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+++++ About Penance and Fasting +++++
and Holy Days of Obligation

UPDATED FEBRUARY, 2009
 

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The Holy Catholic Church teaches that every Catholic, even after his sins have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance, must do penance in order to satisfy God's justice for the temporal punishment due to sin. The eternal punishment of our serious sins is taken away by the merits of Christ in the Divine tribunal of penance but it remains for us to give temporal satisfaction for them. Knowing human nature, the Church realizes that, even though we admit this obligation, we would put it off day to day until the end of our lives would be upon us without our having done any penance. Thus the Church has established, by her laws, that we will at least do penance on certain days throughout the year. Since most of our sins consist in indulging the appetites of our body beyond what is lawful, it is appropriate to do penance by curbing them in what is lawful.

ABSTINENCE: To refrain from eating meat or poultry, which includes sauces and soups made from their juices. It does not, however, affect the quantity of food we may take on days of abstinence. All Catholics who have attained the use of reason, which is commonly seven years of age, are bound by the law of abstinence, unless otherwise dispensed. The law of abstinence is abrogated whenever a Holy Day of Obligation falls on a day of abstinence.

FAST: In keeping with the obligation of doing penance in reparation for our many sins, the Church also obliges us to fast on certain days throughout the year. All persons over eighteen [it used to be twenty-one] and under fifty-nine years of age must fast, unless their health prevents them from doing so. This means that on a fast day, they may have only one principal or full meal, and two smaller snacks. They may eat meat at this principal meal, except on days of abstinence. At the two smaller snacks, they may not have meat, but they may take sufficient food to maintain their strength. However, these two smaller snacks together should be less than a full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted; but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, may be taken at any time on a fast day. The Traditional days of fast are:

The Weekdays of Lent
The Ember Days
The Vigil of Pentecost
The Vigil of the Assumption
The Vigil of the Immaculate Conception 
The Vigil of Christmas

DISCIPLINARY LAWS of fast and abstinence are able to be, and have been, changed by the Church. Serious obligation to fast exists now only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and all other Fridays during Lent, abstinence from meat. On all other Fridays of the year, other penances must be undertaken if the former abstinence is omitted. It is strongly recommended, because we all need to do penance, to voluntarily observe the laws of fast and abstinence as they were formerly.

According to the law of the Church "the substantial observance" of Fridays as days of penance, whether by abstinence from meat or other penance is "a grave obigation." [Pope Paul VI, Paentemini, 1966, Norm II, 2----this obligation has not been altered or remitted by the Holy See.]

THE COMMUNION FAST is obligatory for one hour before receiving Holy Communion. We are, however, urged to fast from midnight, or at least three hours before receiving Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.

HOLY DAYS OF OBLIGATION: Although there are ten Holy Days of Obligation by the universal laws of the Church, only six of them are binding in the United States:

The Feast of the Circumcision of Our Lord [New Year's Day]
The Feast of the Ascension of Our Lord [Date depends on Easter on the calendar]
The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary [August 15]
The Feast of All Saints [November 1]
The Feast of the Immaculate Conception [December 8]
 The Feast of the Nativity of Our Lord [Christmas Day]

ON THESE DAYS, every Catholic is obliged, under pain of mortal sin, to hear Mass, just as he is on Sundays. Since Our Lord suffered death in order to institute Holy Mass, it requires a very serious inconvenience such as sickness or notable damage to one's health or property, to excuse one from this obligation. When a Holy Day falls on Sunday, the hearing of Mass once satisfies both obligations.

We have added this portion which applies throughtout the liturgical year because a number of pastors are now discouraging attendance at Mass during Holy Days of Obligation through subtle techniques, such as announcing the day from the pulpit but not putting the scheduled Mass as a Holy Day of Obligation in the bulletin: and when announcing the Mass from the pulpit no mention is made of the obligation under pain of mortal sin, so many parishionersthink it is a nice thing but not a necessary one.  A few priests have actually stated to their parishioners that they need not come because "it used to be obligatory" but "now it is only recommended." In reference to this last I mean the said priests are talking about those days that are still obligatory in the United States. Two people in two different parishes have reported this to me.

 


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