Liquids Permitted on Fasting Days
Around the 14th century water and other liquids become widely permitted to all classes of persons – not just monastics – outside the meal on fast days. This had been so widely known and taught that the 1917 Code did not even comment on the use of liquids on days of fast. In commenting on the Church’s law, Father Jone notes that while liquids do not violate the fast, this adage concerns liquids understood in the proper sense and not quasi-food items like milk shakes. In a similar vein, juices made from puree or pureed food would violate the fast:
« …liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed. The usual amount of cream in coffee or tea is permitted. Milk is understood as ordinary or homogenized, but does not include such combinations as malted milk or milk shakes. However combinations based on skimmed milk and coloring or special flavoring such as chocolate milk are rather a drink than a food and, therefore, permissible. »
Father Prümmer states the same with some additional language worth nothing:
« There is a common saying that drinks do not break the fast, but only those things are to be classified as liquids which normally aid the digestion of food: therefore any drink which has a notable nutritive value cannot be regarded as pure liquid, such as milk, chocolate made with milk. But wine, beer, coffee and tea are permissible. »
Antoine Villien in « A History of the Commandments of the Church » published in 1915 provides a history of the origin of the frustulum and the collation while noting that the distinction in liquids of simple liquids from others that would break the fast, showing that this distinction stretches back to at least the Middle Ages:
“To allow the meal to be taken at noon was to render it possible to work harder in the afternoon but then the fatigued body required some refreshment at night. A little liquid to quench the thirst was at first permitted for it was held that liquids did not break the fast. The Church refrains from forbidding liquids because their primary function is to relieve thirst and aid digestion rather than to nourish although, as St Thomas admits, liquids do give some nourishment. However, the liquids in common use, water and wine, do not always suffice; they are not even an aid to digestion for everybody. Since there are other liquids more beneficial to digestion and better able to quench thirst, e.g., the electuaria, viz. more or less liquid jellies, preserves, candied fruit; could not these electuaria replace water and wine? St Thomas thought that it was just as lawful to take them as to take any other medicine provided only that they be not taken in large quantities or as a food. The permissible quantity was not specified and it devolved upon custom to determine it. Quantity like custom naturally varied in different localities. In the monasteries where everything was better regulated this little lunch consisting of fruit herbs bread water or wine was taken in common, while the Collationes of Cassian were read; hence the name collation was given it and an effort was made so to limit the repast that it might never be equivalent to a full meal. Thus, the essence of the fast was saved.
“The collation was for the night. But in the morning also the weakened stomach felt the need of some relief. Since liquid did not break the fast it could not be forbidden. Neither did the electuaria break the fast as we have seen above provided they were not taken in too great a quantity or per modum cibi; hence they were likewise permitted. Water, wine, coffee were simple liquids; hot chocolate without milk was placed in the class of the electuaria: all were tolerated. A little bread is sometimes necessary with wine or coffee ne potus noceat, so as not to inconvenience delicate stomachs; hence it likewise was permitted and thus originated the morsel of food commonly called frustulum. So it was still true that only a single meal was taken.”
Hence, in the context of fasting, liquids do not only refer to what is drunk. They also refer to beverages meant to aid in digestion and which offer no real nutritional value (i.e., no or virtually no calories).
Is Chocolate a Liquid or a Solid?
The discovery of the New World also brought with it questions directly impacting what may or may not be consumed on days of fasting and one of the most significant of those concerned a newly discovered substance – chocolate. Was chocolate a liquid or a solid? Could someone consume it on a day of fasting at any time since it is a liquid when heated and left at room temperature? The Economics of Chocolate describes this interesting history:
“The first fight over the definition of ‘chocolate’ was within the Catholic Church. After the Spanish conquest of America, chocolate was imported to Europe and consumed as a beverage. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries in Catholic countries such as Spain, France, or Italy, the issue of whether or not it was permitted to drink chocolate during Christian fasting periods…arose. Christian fasting implied that flesh is ‘mortified,’ therefore more ‘nourishing’ substances couldn’t be taken. If chocolate was a drink, it did not break the fast, but if it was a food, then it could not be consumed during Christian fasting periods…
“Catholic scholars debated the issue. Juan de Cardenas (1591-1913) and Nicephoro Sebasto Melisseno (1665) argued that chocolate could not be consumed during the fast because of the addition of butter. Antonio de Escobar y Mendoza (1626), Antonio de Leon Pinelo (1636), and Tomas Hurtado (1645) had a different opinion. According to them, it depended if (and how much) nourishing substances were added to the chocolate. If mixed with water it became a drink and was thus permitted (as was wine), but if mixed with other substances (as milk, eggs, and dry bread) it become a food and, therefore, was forbidden. Cardinal Francesco Mario Brancaccio (1664) also argued if the water component prevailed over the cocoa component, then chocolate did not break the fast…
“Several popes were asked to settle the dispute as leaders of the Catholic Church. According to Coe and Coe (2013), Popes Gregory XIII, Clement VII, Paul V, Pius V, Urban VIII, Clement XI, and Benedict XIV all agreed in private that chocolate did not break the fast. However, there was never an official Papal statement to end the debate.”
Peter Dens in A Synopsis of the Moral Theology states a similar position from the Church at that time in a more succinct manner:
“Does the taking of chocolate break an ecclesiastical fast? It is certain, with the consent of all, that to eat chocolate undiluted breaks the fast; because it is food, and is taken by way of food. The question is concerning the drinking of chocolate; to wit, when chocolate, mixed with water and diluted and boiled, is drunk, or rather, is sucked. Cozza and La Croix propose this as a question controverted by their patrons on both sides, whom they cite. Benedict XIV, the Supreme Pontiff, has published a lucid dissertation upon this question, who, however, resolves that it is more safe to abstain from chocolate on a fast day; and to him we adhere with Billuart. The reason is, because such a potion in itself, and more especially serves for nourishment, and not properly cooling, or for quenching thirst; for it is a kind of hot concoction. This is confirmed from the fact that by this potion weak persons are nourished. »
To a serious Catholic, what was and was not permitted on a day of fasting was worth careful consideration.
Want to learn more about the history of fasting and abstinence? Check out the Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting and Abstinence.