In the L&S forum, there is a long debate over the minimum required for a fast, such as a Eucharistic fast.
It was suggested that this deeper question of why we actually fast be moved to a different thread. So I am volunteering to do that.
It seems that our forefathers viewed fasting in a more wholistic way than we do. We seem to be more concerned with fulfilling the “letter of the law”.
As Constantine asked in the other thread, “Why do we fast?”. What should be our disposition? I hope he will weigh in on this thread and I’d love to hear everyone’s opinions.
While thinking about this, I found a little section in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which I found interesting. It deals with the exemptions to fasting and then goes on to give an interesting opinion.
The ecclesiatical law of fasting embodies a serious obligation on all baptized individuals capable of assuming obligations provided they have completed their twenty-first year and are not otherwise excused. This doctrine is merely a practical application of a universally accepted principle of moralists and canonists whereby the character of obligation in human legislation is deemed serious or light in so far as the material element, involved in the law bears or does not bear a close and intimate relation to the attainment of a prescribed end. Inasmuch as fasting considered as a function of the virtue of temperance bears such a relation to the promotion of man’s spiritual well-being (see Lenten Preface in the Roman Missal), it certainly embodies an obligation generally serious. To this a priori reason may be added what Church history unfolds concerning the grave penalties attached to transgressions of this law.
The sixty-ninth of the Apostolic Canons decrees the degradation of bishops, priests, deacons, lectors or chanters failing to fast during Lent, and the excommunication of laymen, who fail in this way. The fifty-sixth canon of the Trullan Synod (692) contains similar regulations. Finally Alexander VII (24 Sept., 1665) condemned a proposition formulated in the following terms: Whoso violates the ecclesiastical law of fasting to which he is bound does not sin mortally unless he acts through contempt or disobedience (Denzinger, op. cit., no. 1123).
Though this obligation is generally serious, not every infraction of the law is mortally sinful. Whenever transgressions of the law fail to do substantial violence to the law, venial sins are committed. Inability to keep the law of fasting and incompatibility of fasting with the duties of one’s state in life suffice by their very nature, to extinguish the obligation because as often as the obligation of positive laws proves extremely burdensome or irksome the obligation is forthwith lifted.
Hence, the sick, the infirm, convalescents, delicate women, persons sixty years old and over, families whose members cannot have the necessaries for a full meal at the same time, or who have nothing but bread, vegetables or such like viands, those to whomfasting brings loss of sleep or severe headaches, wives whose fasting incurs their husband’s indignation, children whose fasting arouses parent’s wrath; in a word, all those who can not comply with the obligation of fasting without undergoing more than ordinary hardship are excused on account of their inability to fulfil the obligation. In like manner unusual fatigue or bodily weakness experienced in discharging one duty and superinduced by fasting lifts the obligation of fasting.
However, not every sort of labour, but only such as is hard and protracted excuses from the obligation of fasting. These two conditions are not confined to manual labour, but may be equally verified with regard to brain work. Hence bookkeepers, stenographers, telegraph operators, legal advisers and many others whose occupations are largely mental are entitled to exemption on this score, quite as well as day-labourers or tradesmen. When these causes begetting exemption by their very nature, do not exist, lawfully constituted superiors may dispense their subjects from the obligation of fasting.
Accordingly the Sovereign Pontiff may always and everywhere grant valid dispensations from this obligation. His dispensations will be licit when sufficient reasons underlie the grant. In particular cases and for good reasons, bishops may grant dispensations in their respective dioceses. Unless empowered by Indult they are not at liberty to dispense all their subjects simultaneously. It is to be noted that usually bishops issue just before Lent circulars or pastorals, which are read to the faithful or otherwise made public, and in which they make known, on the authority of the Apostolic See, the actual status of obligation, dispensations, etc. Priests charged with the care of souls may dispense individuals for good reason. Superiors of religious communities may dispense individual members of their respective communities provided sufficient reasons exist. Confessors are not qualified to grant these dispensations unless they have been explicitly delegated thereunto. They may, however, decide whether sufficient reason exists to lift the obligation.
I was happy to hear that “brain work” exempts me from fasting. :rolleyes:
And then there is a comment that I totally agree with.
No student of ecclesiatical discipline can fail to perceive that the obligation of fasting is rarely observed in its integrity nowadays. Conscious of the conditions of our age, the Church is ever shaping the requirements of this obligation to meet the best interests of her children. At the same time no measure of leniency in this respect can eliminate the natural and divine positive law imposing mortification and penance on man on account of sin and its consequences. (Council of Trent, Sess. VI. can. xx)
Your thoughts, and please be charitable.