As the season of Lent approaches, it is wise to remind ourselves of the Church’s requirements regarding fasting and abstinence.
General Laws of Fasting and Abstinence from the Code of Canon Law (1983)
Canon 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.
Canon 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Canon 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Bishops’ Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays’ unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
[ The Canadian Bishops’ Conference has ruled that outside the Lenten season one may opt to do a different Friday penance than the traditional abstaining from meat, such as praying an extra rosary or doing the Stations of the Cross, or performing some charitable act which would be considered a penance. One may, of course, maintain the ancient Tradition of the meatless Friday all year through.]
Canon 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have obtained the age of majority, until the beginning of the sixtieth year [18 to 59 inclusive].
Canon 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.