The Traditional Catholic Fast Versus The New Fast

And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief….But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.
(Matthew Ch. 17:17-20)
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Before receiving the Eucharist (the “Eucharistic Fast”)
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Traditional: nothing but water and medicines for three hours, though twelve hours (or from midnight on) are recommended
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1983 Code: nothing but water and medicines for 1 hour
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All Fridays
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Traditional: Abstain. There is an indult exempting American Catholics from abstaining on the day after Thanksgiving Thursday, however.
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1983 Code: Abstain. 
American Bishops, however, decided that Fridays’ penance can be replaced by other, unspecified sacrifices. Many follow the traditional practice and abstain from meat as penance on this day along with traditional Catholics, and the American Bishops “recommend” the practice in reparation for the sin of abortion.
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Vigil of the Immaculate Conception
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Traditional: Abstain and Fast
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1983 Code: abolished
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Advent Embertide
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Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast
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1983 Code: abolished
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Vigil of Christmas
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Traditional: Abstain and Fast.
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1983 Code: abolished
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Ash Wednesday
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Traditional: Abstain and Fast
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1983 Code: Abstain and Fast
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Lenten Embertide
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Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast
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1983 Code: abolished
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Monday through Saturday in Lent
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Traditional: Fast (Complete Abstinence and Fast on Friday)
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1983 Code: abolished
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Fridays of Lent
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Traditional: Abstain, like all Fridays, in addition to the Lenten Fasting
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1983 Code: Abstain, even if you don’t abstain on all other Fridays
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Good Friday
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Traditional: Abstain and Fast, like all Lenten Fridays
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1983 Code: Abstain and Fast
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Holy Saturday
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Traditional: Abstain and Fast until Noon
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1983 Code: abolished
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Vigil of the Pentecost
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Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast
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1983 Code: abolished
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Whit Embertide
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Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast
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1983 Code: abolished
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Michaelmas Embertide
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Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast
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1983 Code: abolished
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Definitions
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Abstinence
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All baptized Catholics, seven years of age or older, are obliged to abstain on the days appointed.
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Complete Abstinence
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Complete abstinence, which forbids the eating of meat, and soup or gravy made with meat, is required on: All Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday; the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception , and the Vigil of Christmas.
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Partial Abstinence
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Permits meat, and soup or gravy made with meat, to be eaten only once a day, at the principal meal, required on : Ember Wednesdays, Ember Saturdays and the Vigil of Pentecost.
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Fasting
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1. All baptized Catholics, ages 21 through 59 inclusive, are bound to observe the laws of fasting.
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2. The days of fast are; the weekdays of Lent. the Ember Days, and the Vigils of Pentecost. Immaculate Conception and Christmas.
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3. On the days of fast, only one full meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one’s needs, but together they should not equal another full meal.
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4. Meat may be taken at the principal meal on a day off fast, except on days of complete abstinence.
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5. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk, and fruit juice, are allowed.
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6. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In doubt concerning fast or abstinence, consult the parish priest or a confessor.
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7. There is no obligation for fast or abstinence on a Holyday of Obligation, even though it may fall on a Friday.
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Rules for fast and abstinence

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What are the current rules for fasting and abstinence? How do I observe the traditional rules?

Why do we fast and abstain?

“Unless you do penance, you shall likewise perish.” (Lk. 13:5)

Because we are sinners, justice requires each of us to make recompense to God for the honor we have denied Him by our sins. Because we have misused our goods, our souls and bodies—as well as those of others—the natural law requires us to strive to restore the order we have disturbed by our sins. Thus, the Natural Law and the Divine Law bind us in a general way to perform acts of penance. In order to help us fulfill this requirement, Holy Mother Church, knowing our weakness and laziness, binds us under ecclesiastical laws to perform works of penance at certain times.

Throughout the centuries, these ecclesiastical laws have changed, sometimes becoming more strict, sometimes relaxing the discipline of penance. Regardless of changes to the Church laws, which exist to make our obedience to the natural and Divine laws of penance easier, the fundamental requirement remains: “Unless you do penance, you shall likewise perish.”

