Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Fasting Proposal

I made this as a suggestion for how one might arrange a more layered, "Eastern-style" Fasting program, but in a system that could be put into a logically-organized chart according to the internal logic and liturgical calendar of the West. I had originally posted a less rigorous (but more complex/confusing) suggestion involving making distinctions in abstinence between supper and the other meals, but dropped that in favor of this:

I took my own suggestion from the comments section of my post on the confusing concept of Partial Abstinence, and re-interpreted "partial abstinence" as being no flesh-meat (what "abstinence" currently is in the West) and "full abstinence" as being the more Byzantine restriction on other things too (eggs, dairy, etc). In the East, they have something like this distinction inasmuch as on some days all those things are abstained from, whereas on less strict days they allow wine and oil, or even fish, wine, and oil (though eggs and dairy are always joined to "meat" among the Byzantines). In the West, however, we have this tradition of an abstinence from flesh-meat only (but not eggs and dairy), so I wanted to maintain a category like that in the division between the two classes of abstinence.

The system is rather complex, granted, though also logical.

It may look daunting, but it is simplified if you realize that it's really the combination of a number of basic categories; there is the Fast/No-Fast duality, the three grades of Abstinence (None, Partial, Full), four seasons of increasing penitential character (Ordinary Time, Advent, Septuagesima, and Lent), and three groups of weekdays of increasing penitential tendency (Monday/Tuesday/Thursday, Wednesday/Saturday, and Friday; Sundays and Solemnities always stands alone as always non-penitential).

It may also help if you realize that I made the penance "additive," so that generally the penitential character of each type of weekday is "bumped up" one category by season.

The Ember Days overlap with several other categories of penitential days (Lent, Advent, Fridays, Wednesdays and Saturdays). The general principle I adopted for them then, as you can see on the chart, is to take whatever type of fast and abstinence applies on that Friday, and extend it also to the Ember Wednesday and Saturday. The Fridays themselves gain nothing simply from the fact that they are Ember, however.

Another way to summarize the proposal on this chart would be to use this format:
Basically, Sundays and Solemnities (including every day during Easter Week, remember!) never contain any sort of penance. Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays start without any during "ordinary time" but move up a category for Advent, another category for Septuagesima (except Fat Tuesday!), and a final category for Lent. Wednesdays and Saturdays start two categories down (with full abstinence but no fasting) during most of the year, and likewise move up a category for each increasingly penitential season.

Fridays start a further two categories down (with partial abstinence and fasting for most weeks of the year) and follow the same basic pattern except, rather than distinguishing between the Fridays of Advent and those of Septuagesima (given that there are only two Fridays of Septuagesima anyway), those two are treated the same for Fridays and instead Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (and Holy Saturday until after the Vigil) constitute the most severe category.

This is because I thought it made more sense for Fridays of Lent to be the Black Fast and to limit total no-eating to only these extremely sombre 2/3 days a year, rather than to make every Friday of Lent no-eating [but then with no special distinction for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday] and for the Black Fast to only occur obscurely for the two Fridays during Septuagesima.

The exception regarding Fridays during Advent and Septuagesima being the same ruins the pattern a bit, but one can also see that if the weekdays are considered by season (as opposed to the seasons being considered by weekday) there is sort of a "diagonal" pattern too. For example, during Ordinary Time, Monday/Tuesday/Thursday starts with nothing, Wednesday/Saturday skip a category and jump up to full abstinence, and Friday skips another category and jumps up to Fast with Partial Abstinence. During Advent, Monday/Tuesday/Thursday move up a category to Partial Abstinence, Wednesday/Saturday skip a category and so jump up a step to Fast with No Abstinence, and Friday skips too and so jumps up a step to Fast with Full Abstinence. In other words, during a season, depending on the "base-line" category for Monday/Tuesday/Thursday, the other two groups of weekdays increase in severity from there in an "every other" category fashion.

I certainly would never imagine springing this scheme on the whole Latin Church, certainly not right away. It would probably needlessly confuse people. But I would put it out there as a suggestion on top of the traditional pre-Vatican-II requirements, and let people gradually get used to the idea and internalize it.

The idea was to have a "layered" continuum of types of penitential days, from those only very minimally penitential (the weekdays of Advent, for example) where the only thing is given up is flesh-meat, to those moderately penitential in various different ways (Fridays throughout the year, Wednesdays and Saturdays in Advent/Septuagesima, the weekdays of Lent, etc), to those very penitential (Ember Days, the Fridays of Lent, etc) that are quite strict.

For the most super-penitential days, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (and suggested for Holy Saturday; see the note at the bottom) I simply suggest water only (which the Orthodox actually do for a couple days in a row during the first week of Lent, so don't complain!)

I hope this will help some people looking for a more Byzantine-style "layered" fast cycle, but who are confused by the idiosyncratic nature of their system, or who wish to do it in the framework of the Latin liturgical calendar (and chart-friendly logical organization).

To summarize the information on the chart, there is a gradual continuum of penitentiality going from none to severe, like this:

0) Sundays and Solemnities, and Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays outside penitential seasons, and Shrove Tuesday in Septuagesima: no penance (fast only from midnight until Communion, if you are to receive that day) [~185 days, more than half the year]
1) Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays of Advent: partial abstinence [9-12 days depending on when Christmas falls]
2) Wednesdays and Saturdays outside penitential seasons, and Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays in Septuagesima (except Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras when all is lifted for one final hurrah before Lent): full abstinence [~83 days]
3) Vigils, Rogation Days, the Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays of Lent, and the Wednesdays and Saturdays of Advent: fast, but no abstinence (collations, if taken, should be partially abstinent) [~33 days depending on how many vigils]
4) Fridays outside penitential seasons, Wednesdays and Saturdays of Septuagesima, and the Summer and Autumn Ember Days: fast, partial abstinence (collations, if taken, should be fully abstinent) [45 days]
5) Fridays of Advent and Septuagesima, Wednesdays and Saturdays of Lent: fast and full abstinence (absolutely no collations) [13-14 days]
6) Fridays of Lent, and the Advent and Lenten Ember Days: Black Fast-->one meal of bread, herbs, and water only [12 days]
7) Ash Wednesday, Good Friday (and Holy Saturday): No food whatsoever, water only [2-3 days]

I have put number of days each roughly encompasses in brackets afterward, though this is only an estimate as some days might overlap or some weekdays may never occur depending on how the days of the week line up with the date of Christmas, for example.

