Sunday, February 13, 2022
History of Lenten Fasting: How to Observe the Traditional Lenten Fast

The Purpose of Fasting

In principio, in the beginning, the very first Commandment of God  to Adam and Eve was one of fasting from the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (cf. Genesis 2:16-17), and their failure to fast brought sin and disorder to all of creation. The second sin of mankind was gluttony. Both are intricately tied to fasting.

Both Elijah and Moses fasted for forty days in the Old Testament before seeing God. Until the Great Flood, man abstained entirely from the flesh meat of animals (cf. Genesis 9:2-3). Likewise, in the New Testament, St. John the Baptist, the greatest prophet (cf. Luke 7:28) fasted and his followers were characterized by their fasting. And our Blessed Lord also fasted for forty days (cf. Matthew 4:1-11) not for His own needs but to serve as an example for us. Our Redeemer said, “Unless you shall do penance, you shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). Fasting and abstinence from certain foods characterized the lives of man since the foundation of the world.

The Church has hallowed the practice of fasting, encourages it, and mandates it at certain times. Why? The Angelic Doctor writes that fasting is practiced for a threefold purpose: 

“First, in order to bridle the lusts of the flesh…Secondly, we have recourse to fasting in order that the mind may arise more freely to the contemplation of heavenly things: hence it is related of Daniel that he received a revelation from God after fasting for three weeks. Thirdly, in order to satisfy for sins: wherefore it is written: ‘Be converted to Me with all your heart, in fasting and in weeping and in mourning.’ The same is declared by Augustine in a sermon: ‘Fasting cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one's flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, kindles the true light of chastity.’”  

St. Basil the Great also affirmed the importance of fasting for protection against demonic forces: “The fast is the weapon of protection against demons. Our Guardian Angels more really stay with those who have cleansed our souls through fasting.”

The Baltimore Catechism echoes these sentiments: “The Church commands us to fast and abstain, in order that we may mortify our passions and satisfy for our sins” (Baltimore Catechism #2 Q. 395). Concerning this rationale, Fr. Thomas Kinkead in “An Explanation Of The Baltimore Catechism of Christian Doctrine” published in 1891 writes, “Remember it is our bodies that generally lead us into sin; if therefore we punish the body by fasting and mortification, we atone for the sin, and thus God wipes out a part of the temporal punishment due to it.” 

Pope St. Leo the Great in 461 wisely counseled that fasting is a means and not an end in itself. For those who could not observe the strictness of fasting, he sensibly said, "What we forego by fasting is to be given as alms to the poor.”  To simply forgo fasting completely, even when for legitimate health reasons, does not excuse a person from the universal command to do penance (cf. Luke 13:3).

The Lenten Fast in the Early Church

The great liturgical Dom Gueranger writes that the fast which precedes Easter originated with the Apostles themselves:

“The forty days' fast, which we call Lent, is the Church's preparation for Easter, and was instituted at the very commencement of Christianity. Our blessed Lord Himself sanctioned it by fasting forty days and forty nights in the desert; and though He would not impose it on the world by an express commandment (which, in that case, could not have been open to the power of dispensation), yet He showed plainly enough, by His own example, that fasting, which God had so frequently ordered in the old Law, was to be also practiced by the children of the new…The apostles, therefore, legislated for our weakness, by instituting, at the very commencement of the Christian Church, that the solemnity of Easter should be preceded by a universal fast...”

The Catechism of the Liturgy by a Religious of the Sacred Heart published by The Paulist Press, New York, 1919 affirms the apostolic origin of the Lenten fast: “The Lenten fast dates back to Apostolic times as is attested by Saint Jerome, Saint Leo the Great, Saint Cyril of Alexandria and others.” In the 2nd century, St. Irenaeus wrote to Pope St. Victor I inquiring on how Easter should be celebrated, while mentioning the practice of fasting leading up to Easter.