Considering the alternatives of unending bliss in heaven or unending misery in hell, and considering that the effects of original sin and of our own sins make us lazy and apt to forget our duty towards God, it seems much more reasonable to err on the side of too much penance, especially in times of relaxed Church discipline such as our own, rather than on the side of too little.

Only the Church can hold us guilty of mortal sin for failing in this or that specific act of penance, but we can certainly offend God mortally by neglecting penance completely over a length of time. This principle should be kept in mind when deciding on concrete penitential practices in accordance with the requirements and guidelines listed below. “Rules for penitential days under present Church law” details the bare minimum of penance which we must accomplish if we are to hope to stay out of mortal sin.

Nevertheless, we will easily fall into mortal sin if we confine our entire penance for the year to those days and acts required by the current law. “Guidelines for traditional penitential practices” spells out the strongly recommended practices which were observed until just after the Second Vatican Council.

Read Archbishop Lefebvre on fasting and abstinence>

Rules for penitential days under present Church law

In 1966, Pope Paul VI promulgated a new set of regulations for fasting and abstaining by his apostolic constitution, Paenitemini. These new rules are listed in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, Canons 1249-1253 and all Roman Catholics are bound to strictly observe them.

There are two sets of laws that apply to the Church’s penitential days:

The law of abstinence: this refers to abstaining from meat.The law of fasting: this refers to the quantity of food taken, thus also refraining from eating between meals.Who is bound to observe these laws
The law of abstinence binds all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 14th birthday.The law of fasting binds all adults (beginning on their 18th birthday) until the midnight which completes their 59th birthday.What is forbidden and allowed to be eaten?
The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat. This does not apply to dairy products, eggs, or condiments and shortening made from animal fat.The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day and two smaller meals. The two smaller meals should not equal the quantity of the main meal (which in the United States is customarily observed as the evening dinner).Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids are allowed, including milk and fruit juices.Fish and all cold-blooded animals may be eaten (e.g., frogs, clams, turtles, etc.).In the Universal Church

Obligatory days of fast and abstinence:

Abstinence is obligatory on all Fridays, except on Solemnities (i.e., I Class Feasts).Fasting and abstinence are obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.In the USA:
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In Paenitemini, Pope Paul VI gave authority to the episcopal conferences on how the universal rules would be applied in their region. On November 18, 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops legislated the following to be observed in the United States:
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Abstinence is obligatory on all Fridays of Lent, except Solemnities (i.e., I Class Feasts).Fasting and abstinence are obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.Abstinence on all Fridays, though not obligatory under pain of sin, is “especially recommended.”Fasting on all weekdays of Lent, though not obligatory under pain of sin, is “strongly recommended.”
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The local ordinaries also have authority to grant dispensations from these rules within their dioceses.
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Guidelines for traditional penitential practices
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Here are the traditional rules of fast and abstinence as observed per the 1962 liturgical calendar and outlined in Canons 1250-1254 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
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Who was bound to observe these laws?
The law of abstinence bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 7th birthday.The law of fasting bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 21st birthday and ending at the midnight which completed their 59th birthday. [Note: The USA’s particular law has lowered the obligatory fasting age to 18.]What was forbidden and allowed to be eaten?

The law of abstinence forbade the eating of flesh meat and of broth made of meat, but did not exclude the use of eggs, dairy products, or seasonings made from the fat of animals.The law of fasting prescribed that only one full meal a day was taken with two smaller meals that did not equal the main one.As to the kind of food and the amount that might be taken, the approved customs of the place were to be observed. It was not forbidden to eat both flesh meat and fish at the same meal, nor to interchange the midday and evening meals.In the Universal Church
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Abstinence was obligatory on all Fridays, except on Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent.

