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Catholic Dictionary




The moral virtue that inclines a person to the moderate use of food or drink as dictated by right reason or by faith for his own moral and spiritual welfare.

As commonly understood, abstinence refers to refraining from certain kinds of food or drink and may be undertaken by a person spontaneously or it may be prescribed by ecclesiastical law, whether for the universal Church or for certain territories. Institutes of Christian perfection may also have special provisions for abstinence according to their rule of life.

The Jewish law contained elaborate food prohibitions which, however, were abrogated by the New Dispensation, the only apparent exceptions being blood and things strangled (Acts 15:20). From early Christian times, other kinds of abstinence were practiced, especially among the hermits. Thus St. Antony of Egypt and his followers abstained from all food except bread, water, and salt, and many contemplative orders still observe a severe abstinence for all or most of the year. (Etym. Latin abstinere, to refrain from, to keep away.)