Initially, the Lenten fast was practiced by catechumens preparing for their Baptism with a universal fast for all the faithful observed only during Holy Week, in addition to the weekly fasts that were devotionally practiced. But early on, the baptized Christians began to join the catechumens in fasting on the days immediately preceding Easter.  The duration of the fast varied with some churches observing one day, others several days, and yet others observing intensive 40-hour fasting, in honor of the forty hours that the Lord spent in the sepulcher. By the third and fourth centuries, the fast became forty days in most places. St. Athanasius, in 339 AD, referred to the Lenten fast as a forty-day fast that “the whole world” observed. 

Heortology: A History of the Christian Festivals from their Origin to the Present Day by Dr. K.A. Heinrich Kellner states the following regarding the Lenten fast in the ancient Church, noting the strictness that intensified in Holy Week and even more so on Good Friday and Holy Saturday:

"Among Catholics also abstinence was pushed to great lengths. The canons of Hippolytus prescribe for Holy Week only bread and salt. The Apostolic Constitutions will only permit bread, vegetables, salt and water, in Lent, flesh and wine being forbidden; and, on the last two days of Holy Week, nothing whatsoever is to be eaten. The ascetics, whose acquaintance the Gallic pilgrim made in Jerusalem, never touched bread in Lent, but lived on flour and water. Only a few could keep so strict a fast, and generally speaking people were satisfied with abstaining from flesh and wine. But this lasted throughout the entire Lent, and Chrysostom tells us that in Antioch no flesh was eaten during the whole of Lent. Abstinence from milk and eggs (the so-called lacticinia) was also the general rule."

Shortly after the legislation of Christianity in the Roman Empire, the bishops at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD fixed the date of Easter as the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The canons emerging from that council also referenced a 40-day Lenten season of fasting.

To the Early Christians, fasting was performed until sundown, in imitation of the previous Jewish tradition. Dom Gueranger’s writings affirm, “It was the custom with the Jews, in the Old Law, not to take the one meal, allowed on fasting days, till sun-set. The Christian Church adopted the same custom. It was scrupulously practiced, for many centuries, even in our Western countries. But, about the 9th century, some relaxation began to be introduced in the Latin Church.”

And notably in the early Church, fasting also included abstinence from wine, taking man back to the same diet that mankind practiced before God permitted Noah to eat meat and drink wine. As such, in apostolic times, the main meal was a small one, mainly of bread and vegetables. Fish, but not shellfish, became permitted on days of abstinence around the 6th century. Hence, some Eastern Rite Catholics will abstain from meat, animal products, wine, oil, and fish on fasting days which harkens back to these ancient times.

Remarkably, even water was forbidden during fasting times in the very ancient church. Fr. Alban Butler, in Moveable Feasts and Fasts, provides testimony of this when he writes: "St. Fructuosus, the holy bishop of Tarragon in Spain, in the persecution of Valerian in 259, being led to martyrdom on a Friday at ten o'clock in the morning, refused to drink, because it was not the hour to break the fast of the day, though fatigued with imprisonment, and standing in need of strength to sustain the conflict of his last agony. 'It is a fast,' said he: 'I refuse to drink; it is not yet the ninth hour; death itself shall not oblige me to abridge my fast.'"

The Lenten Fast in the Early Middle Ages

The Lenten fast began under the Apostles themselves and was practiced in various forms in the Early Church. As time went on, the fast became uniformly observed under pain of sin. 

St. Augustine in the fourth century remarked, “Our fast at any other time is voluntary; but during Lent, we sin if we do not fast.” At the time of St. Gregory the Great at the beginning of the 7th century, the fast was universally established to begin on what we know as Ash Wednesday. While the name "Ash Wednesday" was not given to the day until Pope Urban II in 1099, the day was known as the “Beginning of the Fast.” 

In 604, in a letter to St. Augustine of Canterbury, Pope St. Gregory the Great announced the form that abstinence would take on fast days. This form would last for almost a thousand years: "We abstain from flesh meat and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs."  When fasting was observed, abstinence was likewise always observed.