The trend is a general decrease in the number of days in each category as severity increases (though the weekdays of partial abstinence but no fasting during Advent obviously represent the notable exception to this rule).

In all, about half the days of the year are some sort of penitential day, which is similar to how it is in the East. The most common types of day are days of full abstinence, and a partially abstinent fast which occurs once a week on Friday, and then all through Lent.


Mark of the Vineyard said...

Thanks a lot! I've been looking for something like this. Do you know where I can read up on Byzantine fasting and its praxis?

A Sinner said...

Johnathan posted this link on the original partial abstinence thread:


There is also this:


This site gives many articles on Orthodox fasting:


As you can see, it is rather complex.

Like the Orthodox, I would also add to my Schema that married couples should abstain from relations during any Fast days.

Joseph said...

I found the first grid to be rather helpful, and am glad that I printed it out. I think the recent suggestion at Just Thomism was very helpful, and would allow for the peaceful coexistence of both the first grid and the newly updated one. I think the increase in rigor is good in the updated grid, but I also thought that some of the suggestions of the first grid were good for the generally weak fasting ability most people have in the west. We simply don't have the practice, and going on a complete fast for even just a day can really knock a person off their feet. Just some thoughts.

A Sinner said...

Well, certainly I am of the more Eastern belief that the fasting "regulations" should be conceived of more as the maximum ideal, and that lay people, at least, should actually be "bound" to very little under pain of sin and make those choices for themselves in consultation with a spiritual director.

Certainly, people could take my ranking of 9 categories of days of increasing penitential character...and create their own ranking of practices from minimal to severe to do on each of those categories of days.

The change basically came when I realized I was ranking Fridays throughout the year way too low, and that this was causing everything to become very complex (with the "daytime/supper" distinction)

But I am all for peaceful co-existence as you say. For example, someone might choose to have the practice only apply to the daytime meals as on some days in the first version of my chart, etc. Or to distinguish between partial and full abstinence differently by including or excluding various foods.

I am all for people doing their own thing and not feeling "bound" by legalism. What I suggested is merely what I would like, what I would hope to see some Western religious order adopt. But if you find it helpful, I will post below the "less strict" system for people if you find that helpful.

sortacatholic said...

A friend told me to check out this blog. Good stuff, I'll keep reading.

I have to agree with the poster who suggested that this is a maximal fast. Diabetics, some chronically ill, and the elderly should not attempt this level of rigor without seeing a doctor.

I also think that it may take even the most healthy a few years at least to ramp up to this level. I stopped fasting or abstaining for years. Now I do the minimal and try to watch what I do on Fridays. Easy does it but do it, as the AA slogan goes.

A Sinner said...

Oh, I'd be the first to agree. As I said, I think we should take a more Eastern view, wherein the most maximal fast is put forth as "ideal"...but certainly not binding on anyone. It's out there more of just a reminder of the spectrum of penitential days we have in our tradition and the relative importance of each type.

A Sinner said...

Okay, here is the "less strict" system where there is no weekly Friday fast (though fasting daily during Lent; that is non-negotiable if you want to be traditional in ANY sense), as I promised Joseph above.

Please keep in mind the different definition of "partial" vs "full" abstinence that I use (the one meaning only no fleshmeat, the other excluding dairy, eggs, fish, oil, alcohol, etc)

Here is a less strict schema with 9 categories:

0) Sundays and Solemnities, Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays outside penitential seasons: no penance (fast only from midnight until Communion, if you are to receive that day)

1) Wednesdays and Saturdays outside penitential times, and Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays of Advent and Septuagesima: no penance at supper, partial abstinence during the daytime meals

2) Fridays throughout the year: partial abstinence at all meals

3) Wednesdays and Saturdays in Advent and Septuagesima: partial abstinence at supper, full abstinence during the daytime meals

4) Fridays of Advent and Septuagesima: full abstinence at all meals

5) Vigils and the Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays of Lent: fast, but no abstinence (but collations, if taken, should be partially abstinent)

6) Wednesdays and Saturdays of Lent, and the Summer and Autumn Ember Days: fast, partial abstinence (collations, if taken, should be fully abstinent)

7) Fridays of Lent and the Advent and Lent Ember Days: fast and full abstinence (no collations)

8) Ash Wednesday, Good Friday (and Holy Saturday): Black Fast-->one meal of bread, herbs, and water only

Of course, this still has fasting every weekday of Lent, which was required up until Vatican II. In many ways this less strict version takes as its starting point the prescriptions that were actually in place before the Council (like Friday being merely meatless, Lent being a fast), and then just adds more distinctions and minor grades of practice for the "forgotten" Western penitential days of Wednesday and Saturday, and also the "forgotten" penitential seasons of Advent and Septuagesima.

Under the more lax regime in the Church today, people are free to make their own decisions, so feel free to modify this to meet your needs. Obviously, many variations could be imagined bringing things down another notch or two (though that would generally result in the lowest couple ranks of penitential days simply falling off the radar)