays in Lent are not fasting days, there can be no question that, by the common law of the Church, they are days of most rigorous abstinence. By referring to any theological treatise on the subject, it will be seen that the ecclesiastical law prohibits the use, not only of meat, but even of eggs and lactincinia, not merely on the forty fasting days of Lent, but on every day during the Lenten time, that is to say, on Sundays, as well as weekdays, from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday." 

As indicated above, it was not until the late 1880s that this changed. And in only a few more decades, the whole of Lent and all other days of obligatory fastings permitted animal products:

"The law of abstinence prohibits meat and soups made of meat but not of eggs, milks, and other condiments, even if taken from animals" (1917 Code, Canon 1252 § 4). [Translation taken from THE 1917 OR PIO-BENEDICTINE CODE OF CANON LAW in English Translation by Dr. Edward Peters]


While many more Catholics are becoming aware of what we have lost in regard to fasting and abstinence due to the weakening faith of the modern era, only recently have more Catholics become aware of just how far we have fallen. While I am happy to know of several Catholics who are this year observing Lent as forty days of fasting and abstinence, few were initially aware of just how much has changed with even Sunday penance during Lent.

Indeed, for centuries, Catholics marked the end of merriment with Mardi Gras and bade farewell to meat - the derivation of the word 'carnival' - and with meat, all that came from animals. In England, pancakes became a popular meal for using up all the eggs and milk which were forbidden throughout Lent. For this reason, Easter Eggs became popular as eggs would have only returned to diets on Easter Sunday. And remnants of this remain even to the present day since the Church prescribes specific blessings for eggs or meat on Holy Saturday in anticipation of their use on Easter Sunday.

To truly observe Lent as our forefathers observed it with great devotion, zeal, and discipline, we would do well to know that only the Lord's Resurrection on Easter brings the end to our discipline. While Sundays are a small reprieve on that journey, our penance remains until we hear the bells at Holy Mass sound once again during the Gloria and we celebrate the most important moment in the history of the world - when the soul of our Lord was reunited with His Body in the Resurrection. 

Please join me in observing this Lent as forty days of fasting and forty-six days (Sundays included) of abstaining from meat and lacticinia. 

Want to learn more about the history of fasting and abstinence? Check out the Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting and Abstinence.

Saturday, February 20, 2021
Christ Abolished the Dietary Laws of the Jews

Unclean Foods Per the Jews Included More Than Just Pork

St. Paul in Galatians 5:1-6 stated that the observance of circumcision and the requirements of the Law of Moses from the Old Testament were abrogated and no longer binding. The only remaining elements of the Old Testament that are required are the moral law – the ceremonial laws are not. And that is why the requirement for wearing tassels on your clothes (cf. Deuteronomy 22:12), abstaining from pork or shellfish, or not using two different species to plow a field at the same time are abrogated.  The Jews count 613 different laws, but all ceremonial laws do not apply any longer since the New Testament has completed and fulfilled the Old Testament. 

The laws of Leviticus have been abolished. Only the moral laws of the Old Testament (e.g. the Ten Commandments) remain. The Apostles and the Early Church definitively taught that the Law of Moses on dietary restrictions no longer applied. 

Why Do Catholics Then Have Certain Restrictions on Days like Fridays?

To ignore the law of fasting or abstinence from meat is a grave sin. Why? Because it is an act of disobedience to God's Church. We do not abstain from meat on Fridays for instance because the meat is unclean or evil. It is the act of disobedience that is evil. As Fr. Michael Müller remarks in his Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine from 1874: "It is not the food, but the disobedience that defiles a man." 

To eat meat on a forbidden day unintentionally, for instance, is no sin. As the Scriptures affirm it is not what goes into one's mouth that defiles a man but that disobedience which comes from the soul (cf. Matthew 15:11). But to eat meat on a Friday or to refuse the law of fasting on required days is a serious sin because of disobedience. 

A Review of The Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 1136. How many kinds of laws had the Jews before the coming of Our Lord?

A. Before the coming of Our Lord the Jews had three kinds of laws:

1. Civil laws, regulating the affairs of their nation;

2. Ceremonial laws, governing their worship in the temple;

3. Moral laws, guiding their religious belief and actions.

Q. 1137. To which of these laws did the Ten Commandments belong?

A. The Ten Commandments belong to the moral law, because they are a compendium or short account of what we must do in order to save our souls; just as the Apostles' Creed is a compendium of what we must believe.