Regarding Holy Saturday's fast in particular, Canon 89 of the Council in Trullo in 692 AD provides an account of the piety and devotion of the faithful of that time: “The faithful, spending the days of the Salutatory Passion in fasting, praying and compunction of heart, ought to fast until the midnight of the Great Sabbath: since the divine Evangelists, Matthew and Luke, have shewn us how late at night it was [that the resurrection took place].” That tradition of fasting on Holy Saturday until midnight would last for centuries.

Historical records further indicate that Lent was not a merely regional practice observed only in Rome. It was part of the universality of the Church. Lenten fasting began in England, for instance, sometime during the reign of Earconberht, the king of Kent, who was converted by the missionary work of St. Augustine of Canterbury in England. During the Middle Ages, fasting in England, and many other then-Catholic nations, was required both by Church law and the civil law. Catholic missionaries brought fasting, which is an integral part of the Faith, to every land they visited.

The Lenten fast included fasting from all lacticinia (Latin for milk products) which included butter, cheese, eggs, and animal products. And this abstinence was practiced even on the Sundays of Lent. From this tradition, Easter Eggs were introduced, and therefore the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is when pancakes are traditionally eaten to use leftover lacticinia. And similarly, Fat Tuesday is known as Carnival, coming from the Latin words carne levare – literally the farewell to meat.

Collations Are Introduced on Fasting Days in the 8th Century

The rules on fasting remained largely the same for hundreds of years. Food was to be taken once a day after sunset. After the meal, the fast resumed and was terminated only after the sun had once again set on the horizon. But relaxations were to soon begin. 

By the eighth century, the time for the daily meal was moved to the time that the monks would pray the Office of None in the Divine Office. This office takes place around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. As a consequence of moving the meal up in the day, the practice of a collation was introduced. The well-researched Father Francis Xavier Weiser summarizes this major change with fasting:

"It was not until the ninth century, however, that less rigid laws of fasting were introduced. It came about in 817 when the monks of the Benedictine order, who did much labor in the fields and on the farms, were allowed to take a little drink with a morsel of bread in the evening...Eventually the Church extended the new laws to the laity as well, and by the end of the medieval times they had become universal practice; everybody ate a little evening meal in addition to the main meal at noon." 

The Lenten Fast in the High Middle Ages

Through the writings of St. Thomas Aquinas, we can learn how Lent was practiced in his own time and attempt to willingly observe such practices in our own lives. The Lenten fast as mentioned by St. Thomas Aquinas constituted of the following: 
  • Monday through Saturday were days of fasting. The meal was taken at 3 PM and a collation was allowed at night.
  • All meat or animal products were prohibited throughout Lent.
  • Abstinence from these foods remained even on Sundays of Lent, though fasting was not practiced on Sundays. 
  • No food was to be eaten at all on either Ash Wednesday or Good Friday, if possible.
  • Holy Week was a more intense fast that consisted only of bread, salt, water, and herbs. 
The Lenten Fast in the Renissance

By the fourteenth century, the meal had begun to move up steadily until it began to take place even at 12 o’clock. The change became so common it became part of the Church’s discipline. In one interesting but often unknown fact, because the monks would pray the liturgical hour of None before they would eat their meal, the custom of called midday by the name “noon” entered into our vocabulary as a result of the fast. With the meal moved up, the evening collation remained.

In the Middle Ages, abstinence from meat on Fridays and during Lent was not only Church law – it was civil law as well. And people gladly obeyed these laws out of respect for the teaching authority of the Church. Yet after the Protestant revolt which began in 1517 and continued through the middle of the 1600s, this was to change.

English Royalty proclamations, even after Henry VIII's illegal separation from the Church, supporting abstinence of meat continued to occur in England in 1563, 1619, 1625, 1627, and 1631. The same likewise occurred in 1687 under King James II. After the Revolution in 1688 and the overthrow of Catholicism by William III and Mary II, the laws were no longer enforced and officially removed from the law books by the Statue Law Revision Act in 1863. Similar changes occurred throughout Europe as Protestants reviled the fast. 

