What are the real rules?

February 14, 2018

The Code of Canon Law lists the rules for Days of Penance.  Contrary to popular belief (myth), the practice of abstaining from meat on Friday was not changed during Vatican II.  In fact, a lot of things are attributed to Vatican II are not accurate. But I'll leave that for another post. These regulations are taken from the Code of Canon Law, 1983 edition.

Canon 1249: All members of the Chrisitan faithful in their own way are bound to do penance in virtue of divine law; in order that all may be joined in a common observance of penance, penitential days are prescribed in which the Christian faithful in a special way pray, exercise works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their responsibilities more faithfully and especaially by observing fast and abstinence according to the norm of the following canons.

Canon 1250: All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the universal Church.

Canon 1251: Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to observed on Ash Wednesday and on Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Canon 1252: All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinenece are educated in an authentic sense of penance.

Canon 1253: It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.


So, even though it is allowed to substitute another food instead of meat, we should on a regular basis abstain from a certain food on all Fridays of the year.  We must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, abstaining from meat and only eating one full meal and two smaller meals. We are to abstain from meat on all Fridays of Lent.

The Canon expresses the necessity of adding some forms of piety including devotions, Holy Mass, and prayer.  Acts of charity would include anything where your time and talents would serve others.  This would of course, include almsgiving where we give generously to those in need.

I think Matthew 6: 1, “[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father." sums up how we should approach Lent. Resolve yourself to becoming more holy this Lent, by praying more, sacrificing more and serving more.  Let it be between you and God. It is for Him that we give the glory of all our actions anyway.

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