What are fast and abstinence? A day of fast is one on which Catholics who are eighteen to sixty years old are required to keep a limited fast. In this country you may eat a single, normal meal. Two other smaller meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one's needs. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids including milk and fruit juices are allowed. Children are not required to fast, but their parents must ensure they are properly educated in the spiritual practice of fasting. A day of abstinence is a day on which Catholics fourteen years and older are required to abstain from eating meat. The pastor can easily dispense those with medical conditions from the requirements of fast and/or abstinence.


What is the Eucharistic Fast? This is the fast required of Catholics when they receive the Eucharist. Canon law states, "One who is to receive the most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion" (CIC 919 1). Elderly people, those who are ill, and their caretakers are excused from the Eucharistic fast (CIC 191 3). Priests and deacons may not dispense one obligated by the Eucharistic fast unless the bishop has expressly granted such power to them (cf. CIC 89).

In addition to Ash Wednesday, are any other days during Lent days of fast or abstinence? Yes. All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence. Also, Good Friday, the day on which Christ was crucified, and Ash Wednesday are days of both fast and abstinence. All days in Lent are appropriate for fasting or abstaining, but canon law does not require it. Such fasting or abstinence is voluntary.


Why are Fridays during Lent days of abstinence? Because Jesus died for our sins on Friday, making it an especially appropriate day of mourning our sins by denying ourselves something we enjoy. (By the same token, Sunday-the day on which he rose for our salvation-is an especially appropriate day to rejoice.) During the rest of the year Catholics in this country are permitted to use a different act of penance on Friday in place of abstinence, though all Fridays are days of penance on which we are required to do something expressing sorrow for our sins.


See also: Lent