But changes continued even in Catholic nations. St. Epiphanius (367 - 403 AD), the bishop of Salamis at the end of the 4th century, wrote that "Wednesday and Friday are days of fasting up to the ninth hour because, as Wednesday began the Lord was arrested and on Friday he was crucified." Wednesday abstinence persisted for centuries. In Ireland for instance the use of meat on all Wednesdays of the year was prohibited until around the middle of the 17th century. This harkened back to the vestige of those earlier times when Wednesdays were days of weekly fasting as Father Slater notes in “A Short History of Moral Theology” published in 1909:

"The obligation of fasting on all Wednesdays and Fridays ceased almost entirely about the tenth century, but the fixing of those days by ecclesiastical authority for fasting, and the desire to substitute a Christian observance at Rome for certain pagan rites celebrated in connection with the seasons of the year, seem to have given rise to our Ember Days…About the tenth century the obligation of the Friday fast was reduced to one of abstinence from flesh meat, and the Wednesday fast after being similarly mitigated gradually disappeared altogether."

The Lenten Fast Begins Deteriorating in the 1700s

Some of the most significant changes to fasting would occur under the reign of Pope Benedict XIV who reigned from 1740 – 1758. 

On May 31, 1741, Pope Benedict XIV issued Non Ambiginius which granted permission to eat meat on fasting days while explicitly forbidding the consumption of both fish and flesh meat at the same meal on all fasting days during the year in addition to the Sundays during Lent. Beforehand, the forty days of Lent were held as days of complete abstinence from meat. The concept of partial abstinence was born even though the term would not appear until the 1917 Code of Canon Law. Yet even with these changes, Pope Benedict XIV implored the faithful to return to the devotion of earlier eras:

"The observance of Lent is the very badge of the Christian warfare. By it we prove ourselves not to be enemies of the cross of Christ. By it we avert the scourges of divine justice. By it we gain strength against the princes of darkness, for it shields us with heavenly help. Should mankind grow remiss in their observance of Lent, it would be a detriment to God's glory, a disgrace to the Catholic religion, and a danger to Christian souls. Neither can it be doubted that such negligence would become the source of misery to the world, of public calamity, and of private woe." 

Yet changes continued during the 18th and 19th centuries as Antoine Villien's "History of the Commandments" from 1915 documents:

The use of meat on Sundays [of Lent] was at first tolerated, then expressly permitted, for the greater part of Lent. Old people still remember the time when its use was completely forbidden in France from the Friday of Passion week to Easter. Later, new dispensations allowed the gradual extension of the Sunday privilege to Tuesday and Thursday of each week, up to Thursday before Palm Sunday. About the beginning of the pontification of Pius IX [c. 1846], Monday was added to the days on which abstinence need not be observed; a few years later the use of meat on those four days began to be permitted up to Wednesday of Holy Week. Lastly the Saturdays, expect Ember Saturday and Holy Saturday, were included in the dispensations."

Mitigations to fasting also began to accelerate for other periods in the 18th and 19th centuries and this is seen strikingly in the series of changes to occur to fasting in the American Colonies which can be read in detail in the two-part series: A History of Holy Days of Obligation & Fasting for American Catholics.

Father Anthony Ruff relates in his article "Fasting and Abstinence: The Story" the changes made by Pope Leo XIII in the document entitled Indultum quadragesimale:

"In 1886 Leo XIII allowed meat, eggs, and milk products on Sundays of Lent and at the main meal on every weekday [of Lent] except Wednesday and Friday in the [United States]. Holy Saturday was not included in the dispensation. A small piece of bread was permitted in the morning with coffee, tea, chocolate, or a similar beverage."

While the evening collation had been widespread since the 14th century, the practice of an additional morning snack (i.e. a frustulum) was introduced only around the 18th century as part of the gradual relaxation of discipline. Volume 12 of The Jurist, published by the Catholic University of America in 1952, writes, "It is stated that the two-ounce breakfast arose at the time of St. Alphonsus, since which time the usage of the popular two and eight-ounce standards for the breakfast and the collation, respectively, has been extant." 

