Fasting & Abstinence

The Catholic Church historically observes the disciplines of fasting and abstinence at various times each year. For Catholics, fasting is the reduction of one’s intake of food, while abstinence refers to refraining from something that is good, and not inherently sinful, such as meat. The Mother Church teaches that all people are obliged by God to perform some penance for their sins and that these acts of penance are both personal and corporeal. Bodily fasting is meaningless unless it is joined with a spiritual avoidance of sin. St. Basil the Great gives the following exhortation regarding fasting:

Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood and perjury. Privation of these is true fasting.


Fast means one full meal and two small meals (collations). The two small meals added together should not equal the amount of the main meal. Fast also includes no eating between meals, but liquids are allowed.

Complete Abstinence means no meat or soup or gravy made from warm-blooded meat (ie: mammals and birds), cold-blooded meat is allowed within the spirit of penance (ie: fishes, reptiles, shellfishes, insects).

Partial Abstinence means you can eat warm-blooded meat at the principal meal only. Two small meals are “meatless”.

Current Practice
(1983 Code of Canon Law)

Days of Penance Lent and Fridays outside of Lent

Days of (Complete) Abstinence Ash Wednesday & Fridays of Lent (Applies to one’s 14th Birthday)

Days of Fast Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (Applies to those aged 18 to 59)

Discipline before 1962
(1917 Code of Canon Law)

Days of Fast

Applies to those aged 21 to 59 inclusive.

Fasting applies to all days during Lent (excluding Sundays) from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday until Easter Vigil, Ember Days and the Vigil of Christmas, the Vigil of Pentecost, the Vigil of Assumption and the Vigil of All Saints.

Days of Abstinence

Applies to one’s 7th Birthday

Complete Abstinence: All Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the Vigil of Christmas.

Partial Abstinence: All days of Lent, the Ember Days of Wednesday and Saturday, and the Vigil of Pentecost & the Vigil of Assumption.

Summary for Lent

  • Fast every day during Lent (except for Sundays and 1st Class feast)
  • Complete abstinence on Ash Wednesday, Fridays and Holy Saturday
  • Partial Abstinence for the rest of Lent (except for Sundays and 1st Class feast)