Fast and Abstinence

Turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel.
Or:  Remember, you are dust and to dust you will return.


Church Rules and the Spirit of Self-Restraint


The US Bishops' Conference says this: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are obligatory days of fasting and abstinence for Catholics. In addition, Fridays during Lent are obligatory days of abstinence.

For members of the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59. When fasting, a person is permitted to eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals that together are not equal to a full meal. The norms concerning abstinence from meat are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards.  Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iuris Church.

Abstinence:   The norms concerning abstinence are binding upon members of the Latin Catholic Church from age 14 onwards. The law of abstinence forbids the eating of meat and foods prepared with meat or meat by-products. The only animal flesh allowed is from fish or seafood. 

Fast:  In the Latin Catholic Church, the norms on fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59.  The law of fast allows only one full meal and two lighter meals in the course of a day, and prohibits eating between meals.

In the United States:
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fast and abstinence.
All other Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence only.

Exceptions:  Women who are pregnant and persons who are sick are not bound by the law of fast.

Fridays outside of Lent:  All Fridays are to be observed as Penitential Days when we are mindful of the passion and death of Christ. 

Christ Died for Our Salvation on Friday

Catholic peoples for centuries have set apart Friday for special penitential observance by which they gladly suffer with Christ that they may one day be glorified with Him. 

Modern circumstances have changed in the United States, including economic, dietary, and social elements, such that some people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance. The spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most. Thus renunciation of other things could be more penitential.

The U.S. Bishops in changing the practice in the United States said that they were downgrading the traditional penitential observance of Friday. They desired to give the spirit of penance greater vitality, especially on Fridays.  They reaffirmed that" "Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, ...." They said: "even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday,..."  

For the full teaching of the above overview, please go to the link below for the Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence. It was Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops November 18, 1966. It was again copyrighted by the USCCB in 1983.  We do not have permission to reprint it in its entirety here.

External Sources: 

USCCB:  Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence 1966© 1983©  This is the official statement explaining the change when Catholics in the United States were freed from obligatory abstinence from meat on Fridays outside of the season of Lent. It reaffirms every Friday as a penitential day and explains ways to practice this important Catholic self-discipline. 
USCCB: Complementary Norm  ©1983 and Amendment ©1984  regarding Canon 1252-1253 and revision to the ages of fast and abstinence.  

USCCB:  Fast and Abstinence for Lent, Ash Wednesday,Good Friday

USCCB:  Journey to the Foot of the Cross: 10 Things to remember for Lent

For more information: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops




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