Mara Morrow in Sin in the Sixties elaborates on the concessions given by Pope Leo XIII which in the late 19th century expanded the practice of the frustulum and further reduced strict abstinence:

"It also allowed for the use of eggs and milk products at the evening collation daily during Lent and at the principal meal when meat was not allowed. [It] further allowed a small piece of bread in the morning with a beverage, the possibility of taking the principal meal at noon or in the evening, and the use of lard and meat drippings in the preparation of foods. Those exempt from the law of fasting were permitted to eat meat, eggs, and milk more than once a day." 

Consequently, the Baltimore Manual published by the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore in 1884 states: "Only one full meal is allowed, to be taken about noon or later. Besides this full meal, a collation of eight ounces is allowed. If the full meal is taken about the middle of the day, the collation will naturally be taken in the evening; if the full meal is taken late in the day, the collation may be taken at noon. Besides the full meal and collation, the general custom has made it lawful to take up to two ounces of bread (without butter) and a cup of some warm liquid - as coffee or tea - in the morning. This is important to observe, for by means of this many persons are enabled - and therefore obliged - the keep the fast who could not otherwise do so."

The Catechism of Father Patrick Powers published in Ireland in 1905 mentions that abstinence includes flesh meat and "anything produced from animals, as milk, butter, cheese, eggs." However, Father Patrick notes, "In some countries, however, milk is allowed at collation." The United States was one of those nations whereas Ireland and others were not granted such dispensations. The use of eggs and milk during Lent was to drastically change in a few years with the 1917 Code of Canon Law.

In 1895, the workingmen's privilege gave bishops in the United States the ability to permit meat in some circumstances. Mara Morrow summarizes that these circumstances occurred when there was "difficulty in observing the common law of abstinence, excluding Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Week, and the Vigil of Christmas. This workingmen's privilege (or indult) allowed only for meat once a day during Lent, taken at the principal meal, and never taken in conjunction with fish. This particular indult was extended not only to the laborer but to his family, as well. The motivation of such an indult was no doubt to allow for enough sustenance such that the many Catholic immigrants to the United States who worked as manual laborers could perform their difficult, energy-demanding physical work without danger to their health" (Sin in the Sixties).

The Remnant of the Lenten Fast Left by the 20th Century

The Catholic Encyclopedia from 1909 in describing that fast immediately before the changes to occur under St. Pius X enumerates them as follows: "In the United States of America all the days of Lent; the Fridays of Advent (generally); the Ember Days; the vigils of Christmas and Pentecost, as well as those (14 Aug.) of the Assumption; (31 Oct.) of All Saints, are now fasting days. In Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and Canada, the days just indicated, together with the Wednesdays of Advent and (28 June) the vigil of Saints Peter and Paul, are fasting days." 

The days of obligatory fasting as listed in the 1917 Code of Canon Law were the forty days of Lent (including Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday until noon); the Ember Days; and the Vigils of Pentecost, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, All Saints, and Christmas. Partial abstinence, the eating of meat only at the principal meal, was obligatory on all weeks of Lent (Monday through Thursday). And of course, complete abstinence was required on all Fridays, including Fridays of Lent, except when a holy day of obligation fell on a Friday outside of Lent. Saturdays in Lent were likewise days of complete abstinence. Fasting and abstinence were not observed should a vigil fall on a Sunday as stated in the code: "If a vigil that is a fast day falls on a Sunday the fast is not to be anticipated on Saturday, but is dropped altogether that year." Eggs and milk (i.e. lacticinia) became universally permitted.

But additional changes quickly ensued. Mara Morrow, writing on the fasting days around this time, states, "In 1917 Pope Benedict XV granted the faithful of countries in World War I the privilege of transferring Saturday Lenten abstinence to any other day of the week, excepting Friday and Ash Wednesday. In 1919 Cardinal Gibbons was granted his request of transferring Saturday Lenten abstinence to Wednesday for all bishops’ dioceses in the U.S. This permission, as well as the workingmen’s privilege, were frequently renewed, but, after 1931, this permission was only on the basis of personal requests from individual bishops."