Q. 1138. When did the civil and ceremonial laws of the Jews cease to exist?

A. The civil laws of the Jews ceased to exist when the Jewish people, shortly before the coming of Christ, ceased to be an independent nation. The ceremonial laws ceased to exist when the Jewish religion ceased to be the true religion; that is, when Christ established the Christian religion, of which the Jewish religion was only a figure or promise.

Q. 1139. Why were not also the moral laws of the Jews abolished when the Christian religion was established?

A. The moral laws of the Jews could not be abolished by the establishment of the Christian religion because they regard truth and virtue and have been revealed by God, and whatever God has revealed as true must be always true, and whatever He has condemned as bad in itself must be always bad.

Sunday, February 14, 2021
The Importance of Penance Leading Up to Lent

As we are now only a few days away from the beginning of the holy season of Lent, we should in a special way recall the importance of penance even in the days before Lent. In fact, as mentioned in this video, the 40 Hour Devotion to the Blessed Sacrament is often observed on these days before Ash Wednesday to do penance for sins of Catholics whose scandal in public sins leads souls away from the Truth.

Remember the importance of reparation to the Holy Face on Fat Tuesday. That day is the Votive Feast of the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ Deformed in the Passion
Sunday, February 7, 2021
At What Age Do Catholics Fast?

Current Church Minimums

Shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI issued 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. Abstinence from meat which previously began at age 7 was modified to begin at age 14. The 1983 Code of Canon Law also changed the age of fast to begin at 18 - previously it was 21 - and to still conclude at midnight when an individual completes his 59th birthday. 

Abstinence beginning at age 14 and fasting beginning at age 18 are the current minimums. There is no terminating age for the law abstinence - it will continue for the rest of a person's life. Fasting which begins at age 18 ends when a person completes his 59th year and turns 60 years old.

The Previous Practice

One of the only positive changes to fasting in the past 100 years was the lowering of the age of fasting to 18. If an 18-year-old can sin, he should be able to fast. The lowering of the minimum incorporated this change into law. Unfortunately, the change of abstinence to 14 from 7 is an immense disservice to the souls of children as this small weekly sacrifice teaches children the value of penance and the importance of a communal penance uniting us throughout the Catholic world.

The previous practice of fasting beginning at age 21, however, has a long history. While the earliest catechisms ever made (i.e. the Catechism of the Council of Trent and the Catechism of St. Peter Canisius) do not mention fasting regulations, subsequent catechisms even centuries ago did.

The Catechism of Perseverance (1849)

Fr. Stephen Keenan's Catechism (1846)

Bp. George Hay's Catechism (1781). The Oldest Mention of the Age of Fasting in an English language Catechism.

Father Alban Butler Referencing Fasting Beginning As Early As Age 10. It had risen to 21 by the time of St. Thomas Aquinas

Fasting Requires More Than the Legal Minimum

For those Catholics who wish to more closely follow the ancient customs of the Church, Lent is a time of austere penance undertaken to make reparation to God for sin (our own sins and others), to grow in virtue and good works, and to comfort the heart of our Savior much offended by the barrage of sin and filth increasing by the day. Yet, there are very few Catholics who undertake the true discipline of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. 

How many of us are observing all 40 days as true fast days and not just Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?  Yet our ancestors did.  In fact, it was forbidden to eat meat or any animal products (e.g. eggs, dairy, cheese, butter, etc.) through all of Lent.  How many of us are making this kind of intense sacrifice?  How many of us are finding the time this Lent to pray the Rosary every day or go to Daily Mass more often or at least pray the Stations of the Cross each Friday?

While we can talk about the minimums required by Church law or previous laws, we have to remember that these are exactly that - minimums. The Church asks for everyone to perform penance according to their own abilities. While those who were ill (among other reasons) were dispensed from the law of fasting, the sick could still perform other penance or even try to observe fasting if they chose. The same is true for children. Encouraging our children to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year and all of forty days of Lent is very worthwhile. And encouraging adolescent children in high school to fast is also very meritorious even though it is beyond the mere minimum. We recall that Our Blessed Mother was pleased by the penance offered by the three young children at Fatima who were far below the age of fasting. Yet, they fasted and would eat foods they did not prefer as extra penance. And this was pleasing to our Lady and our Lord. Let us encourage our children to do the same - all for Jesus. This Lent is the ideal time to start.

