Washing of the Feet on Holy Thursday
law, it would be more in accordance with the spirit of abstinence to prefer a fish or vegetable soup.
Other readers pointed out occasional incongruities such as when fish is more expensive than meat.
The purpose of the law of abstinence is to educate us in the higher spiritual law of charity and self-mastery. Thus, fast and abstinence have always been tied to almsgiving.
In this way, it makes little sense to give up steak so as to gorge on lobster and caviar. The idea of abstinence is to prefer a simpler, less sumptuous diet than normal.
We thus have something extra to give to those less fortunate than ourselves and also train ourselves in freedom from slavery to material pleasures. Even a Catholic vegetarian can practice abstinence by substituting a typical, yet more expensive, element of the diet for something simpler.
All the same, the laws of fasting exist to give clear directions and preserve us from subjective indulgence in choosing our "sacrifices." But these laws have always been tempered by the reality of the situation.
For this reason the Church has continually granted indults so that nobody be involuntarily deprived of necessary foods. In some cases this has meant suspending abstinence on some days or for some categories of people; in others it has meant permitting meat when fish is an expensive delicacy or when eating meat is itself a rarity. In other cases it has meant substituting another kind of food for meat.
In all of these cases the basic rule of thumb is that the law of fast and abstinence should never impose a grave or unsupportable burden on an individual or family.
These indults are still very pertinent in poor countries where the basic diet varies little and consists of a few basic commodities such as rice, beans, corn or potatoes accompanied by small quantities of meat and other vegetables.
In the developed world the vast array of assorted foodstuffs available at the local supermarket make living the laws of abstinence relatively easy. In most cases one can forgo meat and still maintain a simple yet well balanced diet.
However, while being faithful to these laws we must always strive to penetrate the inner reasons for fast and abstinence and not just stay on the superficial plane of rules for rules' sake.
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Lent, Holy, Thursday, Feet, Abstinence
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