Why are the requirements for abstaining from meat different in countries outside the United States?


I thought that it was universal that all Catholics have to abstain from meat every Friday during lent. But my Catholic friends from Africa tell me that their churches only require them to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Why are there different fasting rules in other countries? It’s very confusing to me. What could be the justification for allowing Catholics to eat meat on Fridays during lent?


Canon Law allows the Bishops’ Conferences to apply &/or modify certain canons by decrees that must be approved by Rome. The norms in Canada for things like Holy Days of Obligation and Penitential Days are different from those in the US simply because the different conferences have established different norms. In Canada we are also only bound to abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.


I understand that people who suffer from certain physical ailments (such as diabetes and hypoglycemia) are exempt from fasting or abstinence. Anyone ever hear of this?:confused:



Q. Are there exemptions other than for age from the requirement to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?

A. Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.


Subsidiarity. Starvation and malnutrition must be considered.


The episcopal conference has the competency to determine the exact nature of the abstinence:

Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
For example, here are the restrictions placed by the Antilles Bishops Conference (covers the Caribbean nations that don’t have their own conferences):

Because of the dire poverty of so many of our people and the limited variety in the quantity and quality of their diet, it is difficult to establish common norms, even within one diocese. The Antilles Episcopal Conference, therefore, decrees that our faithful may fulfill the obligation of penance by either fast or abstinence on the designated days and seasons by one or more of the following forms of penance or prayer or acts of charity:

*]Making a visit of about 15 minutes to the Blessed Sacrament;
*]Reading the Scriptures for 15 minutes;
*]Skipping any one meal and not eating between meals;
*]Eating only vegetables that day (avoiding fish and eggs as well);
*]Abstaining from alcohol, for those accustomed to such drink;
*]Abstaining from smoking, for those who smoke;
*]Abstaining from all beverages except water between meals;
*]Giving 10% of that day’s earning to charity;
*]Abstaining from meat for those for whom meat is a regular part of their diet.
It wouldn’t surprise me if they restricted people from eating fish in Polynesia on days of abstinence (think about why we fast…)


Makes sense to me!:shrug:


Exactly. I’m not exactly sure, but my wife, who was born in Mexico and lived there until she was 13, told me that in Mexico, they don’t consider chicken to be meat. In addition, she told me that they are asked to abstain from meat all of Holy Week.

Honestly, the reason why we fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent has to do with showing solidarity with the poor. Meat world-wide was traditionally considered the food of the rich, and, until fairly recently (20th century), poultry was actually more expensive than beef.


I don’t know. Canon Law allows differences in everything everywhere, pretty much. My parents, born and raised in the Dominican Republic frequently told me about abstaining from meat on Good Friday, a day that seems to almost trump Easter in the Spanish Catholic world.


That’s both yes and no.

The Church does not have a list of ailments or conditions that makes one automatically exempt from either fasting or abstinence—that, despite that people often say things like “if you have such-and-such, you’re exempt.”

Every person’s medical condition is different. If fasting or abstinence causes genuine physical harm, then that person is exempt. On the other hand if the person is able to keep the requirements without any harm, then they still apply. Most people are able to substitute some kind of fish (unless they’re allergic, naturally) or simply be vegetarian for a day.

If I ask a parishioner: if it’s a Tuesday in July and you’re invited to dinner at a seafood restaurant would you have any problems eating fish that day instead of beef? If the answer is “no” then that person cannot claim some kind of exemption from the Friday Lenten abstinence. That’s just one way of illustrating the point. If you can go without meat on a Tuesday then there’s no reason why you cannot go without meat on a Friday.
That’s not to say that people are always looking for a way out. It’s merely to illustrate the point.

Fasting is a different issue. People are more likely to have problems with fasting than they are with abstinence. People with diabetes should follow their doctors instructions. Period.


The answer to your question is found in Canon 1253 from the code of canon law.
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.


Regarding the bolded text:

While performing a corporal work of mercy with the money not spent on that which you abstain is very important, the purpose of abstinence and fasting is not for solidarity.

CCC Art 2043 clearly states the reason for abstinence:
The fifth precept (“You shall observe the prescribed days of fasting and abstinence.") ensures the times of **ascesis **and **penance **which prepare us for the liturgical feasts; they help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart.
Consider this:

[bibledrb]Rom 13:14[/bibledrb]
[bibledrb]1 Pet 2:11[/bibledrb]
[bibledrb]1 John 2:15-17[/bibledrb]

We need to not be driven by fleshy desires. This small little aesthetic exercise, when done with the graces that God has given us and done with the purpose of drawing closer to God, helps us to not be driven by those fleshy desires.

Again, it is only right and proper that we not materially benefit from this little exercise in penance…that is why it is totally appropriate to give that money we save by not buying that soda pop or not stopping at Starbucks or not eating at McDonalds to the poor. But that corporal work of mercy is secondary and, in fact, adds to the ascesis.


The Apostolic Constitution of Pope Paul VI, that changed fast and abstinence norms, are given the reasons for the change, which are helpful to understand. Asceticism and charity are preferred where there is more economic well-being, and promotion of social justice, and prayer elsewhere. The reasons:
*]Therefore, where economic well-being is greater, so much more will the witness of asceticism have to be given in order that the sons of the Church may not be involved in the spirit of the “world,”(61) and at the same time the **witness of charity **will have to be given to the brethren who suffer poverty and hunger beyond any barrier of nation or continent.(62)

*]On the other hand, in countries where the standard of living is lower, it will be more pleasing to God the Father and more useful to the members of the Body of Christ if Christians—while they seek in every way to ** promote better social justic**e—offer their suffering in prayer to the Lord in close union with the Cross of Christ.

]Therefore, the Church, while preserving—where it can be more readily observed—the custom (observed for many centuries with canonical norms) of practicing penitence also through abstinence from meat and fasting, intends to ratify with its prescriptions other forms of penitence as well, provided that it seems opportune to episcopal conferences to replace the observance of fast and abstinence with exercises of prayer and works of charity.
Canon Law Reference:
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 be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.


Thank you all very much for all your responses. The information was extremely helpful because It cleared up all the confusion I had on this topic. Thank you very much for all your assistance. God bless!


Interestingly, one can still use the fat or oil of meat in cooking your meat-free food for the abstinence days. One of the odd quirks of Canon Law. :rolleyes:


Have a very edifying Lent!:slight_smile:


The only reason that would be interesting is if it were a dietary restriction, such as kosher or halal restrictions. Abstinence is not that. It is a very simple and easy exercise in asceticism. The point is that you are giving up something…what you are giving up is not the important point.


Also WHY you are giving something up. You can be giving up stuff just to be dieting or you could be giving it up to draw closer to Jesus, or could be you are giving it up just because that’s what to do for Lent:shrug:

Ever hear the story of the woman who whenever she would roast meat in her oven, she would cut several inches off one end of the meat before she would place it in the roasting pan? One day her daughter asked why she did that and she said “that’s what my mom always did when she roasted meat?” She, in turn asked HER mother why SHE always cut a bit of meat off before roasting it in the oven. Grandma answered “Because the meat didn’t fit in my roasting pan!”:shrug:


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