Friday, March 02, 2007

Why Do Catholics Abstain From Meat During Lent?

I have always wondered this?! And I have further wondered: is it a requirement or law (Canon Law) of the Catholic Church?

I've asked several Catholics and most all of them said because it is the Law of the Church. Some said they do it to be reverent of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Others said because it is inconvenient and reminds us that we need to put God first.


Well here is what I found:

This was the main focus of my original post was:
"2) Fasting and abstinence is not part of Canon Law. In fact, Pope Paul VI, in an Apostolic Constitution titled: "(1966) Paul Apostolic constitution on Fasting and Abstinence in the Roman Catholic Church," said that fasting and abstinence from meat was to be voluntary --except for the Holy Days of obligation of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday."

and
"He (Pope Paul VI) further stated that he hoped that fasting and abstinence would be replaced by prayer and works of charity. "

Okay, initially, I searched the Vatican website and found it very cryptic with no specific information. So, I did a general search on Google and it turned up several Wikipedia Links. Then, I used this information along with other -- non Vatican websites -- write my original post.

I have since taken the specific terms found on and redid my search on the actual Vatican website to verify the information given on Wikipedia. Here is the link that I found on the Vatican website:
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-vi_apc_19660217_paenitemini_en.html

This reads like stereo instructions! But most of the information found on Wikipedia was correct.

There is such a thing as an "Apostolic Constitution," and Pope Paul VI did make a speech to the lay people of the church entitled "APOSTOLIC CONSTITUTION PAENITEMINI OF THE SUPREME PONTIFF PAUL VI ON FAST AND ABSTINENCE." Further this address was made in 1966: "Given at Rome, at St. Peter's, February 17, 1966, the third year of our pontificate."

If you scan down to Chapter III, most of the relevant and detailed information pertaining to fast and abstinence for the lay people can be found here.

The first two chapters are mainly philosophical and set the context for the third chapter.

It seems that Pope Paul VI sees a triad of: 1) Prayer, 2) Fasting & Abstinence, and 3) Charity
as essential to purifying oneself and making oneself worthy of the sacrifice that Jesus made for us by His death on the cross for our sins.

Further, it seems as if each of these 3 aspects is equally important. While the words "voluntary" are used w.r.t. fasting and abstinence it is still unclear to me on first reading if Fasting & Abstinence are truly voluntary for all Catholics? I will have to reread it.

Other websites also verified the following information from my original post:
"1) Fasting and abstinence during Lent is a tradition dating back to the earliest history of the Catholic Church. Originally fasting and abstinence from meat was supposed to be every single Friday, but it gradually evolved to only during Lent."

So now you know ...


Now I'd like to know:

Q: What do other religions do during Lent? Which religions observe Lent?

If you belong to another religion and know answers to these questions please leave me a comment. Thanks in advance for the info!


P.S. Here are my original sources for information:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paenitemini
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apostolic_Constitution
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting_and_Abstinence_in_the_Roman_Catholic_Church

4 comments:

  1. Hi, I want to commend you for your research. I too have been looking for the answer to this question but most people give ignorant answers by simply stating that Catholics or Christians who follow this practice are un-biblical or pagans.

    I did find an interesting article from a more orthodox-teaching Catholic website. http://www.ewtn.com/vexperts/showmessage.asp?Pgnu=1&Pg=Forum9&recnu=9&number=568303
    Basically, they state that the sacrifices made are mandated by the Bishop(s) rather than from the Pope.

    I also looked into the accusations of the practice being un-biblical. Interestingly enough I did find the practice to be quite biblical. My logic basically followed the popular "What Would Jesus Do?" campaign and applied it to the fact that the Bible writes that Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days. Additionally, I found that Jesus and the apostle Paul often mention the practice of fasting.

    That answered the fasting part but I was still left with the abstaining part. This led me to find that Catholics used to be "required" (possibly by their local bishop and not by the Vatican) to fast every Friday of Lent. Apparently after the Second Vatican council this was loosed to simply abstaining from meat.

    As for people of other religions I do know serious practitioners of various Christian faiths. The Catholics I know do practice the fasting and abstinence in a strict manner. The non-Catholic Christian friends I know seem to practice the abstaining from meat on Fridays but are significantly more liberal with the idea.

    As for people of other non--Christian religions I do know that some do practice fasting such as the Jews, Muslims, and even the Hindus. However, I don't think it has any relationship to Lent.

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  2. Hello Anonymous ... Don't know if you'll ever pass this way again, but on the off chance that you might: I wanted to thank you for your comment,additional insights and information. Very interesting information ... I very much enjoyed reading your comment and I appreciate your taking the time to write. I am sorry that it has taken me so long to write anything in reply! I sincerely apologize! Better late than never though, no? God Bless!

    -M

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  3. Greetings. I've been a devout member of a certain religion. For years, we have studied the teachings in the Bible. I hold nothing against other religions; however, sometimes, it's strange to think on the customs or traditions that others practice.

    First, we must ask how "lent" came about. Why is "lent" important and why we must observe it? In our church, we only do what is commanded in the Bible. With research, you will find out that Lent is a custom that the Roman Catholic Church came up with.

    Now you must ask yourself, is it a commandment of God to observe/practice Lent? During the lifetime of Christ, there were no such thing as "lent", neither is it commanded by God. Yes, Christ did fast for 40 days and 40 nights, and yes the apostles fasted as well, but fasting is not a commandment of God. It is a religious discipline. Christ fasted for 40 days and 40 nights to prepare himself for his duties. If you wish to fast, then there's no problem with it, but when one fasts they abstain from everything except for perhaps water. Further guidance on fasting is recorded in Matthew 6:16.

    Now, I shall tell you this. Whenever you encounter something of a question, and decide to ask a priest/minister/preacher; you may want to seek their source. Is the commandment/tradition/custom man-made or is it commanded by God? There are many traditions/customs different religions observe and though they sound good, they sound easy to do, they seem for the best; they are not God's commandments. Allow me to provide an example:

    On repetitious prayer:
    Matthew 6:7
    5 Hail Mary's, 2 The Lord's Prayer, anyone?

    And as far as this blog is concerned, allow me to impart these last few verses.

    Abstaining from meat on certain days:
    1 Timothy 4: 1-3
    As it says there, forbidding to marry and commanding to abstain from meats is a doctrine of the devil.

    Now, this answer came straight from the Bible. So now,you must ask yourself. Are the customs/traditions/practices my Church does really of God or of man? Do you really think men's laws are higher than that of God?

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  4. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, Anonymous. I do agaree with your conclusion one must ask ... "Are the customs ... of my church ... really of God or man?" [ Along these lines perhaps you would enjoy reading my more recent post, titled "A Church with no walls ..." ... found here: http://whatplanetareyoulivingon.blogspot.com/2011/01/church-with-no-walls-one-god-and-one.html]. While not all religious customs and traditions can be shown to come straight from the hand of God himself, I do happen to think any practice which is not openly harmful to an individual or society at large that serves to purify the mind and body in an effort to bring the practicing to a closer connection with God, our Creator, is in and of itself not a bad thing if the practice is, of course, assumed voluntarily.

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Thanks for taking a moment to share your thoughts. I'll read them and post them soon! God Bless! M