Fasting and complete abstinence were obligatory on the following days:

Ash WednesdayFridays and Saturdays in LentGood FridayHoly Saturday (until midnight 1)Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday)Vigil of PentecostVigil of Christmas[NB: both the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and All Saints were omitted from the 1962 calendar]Partial abstinence

Fasting and partial abstinence were obligatory on all other weekdays of Lent (i.e., Monday through Thursday—Friday was always complete abstinence); this meant that meat could be eaten at the principal meal on these days.

Some further clarifications to universal laws

There are few more distinctions to take into account fasting and abstaining when a usual fast day was in concurrence with a Sunday (always a non-fast day):

Sundays throughout the year and Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent cancelled the fasting and/or abstinence of any penitential day which coincided.If a fast-day Vigil fell on Sunday, the fasting and abstinence associated with the Vigil were not anticipated on the Saturday, but dropped altogether that year.Particular rules observed in the USA

On January 28, 1949, the United States bishops issued a statement modifying the regulations of fasting and abstinence in America (thus differing slightly from the universal laws) after receiving a ruling from the Sacred Congregation of the Council.

Fasting and partial abstinence was obligatory on the following days:

Ember Wednesdays and SaturdaysVigil of Pentecostall other weekdays of Lent including Saturdays

Liquids, including milk and fruit juices, might be taken at any time on a day of fast, but “other works of charity, piety, and prayer for the pope should be substituted” to compensate for this relaxation.

In 1931, Pope Pius XII gave an indult to the American bishops allowing them to dispense with Abstinence on any penitential day that was a civic holiday and on the Friday that followed Thanksgiving Day. (Canon Law Digest, vol. 1.)

The United States bishops had the faculties to dispense the faithful from the obligation to fast and abstain on penitential days that fell on civic holidays.

Holy Days of Obligation in the USA

A Holy Day of Obligation is a day on which we are bound to hear Mass and to abstain from servile works. In the USA, the Holy Days of Obligation are:

