I blogged the rules for the Lenten Fast a couple of weeks
ago. Fasting used to be a larger part of Catholic life than it is today. The
understanding of fasting as penitential was somehow transformed into its being
something onerous after the Second World War, and both fasting and abstinence
have been transformed into something (it seems to me) largely symbolic.
The Law of Fasting was applied to the Universal Church
from at least the end of the sixth century until 1966, although various dispensations
had reduced its breadth considerably. In the mid 1880s, the Bishops of England
and Wales issued an instruction regarding the rules: it stated the Law of
Fasting, and explained the relaxations then in place. I have added below two of
the requests made to Rome to allow the English Bishops to make dispensations to
show what considerations were in play.
This is pretty long but, I think worthwhile.
The following Instruction has been issued by the Bishops.
THE LAWS OF FASTING, AND ITS RELAXATIONS BY CUSTOMS,
INDULT, AND DISPENSATIONS.
The following instruction of the Cardinal Archbishop and
the Bishops of England has been addressed to the Clergy; and is to be kept in
the Archives of each mission.
I. THE LAW OF FASTING, when there is no relaxation,
is as follows: -
1. All persons who are seven years of age are commanded
to abstain from meat on all fasting days; and from meat, eggs, milk, butter,
and cheese, on all the days of Lent, Sundays included.
2. Those who are twenty-one, and have not yet reached
their sixtieth year, and are not occupied in laborious work, besides abstaining
as above, are commanded also to restrict themselves on fasting-days to one
full meal a day, to be taken at any hour after midday. Besides the one full
meal, however, a collation of not more than about eight ounces weight of
food (S. Alph., Lib. 4, Tract 6, n. 1026) is permitted, which should
also be taken any hour after mid-day. Meat or eggs may never be taken at
collation; and of fish not more than two or three ounces (S. Alph., ibid.,
n. 1028). Milk, butter, and cheese are also excluded, when not specially
allowed by Indult.
II. RELAXATIONS BY CUSTOMS.
1. A refection, of not more than two ounces in weight, is
allowed by custom, in the morning, to those who fast.
2. The use of milk and butter is allowed in England, by
custom, on all days in the year, at all times when a full meal is permitted by
the general law.
III. RELAXATION BY INDULTS.
1. By the authority of the Holy See, the Bishops of
England are accustomed to renew every year the following permissions, granted
to the faithful generally for the time of Lent.
i. They allow, at any time when a full meal is
permitted by the general law :—
Meat on all days except Wednesdays and Fridays,
Ember Saturdays, and the last four days of Holy Week. But when meat is taken,
on any day in Lent, or any fasting-day throughout the year, fish is not
permitted at the same meal.
Eggs on all days except Ash Wednesday and the last
three days of Holy Week.
Cheese on all days except Ash Wednesday and Good
Friday. Dripping and lard (not suet) on all days except Good Friday.
ii. They allow at collation, to those who fast :
Milk, butter, and cheese, on all
days except Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Dripping and lard (not suet) on all
days except Good Friday.
All these kinds of food may be taken in small quantities
only, as a part of the collation and by way of condiment. Milk, in the Papal
Rescript, is classed as food: and, therefore, like the other condiments, it may
be taken only in small quantity. (Note: The Papal Rescript permits
"in collatiuncula esum butyri, casei, et lactis juxta preces;"
and the prayer was "to use at collation, as an addition to the bread, or
as condiment, a little butter, or cheese.")
2. Besides the permissions of the Lenten Indults, the use
of dripping and lard at dinner and collation—and of milk, butter and cheese at
collation—is permitted by the Holy See on all other fasting-days throughout the
Here are two of the requests for dispensation. (I have copied an explanation of the Formulæ at the end.)
ON THE USE OF LARD ON ABSTINENCE DAYS
MOST HOLY FATHER
Formula 2 ,
which is sent to the bishops of England, power is given "to dispense, when
they think fit, as to abstinence from meat, eggs, and things of a milky nature,
on fasting days and during Lent". Now the Bishops, considering that oil is
not a product of England, and hence cannot be used as a condiment, have, by
virtue of this faculty, permitted the use of lard and of that melted fat
(dripping) which, in England, is used for lard, in its stead. Seeing that its
use was allowed in Lent, the faithful have for some years and in good faith
been using it on abstinence days out of Lent.
The Fathers, therefore, of the Third Provincial Synod,
humbly begged that your Holiness will deign, in your compassion for the
wretchedness of the poor, and in consideration of the devotion with which they
want to keep the laws of abstinence as well as of their good faith, to sanction
the practice already commenced, and confirm the temporary Indult of the bishops
who have the Formula, in such a way that for the future use may be made of the
said substances, that is, lard and dripping, as well in Lent is on the other
fasting and abstinence days of the year.
the same cause, namely, the want of oil, and because fish is scarce in many
places, and other kinds of Lenten diet, such as fruit, salad, &c., cannot
be had during the season of Lent, and inasmuch as a variety in the kinds of
food allowed in Lent renders the observance of the fast more easy, they likewise
beg that your Holiness will be pleased to grant that in the collation which is
allowed amongst the strictly conscientious of the faithful, use may be made of
milk and butter, the which are already allowed in Scotland and in Belgium, and
other northern parts, as well as of cheese which is one of the principal
condiments amongst the poor.