Pope Pius XII accelerated the changes to fasting and abstinence as Father Ruff relates: "In 1941 Pope Pius XII allowed bishops worldwide to dispense entirely from fast and abstinence except on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, provided that there was abstinence from meat every Friday, and fast and abstinence on these two days and the vigil of the Assumption and Christmas. Eggs and milk products were permitted at breakfast and in the evening." And effective in 1956 per the decree in Maxima Redemptionis Nostrae Mysteria, Holy Saturday's fast and abstinence were extended from noon to midnight.

By 1962, the laws of fasting and abstinence were as follows as described in "Moral Theology" by Rev. Heribert Jone and adapted by Rev. Urban Adelman for the "laws and customs of the United States of America" copyright 1961: 

"Complete abstinence is to be observed on all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday, the Vigils of Immaculate Conception and Christmas. Partial abstinence is to be observed on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Vigil of Pentecost. Days of fast are all the weekdays of Lent, Ember Days, and the Vigil of Pentecost." If a vigil falls on a Sunday, the law of abstinence and fasting is dispensed that year and is not transferred to the preceding day. 

Thus, even before the Second Vatican Council opened, the fasting customs were drastically reduced within only a few hundred years. 

The Lenten Fast Virtually Eliminated Post Vatican II

Shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI an apostolic constitution on fasting and abstaining on February 17, 1966, called Paenitemini, whose principles were later incorporated into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Paenitemini allowed the commutation of the Friday abstinence to an act of penance at the discretion of the local ordinaries and gave authority to the episcopal conferences on how the universal rules would be applied in their region. Abstinence which previously began at age 7 was modified to begin at age 14. Additionally, the obligation of fasting on the Ember Days and on the remaining Vigils was abolished. Paenitemini maintained the traditional practice that "abstinence is to be observed on every Friday which does not fall on a day of obligation."

The NCCB issued a statement on November 18, 1966. Abstinence was made obligatory on all Fridays of Lent, except Solemnities (i.e. First Class Feasts), on Ash Wednesday, and on Good Friday. Abstinence on all Fridays throughout the year was "especially recommended," and the faithful who did choose to eat meat were directed to perform an alternative penance on those Fridays outside of Lent, even though the US Bishops removed the long-establish precept of requiring Friday penance. The document stated in part: "Even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we ... hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to church law." And finally, fasting on all weekdays of Lent was "strongly recommended" but not made obligatory under penalty of sin.

The 1983 Code of Canon Law largely took Paul VI's apostolic constitution aside from the modification of the age at which fasting binds. Per the 1983 Code of Canon Law, the age of fast was changed to begin at 18 - previously it was 21 - and to still conclude at midnight when an individual completes his 59th birthday. Friday penance is required per these laws on all Fridays of the year except on Solemnities, a dramatic change from the previous exception being only on Holy Days of Obligation.

Per the 1983 Code of Canon Law, fasting and complete abstinence per these rules are required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The notion of "partial abstinence," introduced under Pope Benedict XIV in 1741, was also removed along with nearly all fast days. 

So What Should Traditional Catholics Do To Restore the Lenten Fast?

While no authority in the Church may change or alter any established dogmas of the Faith, the discipline of both Holy Days of Obligation and fast days may change. The days of obligation and the days of penance are matters of discipline, not matters of dogma. Lawful authorities in the Church do have the power to change these practices.

In the observance of the two precepts, namely attending Holy Mass on prescribed days and fasting and abstaining on commanded days, we obey them because the Church has the power by Christ to command such things. We do not abstain from meat on Fridays for instance because the meat is unclean or evil. It is the act of disobedience that is evil. As Fr. Michael Müller remarks in his Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine from 1874: "It is not the food, but the disobedience that defiles a man." To eat meat on a forbidden day unintentionally, for instance, is no sin. As the Scriptures affirm it is not what goes into one's mouth that defiles a man but that disobedience which comes from the soul (cf. Matthew 15:11).