All SundaysOctave Day of the Nativity ( January 1)Ascension DayAssumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15)Feast of All Saints (November 1)Immaculate Conception (December 8)Christmas Day (December 25)
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Guidelines for Traditional Penitential Practices (SSPX)
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Here are the traditional rules of fast and abstinence as observed per the 1962 liturgical calendar and outlined in Canons 1250-1254 of the 1917 Code of Canon Law.
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Who was bound to observe these laws?
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The law of abstinence bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 7th birthday.The law of fasting bound all Catholics, beginning on the day after their 21st birthday and ending at the midnight which completed their 59th birthday. [Note: The USA’s particular law has lowered the obligatory fasting age to 18.]What was forbidden and allowed to be eaten?
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The law of abstinence forbade the eating of flesh meat and of broth made of meat, but did not exclude the use of eggs, dairy products, or seasonings made from the fat of animals.The law of fasting prescribed that only one full meal a day was taken with two smaller meals that did not equal the main one.As to the kind of food and the amount that might be taken, the approved customs of the place were to be observed. It was not forbidden to eat both flesh meat and fish at the same meal, nor to interchange the midday and evening meals.In the Universal Church
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Abstinence was obligatory on all Fridays, except on Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent.
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Fasting and complete abstinence were obligatory on the following days:
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Ash WednesdayFridays and Saturdays in LentGood FridayHoly Saturday (until midnight 1)Ember Days (Wednesday, Friday and Saturday)Vigil of PentecostVigil of Christmas[NB: both the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and All Saints were omitted from the 1962 calendar]Partial abstinence
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Fasting and partial abstinence were obligatory on all other weekdays of Lent (i.e., Monday through Thursday—Friday was always complete abstinence); this meant that meat could be eaten at the principal meal on these days.
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Some further clarifications to universal laws
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There are few more distinctions to take into account fasting and abstaining when a usual fast day was in concurrence with a Sunday (always a non-fast day):
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Sundays throughout the year and Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent cancelled the fasting and/or abstinence of any penitential day which coincided.If a fast-day Vigil fell on Sunday, the fasting and abstinence associated with the Vigil were not anticipated on the Saturday, but dropped altogether that year.Particular rules observed in the USA
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On January 28, 1949, the United States bishops issued a statement modifying the regulations of fasting and abstinence in America (thus differing slightly from the universal laws) after receiving a ruling from the Sacred Congregation of the Council.
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Fasting and partial abstinence was obligatory on the following days:
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Ember Wednesdays and SaturdaysVigil of Pentecostall other weekdays of Lent including Saturdays
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Liquids, including milk and fruit juices, might be taken at any time on a day of fast, but “other works of charity, piety, and prayer for the pope should be substituted” to compensate for this relaxation.
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In 1931, Pope Pius XII gave an indult to the American bishops allowing them to dispense with Abstinence on any penitential day that was a civic holiday and on the Friday that followed Thanksgiving Day. (Canon Law Digest, vol. 1.)
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The United States bishops had the faculties to dispense the faithful from the obligation to fast and abstain on penitential days that fell on civic holidays.
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Holy Days of Obligation in the USA
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A Holy Day of Obligation is a day on which we are bound to hear Mass and to abstain from servile works. In the USA, the Holy Days of Obligation are:
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All SundaysOctave Day of the Nativity ( January 1)Ascension DayAssumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (August 15)Feast of All Saints (November 1)Immaculate Conception (December 8)Christmas Day (December 25)
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ARCHBISHOP LEFEBVRE ON FASTING AND ABSTINENCE
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Pray and do penance. Do penance in order to pray better, in order to draw closer to Almighty God.
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In his Lenten message of February 1982, Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre addresses the important subject of fasting and abstinence, especially in light of the newer, relaxed regulations instituted by Pope Paul VI in his apostolic constitution, Paenitemini. The archbishop exhorts the faithful for their personal sanctification to voluntarily practice the traditional rules, even though they are not strictly binding.
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My dear brethren,
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According to an ancient and salutary tradition in the Church, on the occasion of the beginning of Lent, I address these words to you in order to encourage you to enter into this penitential season wholeheartedly, with the dispositions willed by the Church and to accomplish the purpose for which the Church prescribes it.
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If I look in books from the early part of this century, I find that they indicate three purposes for which the Church has prescribed this penitential time:
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first, in order to curb the concupiscence of the flesh;then, to facilitate the elevation of our souls toward divine realities;finally, to make satisfaction for our sins.
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Our Lord gave us the example during His life, here on earth: pray and do penance. However, Our Lord, being free from concupiscence and sin, did penance and made satisfaction for our sins, thus showing us that our penance may be beneficial not only for ourselves but also for others.
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Pray and do penance. Do penance in order to pray better, in order to draw closer to Almighty God. This is what all the saints have done, and this is that of which all the messages of the Blessed Virgin remind us.
