Wednesday, March 22, 2006

On display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet: The Australian rules for Fasting and Abstinence

There is a conversation at the very beginning of Douglas Adam’s classic “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” that goes like this:

PROSSER: But Mr. Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months!
ARTHUR: Yes, well, as soon as I heard, I went straight round to see them. You hadn’t gone out of your way to call attention to them, had you? I mean, like actually telling anybody.
PROSSER: The plans were on display—
ARTHUR: On display? I had to go down to the cellar to find them!
PROSSER: That’s the display department!
ARTHUR: With a flashlight.
PROSSER: The lights had probably gone out.
ARTHUR: So had the stairs.
PROSSER: But you found the notice, didn’t you?
ARTHUR: Yes, I did. It was "on display" in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying, "Beware of the Leopard."

Trying to find the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference regulations on fasting and abstinence is a bit like this. They certainly haven’t gone out of their way to call anyone’s attention to them. Odd, considering all Catholics over 18 and under 60 are obliged to observe them.

My interest in finding our local regulations was piqued by the discussion in Whispers in the Loggia re St Patrick’s day falling during Lent and the various indults granted (or not) by the American dioceses so that the Irish there could eat their traditional corned beef. Of course, for those in the know, this isn’t a problem in Australia, since St Pat’s day gets a “solemnity” rating here, and a solemnity trumps a fast every time (like St Joseph’s day and the Annunciation). Still, I was rather interested to find that the not eating meat thing was such an issue. As it turns out, Australians are not obligated to abstain from meat on Fridays even during Lent.

So here, thanks to Bishop Geoffrey Jarrett of Lismore’s Pastoral letter for Lent of 2004, are the Lenten Fasting Regulations for Australia (with his own pastoral suggestions added).

1) Abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

No meat may be eaten on these days of abstinence*. Catholics 14 years and older are bound to abstain from meat. Invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt.

2) Fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Fasting means having only one full meal to maintain one's strength. Two smaller, meatless and penitential meals are permitted according to one's needs, but they should not together equal the one full meal. Eating solid foods between meals is not permitted. Catholics over 18 but not yet 60 years are bound to fast. Again, invalids, pregnant and nursing mothers are exempt.

3) Friday Abstinence throughout the Year.

It should be noted that Fridays throughout the year are designated days of penance. The Code of Canon Law states that Friday is a day of abstinence from meat* throughout the year. However, our Bishops have allowed us to choose, if we so wish, a different form of penance rather than abstaining from meat, but there must be some form of penance, for this is the day we commemorate Christ's suffering and death. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.

[* Just as an aside, we have to do a little more education about the purpose of such abstinence. It doesn’t make sense to abstain from meat on Fridays if you are going to feast on prawns, calamari, caviar, barramundi and Moreton Bay bugs instead…]

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