Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent 101: All the Pregnant Ladies, and Fun Facts about Fasting!

Hello, Coffee Talkers!

Lent is almost upon us (or depending on where you are reading, it may already be here!), and so I'd like to share a question from a reader, and few other fun facts about fasting and abstinence during the Lenten season.
Hi, Leslie,
I thought you might discuss whether or not pregnant/nursing mothers need to observe the fasting/abstention during Lent.

Pregnant Catholic Mama

Thank you for this good topic, PCM!  No, pregnant or nursing mothers are not bound to fasting or to abstaining from meat during Lent, nor are others who for reason of age or infirmity have a serious need for the nourishment. Having spent a good number of Lents in both of these situations myself, I do have a few thoughts of my own to add: 1.) pregnant and nursing women have plenty of 'built in' penances due to their state in life, so they hardly need to feel badly about giving themselves and their baby sufficient nourishment; 2.) still, giving up junk food or soda or 'fasting' from or limiting some other activity (TV, Facebook, secular music, etc.) might not be a bad idea; 3.) while they should not necessarily fast from food, pregnant and nursing women can still participate in the other two Lenten practices of prayer and almsgiving (and in fact, nursing can provide some extra time for some good spiritual reading!).

Here are some good thoughts on this subject, excerpted from the EWTN website:
During Lent abstinence from meat on Fridays is obligatory in the United States as elsewhere, and it is sinful not to observe this discipline without a serious reason (physical labor, pregnancy, sickness etc.).
Fasting - The law of fasting requires a Catholic from the 18th Birthday [Canon 97] to the 59th Birthday [i.e. the beginning of the 60th year, a year which will be completed on the 60th birthday] to reduce the amount of food eaten from normal. The Church defines this as one meal a day, and two smaller meals which if added together would not exceed the main meal in quantity. Such fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The fast is broken by eating between meals and by drinks which could be considered food (milk shakes, but not milk). Alcoholic beverages do not break the fast; however, they seem contrary to the spirit of doing penance.
I have never heard the part about alcoholic beverages before, and I find it both ridiculous and hilarious! Alright, so milk shakes are out for tomorrow, but a margarita (though perhaps 'contrary to the spirit of doing penance') --  not disallowed! [But still a no-go for the pregnant and nursing ones among us -- sorry, ladies.]
Those who are excused from fast or abstinence - Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment,  manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline.
Also of interest in regard to fasting/abstinence from meat:
  • Canon 1251 -- Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
In other words, we're supposed to fast from something, or to do some charitable act, every Friday of the year, not just during Lent. Most Bishops no longer require abstaining from meat on the other non-Lenten Fridays, although while I lived in Ohio, the Bishop of Steubenville reinstated abstinence from meat on all Fridays to be offered specifically for unborn human life. I thought that was pretty cool.

This also means that if a Solemnity (a major feast of the Catholic liturgical calendar) falls on a Friday, even during Lent, the fast and abstinence are lifted! Last year, for example, the Solemnity of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary fell on a Friday of Lent, so I went out to lunch with a friend and ate an awesome patty melt!

So even if you're giving up internet for Lent, you can still Coffee Talk with us on solemnities, everybody!

A blessed Lenten journey to you all!

Peace and all good,


  1. This is so helpful, I am both nursing AND pregnant right now, so do I get a double exclusion?! Just kidding, I think that might fall into the category of gluttony...

    1. Ah, great! I actually forgot I had posted this some years back...and now it's helpful to me, too, as I'm expecting twins! Yes, I say we're both doubly exempt. ;) Many Lenten blessings to you & yours! ~ Leslie