Wednesday, May 9,
Our Most Holy Lord, by divine providence, Pope Pius IX,
at the accustomed audience, granted to the Reverend Father, the Assessor of the
Holy Office, having heard the above-mentioned petition, together with the
opinions of their most Eminent and Reverend Lordships, the Cardinals of the
Holy Roman Church, acting as Inquisitors General throughout the whole Christian
republic against the evils of heresy, as regards the first of the requests
contained in the above-mentioned petition, graciously yielded thereto as asked
for, with the exception of Good Friday, so long as the faculties granted in
Formula 2 to the petitioning Bishops are in vigour. Whatsoever things to the
contrary, notwithstanding. As to the second request, our Most Holy Father
commanded the reply to be given that it is non-expedient.
Notary of the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition.
RESCRIPT PERMITTING THE USE OF BUTTER &c.
MOST HOLY FATHER,
As Lent is drawing near and the Bishop of Clifton is in
Rome, he begs respectfully to lay before you in the name of the other Bishops,
that in England it is found necessary to dispense many persons from fasting by
reason of their inability to provide themselves with the food allowed for the
evening collation which is permitted by the Church to those who fast over and
above the chief meal. It would not be necessary to dispense such persons from
fasting if they could avail themselves of the permission which the Church gives
to take a slight meal in the evening. But (1), oil, vinegar, salad, fruit, and
such like things which are allowed as condiments, cannot be obtained in England
except at a price beyond the means of the common people. (2), From the very
fact that these kinds of food and condiment are not within the reach of the
people, it follows that they do not make use of them and hence cannot get into
the custom of eating them. (3), A great number of these persons live with Protestants
either in service or otherwise, and they, although not refusing to give them
meagre diet, on the days prescribed, are of course unwilling to procure them
victuals and condiments which are not commonly used by the people. Hence
confessors have no other resource than to dispense such persons altogether from
It is now asked if, instead of dispensing them from
fasting, it would be lawful for confessors to keep them bound to the fact, but
to tolerate the use of a little butter or cheese at the said collation by way
of condiment, for these form the ordinary condiment or accompaniment of the
people of England and other northern countries. Such permission exists in
Scotland, Holland, Belgium and the northern parts of France, countries adjacent
to England; and if it existed in England also, the number of those who fast,
which is ever on the decrease, would be greatly augmented.
Our Most Holy Lord, by Divine Providence, Pope Leo XIII,
at the usual audience granted to the Reverend Father, the Assessor of the Holy
Office, having heard the above petition and the opinions thereupon of the Most
Eminent and Reverend the Cardinals Inquisitor-General, graciously granted that
the Right Reverend Petitioners might permit the use of butter, cheese, and milk
on fasting days at collation in accordance with the petition, provided that in
other respects the fast be kept — Ash Wednesday and Good Friday excepted. All
things whatsoever to the contrary notwithstanding.
J. PELAMI, Notary of
the Holy Roman and Universal Inquisition.
DECLARATION OF THE SACRED PENITENTIARY IN REGARD TO THOSE
WHO ARE DISPENSED FROM THIS LAW OF FASTING ON ACCOUNT OF DELICATE HEALTH.
MOST EMINENT REVERENCE,
The Bishop of Salford humbly begs that your Most Eminent
Reverence will deign to declare whether those who are dispensed from the laws
of fasting by reason of ill health can eat meat more than once on days when
meat is allowed?
The Sacred Penitentiary, having maturely and carefully
considered the doubt raised, has decided that the answer should be, that the
faithful who are lawfully exempted from the law of fasting, that is, taking
only one meal, may eat meat at every meal on those days in Lent when the eating
of meat is granted by Indult.
Given at Rome, at the Sacred Penitentiary, March 16th,
A. CARDINAL BILIO,
Palombi, S.P., Secretary.
The Formulæ are explained in a dosument from a diocesan Synod.
"It may be useful to mention, that the special
powers over cases reserved by the Holy See, which are ordinarily granted to
Bishops, are described in various lists, varying in the extent of the faculties
given or in the conditions attached to them. These lists are called the Formulæ,
and they are ten in number. Usually, the bishops in Ireland receive the Sixth
Formula, and the bishops in England the Second; and according to the
circumstances of each country, other Formulæ are granted. The expressions
employed in them are sometimes transferred to the papal concessions in pari
materia, e.g., to a Bull granting a matrimonial dispensation; and hence you
may have noticed that moral theologians, in discussing the clauses occurring in
dispensations, generally quote the very same expressions as descriptive of such
In addition to these Formulæ,
which are sometimes called in Italian Ordinarie, because they are
generally given, or Stampate, because they are in print, the Holy See
grants other Extraordinary faculties to Bishops.
Sede Vacante, the Sacred Congregation of Propaganda can renew the Formulæ,
but (generally speaking), not the Extraordinary Faculties. The Formulæ
are usually granted for six years, and thus the Vicars Apostolic of England,
named in 1840, applied for a renewal of Formula II during the Conclave
Source: Synods of Southwark, page 82.