Want to learn more about the history of fasting and abstinence? Check out the Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting and Abstinence.
Saturday, February 6, 2021
St. Titus


Double (1954 Calendar): February 6
Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus (1969 Calendar): January 26

St. Titus was a fellow companion of St. Paul on apostolic missions. He was a convert from paganism and later served the Church as Bishop of Crete. It proved to be a difficult responsibility because of the inhabitants and spread of erroneous doctrines on the island of Crete. St. Paul's writings tell us that St. Titus rejoiced in the good in others and drew the hearts of men by his affectionate sympathy. At the age of 94, St. Titus died of natural causes. He lived in the state of virginity his entire life.

Dom Gueranger writes of St. Titus:
We are to celebrate, to-day, the Feast of a holy Bishop of the Apostolic Age—a Disciple of the Apostle St. Paul. Little is known of his life; but, by addressing to him one of his inspired Epistles, the Apostle of the Gentiles has immortalised his memory. Wheresoever the Faith of Christ has been or shall be preached, Titus’ name has been venerated by the Faithful; and as long as the world lasts, the holy Church will read to her children this Epistle, which was written, indeed, to a simple Bishop of the Isle of Crete, but was dictated by the Holy Ghost, and therefore destined to be a part of those Sacred Scriptures, which contain the Word of God. The counsels and directions given in this admirable Letter, were the rule of the holy Bishop, for whom St. Paul entertained a very strong affection. St. Titus had the honour of establishing the Christian Religion in that famous Island, which was one of the strongholds of Paganism. He survived his master, who was put to death by Nero. Like St. John, he sweetly slept in Christ at a very advanced age, respected and loved by the Church he had founded. As we have already observed, his life left but few traces behind it; but these few are sufficient to prove him to have been one of those wonderful men whom God chose as the directors of His infant Church.

Traditional Matins Reading:

Titus, Bishop of Crete, was initiated into the mysteries of the Christian faith by Paul the Apostle; and being prepared by the sacraments, he shed so bright a light of sanctity on the infant Church, that he merited to be chosen as one of the Disciples of the Doctor of the Gentiles. Being called to bear the burden of preaching the Gospel, so ardent and persevering was he in the discharge of that duty, that he endeared himself to St. Paul so much, as to make the Apostle say in one of his Epistles, that being come to Troas, to preach the faith in that city, he found no rest for his heart, because he found not there his brother Titus. And having, a short time after this, gone to Macedonia, he thus expresses his affection for his disciple in these terms: But God who comforteth the humble, comforted us by the coming of Titus.

Being sent to Corinth by the Apostle, he acquitted himself in this mission (which mainly consisted in collecting the alms given by the piety of the faithful towards alleviating the distress of the Hebrew Church) with so much prudence and patience, that he not only confirmed the Corinthians in the faith of Christ, but made them so desirous of a visit from Paul, who had been their first teacher in the faith, that they shed tears of long affection. After having undertaken several journeys, both by sea and land, in order to sow the seed of the divine word among people of various tongues and countries; and after having supported, with great firmness of soul, countless anxieties and fatigues, in order to plant the standard of the Cross;— he landed at the island of Crete in company with his master St. Paul. The Apostle made him Bishop of the Church which he had founded in that island; and it is not to be doubted but that Titus so discharged his duty as that he became a model to the Faithful, according to the advice given to him by his master, in good works, in doctrine, in integrity, in gravity.

Thus did he become a shining light, pouring forth the rays of Christian faith on them that were sitting in the darkness of idolatry and lies, as in the shadow of death. Tradition tells us that he passed into Dalmatia, where he laboured with extraordinary zeal to enlist that people under the banner of the Cross. At length, full of days and merit, in the ninety-fourth year of his age, he slept in the Lord the death of the just, on the vigil of the nones of January (January 4), and was buried in the Church in which the Apostle had appointed him Minister of the word. St. John Chrysostom and St. Jerome pass great eulogium upon this holy Bishop, and his name is inscribed in the Roman Martyrology on the day above mentioned; but the sovereign Pontiff Pius the Ninth ordered his Feast to be kept by the Universal Church.

Today is also the Commemoration of St. Dorothy


O God, Who didst adorn blessed Titus, Thy Confessor and Bishop, with apostolic virtues: grant by his merits and intercession that a life of duty and justice here below may win for us our heavenly home. Through our Lord.

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

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