EWTN Catholic Q&A
Fr John, re" Lent
Question from Need to know on 02-13-2002:

When we are under pain of sin, is it mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays in Lent? Or is it venial? There was a time in New York (when I was a bit less knowledgeable) that I forgot (because of stress, usually) about not eating meat on Friday and ate meat. I usually remembered later, and was very sorry. Was I sinning? If so, mortal or venial? Also, if one is sick, does one need to go to a priest to get a "waiver" to not fast? Or is it just ok because one is sick? It is sinful not to "give something up" for Lent? If so, mortal or venial? thank you

Answer by Fr. John Trigilio on 02-15-2002:

According to Trent and the Catechism, mortal sin REQUIRES all three criteria:

1. GRAVE MATTER 2. DELIBERATE CONSENT 3. FULL KNOWLEDGE

Since the number of days of fast and abstinence are greatly reduced, it would be a mortal sin if someone KNOWINGLY, WILLINGLY and INTENTIONALLY ate meat on a Friday of Lent or on Ash Wednesday or ate between meals or ate more than one full meal on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday. Former manuals spoke of 4 oz or more to violate the fast as a mortal sin, less than 4 oz being venial; 2 oz of meat to violate abstinence, less for venial. Today, we do not get into the number game.

If someone inadvertently, unintentionally, unknowingly eats meat on a day of abstinence or eats more than one full meal or snacks between meals on a fast day, then at most that is a VENIAL SIN.

MORTAL SIN requires a conscious, deliberate and free act of the will. Someone who crassly eats meat on days of abstinence thinking that the Church has no authority or no business telling him/her what to eat or not eat, then they are committing mortal sin. If someone just doesn't care and has no desire to obey church law, then they are guilty of mortal sin.

Pregnant women, women who are nursing, diabetics, people on dialysis, chemotherapy or radiation, cancer patients, patients recovering from disease or major surgery, those in nursing homes, the mentally disabled, and all military personnel on duty whether during time of peace or war; these are but a few LEGITIMATE dispensations from FAST and ABSTINENCE and do not need a personal dispensation from the pastor or bishop. Sick people do not need a dispensation unless it is a minor illness (headache, ingrown toenail, etc.) Dispensations are often given by bishops and pastors for Catholics who are travelling, especially out of the country, camping, celebrating a wedding anniversary or a wedding, some solemn or formal occassion/event. PRUDENCE and COMMON SENSE are your best guide and when in doubt, ask the parish priest.

Solemnities like March 19th, Saint Joseph, or March 25th, the Annunciation, automatically dispense ALL CATHOLICS from fast and abstinence. (canon 1251)

Giving up something for Lent is not obligatory under penalty of sin but is highly encouraged. It is but ONE option for mortification and penance. One can also instead of giving up your favorite food, make a sacrifice by intentionally eating your least favorite food. For example, if you dislike brussel sprouts, then eating them one day a week in Lent would be a penance. If you like milk and sugar in your coffee, then drinking one cup of black coffee would be a penance. Works of mercy can also be done instead. So, visiting the sick at their home, at the hospital or nursing home is a work of mercy and is good for Lent. Visiting or writing a letter to a prisoner is a work of mercy. Volunteering time at the local soup kitchen or clothing bank is a work of mercy. Praying an extra rosary for the poor souls, reading a half-hour to hour of the Bible, making the Stations of the Cross; these are works of mercy.

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