Yet, even with such a distinction, the Church has historically been wise to change disciplines only very slowly and carefully. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once remarked, "It is a long-established principle of the Church never to completely drop from her public worship any ceremony, object or prayer which once occupied a place in that worship." The same may be said for matters concerning either Holy Days of Obligation or fast days. What our forefathers held sacred should remain sacred to us in an effort to preserve our catholicity not only with ourselves but with our ancestors who see God now in Heaven.

St. Francis de Sales remarked in the 16th / early 17th century, “If you’re able to fast, you will do well to observe some days beyond what are ordered by the Church.” 

This Lent, I propose for Traditional Catholics the following Lenten fasting plan:
  • Fasting applies for those age 18 or older (but not obligatory for those 60 years of age or older)
  • Ash Wednesday and Good Friday: No solid food. Only black coffee, tea, or water.
  • Mondays through Saturdays: Only one meal preferably after sunset. A morning frustulum and evening collation are permitted but not required. No meat or animal products are allowed for anyone, regardless of age - that includes fish. No olive oil.
  • Sundays: No meat or animal products allowed except on Laetare Sunday. Exceptions for Palm Sunday are mentioned below.
  • Annunciation Day (March 25) and Palm Sunday: Fish and olive oil permitted.
  • Holy Week (except Good Friday): Only Bread, Salt, and Herbs are permitted for the main meal. Frustulum and collation permitted (of bread, herbs, and salt) but omitted if possible
  • Holy Saturday: No food until Noon. Abstinence including from all animal products continues until Easter begins.
And for those looking for ideas on what to make to eat on fasting days, the Lenten Cookbook produced by Sophia Institute Press has a section on vegan recipes that is worth checking out.

Want to learn more about the history of fasting and abstinence? Check out the Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting and Abstinence.

12 comment(s):

del_button February 14, 2022 at 11:12 AM
Josh said...

Matthew, Thanks for the article. Do you observe the above Lenten fasting plan? If so, what are some common foods you eat in lent. Thanks!

del_button February 17, 2022 at 10:19 AM
Matthew said...

Pasta, breads, vegetables, some Greek foods, Indian food, etc. If you google vegan Lenten recipes you can find some good ones. God bless.

del_button February 17, 2022 at 3:59 PM
Unknown said...

Thank you, I'm so greatful for these lost gems of our true faith.

del_button February 18, 2022 at 9:30 AM
Anonymous said...

Thank you Matthew. I will be joining you in this fast.

del_button February 21, 2022 at 8:59 PM
Ann Borromeo said...

thank you for the history and the clear fasting plan

del_button February 27, 2022 at 7:45 PM
Anonymous said...

Are you allowed to chew gum throughout the day?

del_button March 1, 2022 at 11:50 PM
Anthony J said...

Where does Aquinas (or any other source from the Middle Ages) say that “No food was to be eaten at all on Ash Wednesday”? I’ve been reading through ST II-II Q147 and can’t find it anywhere. Would love to learn more. Thanks for all your work - my friends and I are taking it seriously.

del_button March 16, 2022 at 6:42 AM
Ave Maria purissima said...

Thank you Matthew.
Question. I do not see the St. Joseph feast on your exceptions even though it is 7 days before the Annunciation Day. Is it an 1st class feast?. Thks

del_button March 16, 2022 at 7:09 AM
Matthew said...

There were no exceptions for "First Class Feasts" - not even if they were Holy Days of Obligation. See

del_button November 15, 2022 at 5:52 PM
Anonymous said...

The only thing I will be changing is on Holy Saturday no food until midnight not noon. Let's finish off our Lenten Fast with a bang not a whimper!! Thank you Matt for this very informative article on Fasting throughout the ages, hopefully it inspires many to Fast as our Forefathers did and not simply practice the watered down version of our modern times. May God richly Bless you for it!

del_button February 14, 2023 at 9:41 AM
Anonymous said...

Why no olive oil ?

del_button September 28, 2023 at 1:50 AM
Anonymous said...

I found out that Orthodox Christians fast during the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, did Latin Catholics do it too?

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