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Would we dare to say that this necessity is less important in our day and age than in former times? On the contrary, we can and we must affirm that today, more than ever before, prayer and penance are necessary because everything possible has been done to diminish and denigrate these two fundamental elements of Christian life.
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Never before has the world sought to satisfy—without any limit, the disordered instincts of the flesh, even to the point of the murder of millions of innocent, unborn children. One would come to believe that society has no other reason for existence except to give the greatest material standard of living to all men in order that they should not be deprived of material goods.
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Thus we can see that such a society would be opposed to what the Church prescribes. In these times, when even Churchmen align themselves with the spirit of this world, we witness the disappearance of prayer and penance-particularly in their character of reparation for sins and obtaining pardon for faults. Few there are today who love to recite Psalm 50, the Miserere, and who say with the psalmist, Peccatum meum contra me est semper—”My sin is always before me.” How can a Christian remove the thought of sin if the image of the crucifix is always before his eyes?
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At the Council the bishops requested such a diminution of fast and abstinence that the prescriptions have practically disappeared. We must recognize the fact that this disappearance is a consequence of the ecumenical and Protestant spirit which denies the necessity of our participation for the application of the merits of Our Lord to each one of us for the remission of our sins and the restoration of our divine affiliation [i.e., our character as adoptive sons of God].
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In the past the commandments of the Church provided for:an obligatory fast on all days of Lent with the exception of Sundays, for the three Ember Days and for many Vigils;abstinence was for all Fridays of the year, the Saturdays of Lent and, in numerous dioceses, all the Saturdays of the year.
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What remains of these prescriptions—the fast for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence for Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent.
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One wonders at the motives for such a drastic diminution. Who are obliged to observe the fast?—adults from age 21 to 60 [here in the USA, the minimum age is 18 years old—Ed.]. And who are obliged to observe abstinence?—all the faithful from the age of 7 years.
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What does fasting mean? To fast means to take only one (full) meal a day to which one may add two collations (or small meals), one in the morning, one in the evening which, when combined, do not equal a full meal.[The archbishop is referring to the European order of meals; in the United States though, dinner is usually the evening meal—Ed.]
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What is meant by abstinence? By abstinence is meant that one abstains from meat.
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The faithful who have a true spirit of faith and who profoundly understand the motives of the Church which have been mentioned above, will wholeheartedly accomplish not only the light prescriptions of today but, entering into the spirit of Our Lord and of the Blessed Virgin Mary, will endeavor to make reparation for the sins which they have committed and for the sins of their family, their neighbors, friends and fellow citizens.
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It is for this reason that they will add to the actual prescriptions. These additional penances might be to fast for all Fridays of Lent, abstinence from all alcoholic beverages, abstinence from television, or other similar sacrifices. They will make an effort to pray more, to assist more frequently at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass, to recite the rosary, and not to miss evening prayers with the family. They will detach themselves from their superfluous material goods in order to aid the seminaries, help establish schools, help their priests adequately furnish the chapels and to help establish novitiates for nuns and brothers.
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The prescriptions of the Church do not concern fast and abstinence alone but also of the obligation of the Paschal Communion (Easter Duty). Here is what the Vicar of the Diocese of Sion, in Switzerland, recommended to the faithful of that diocese on February 20, 1919:
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During Lent, the pastors will have the Stations of the Cross twice a week; one day for the children of the schools and another day for the other parishioners. After the Stations of the Cross, they will recite the Litany of the Sacred Heart.During Passion Week, which is to say, the week before Palm Sunday, there will be a Triduum in all parish churches, Instruction, Litany of the Sacred Heart in the Presence of the Blessed Sacrament, Benediction. In these instructions the pastors will simply and clearly remind their parishioners of the principal conditions to receive the Sacrament of Penance worthily.The time during which one may fulfill the Easter Duty has been set for all parishes from Passion Sunday to the first Sunday after Easter.
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Why should these directives no longer be useful today? Let us profit from this salutary time during the course of which Our Lord is accustomed to dispense grace abundantly. Let us not imitate the foolish virgins who having no oil in their lamps found the door of the bridegroom’s house closed and this terrible response: Nescio vos—”I know you not.” Blessed are they who have the spirit of poverty for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The spirit of poverty means the spirit of detachment from things of this world.
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Blessed are they who weep for they shall be consoled. Let us think of Jesus in the Garden of Olives who wept for our sins. It is henceforth for us to weep for our sins and for those of our brethren.
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Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for holiness for they shall be satisfied. Holiness—sanctity is attained by means of the Cross, penance and sacrifice. If we truly seek perfection then we must follow the Way of the Cross.
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May we, during this Lenten Season, hear the call of Jesus and Mary and engage ourselves to follow them in this crusade of prayer and penance.
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May our prayers, our supplications, and our sacrifices obtain from heaven the grace that those in places of responsibility in the Church return to her true and holy traditions, which is the only solution to revive and reflourish the institutions of the Church again.
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Let us love to recite the conclusion of the Te Deum: In te Domine, speravi; non confundar in aeternum—”In Thee, O Lord, I have hoped. I will not be confounded in eternity.”
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+ Marcel Lefebvre
Sexagesima Sunday
February 14, 1982
Rickenbach, Switzerland

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