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Catholic Essentials
"Not Believing" is not an Option!

Fast & Abstinence

Fasting is concerned with the quantity of food eaten and so must be distinguished from abstinence. The law is that on fast days only one full meal may be taken. Fasting is only imposed on those over 21 and under 59, but severe work, whether manual or mental, sickness or debility excuse from obligation (see your parish priest for dispensations). Collations may normally be taken on fast days if they do not add up to a second meal.

Abstinence refers to the refraining from eating flesh-meat or soup made from meat, and to be distinguished from fasting, with which it may be combined. Abstinence is normally obligatory for all who have completed their seventh year, on specific days of the Church year.

(Definitions from A Catholic Dictionary, 1951)

References in Scripture

  • "Prayer is good with fasting and alms more than to lay up treasures of gold: For alms delivereth from death, and the same is that which purgeth away sins, and maketh to find mercy and life everlasting" Tobias 12:8-9
  • "And when you fast, be not as the hypocrites, sad. For they disfigure their faces, that they may appear unto men to fast. Amen I say to you, they have received their reward. But thou, when thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face; That thou appear not to men to fast, but to thy Father who is in secret: and thy Father who seeth in secret, will repay thee." Matthew 6:16-18
  • "And when I had heard these words, I sat down, and wept, and mourned for many days: and I fasted, and prayed before the face of the God of heaven" 2 Esdras 1:4
  • "And as they were ministering to the Lord, and fasting, the Holy Ghost said to them: Separate me Saul and Barnabas, for the work whereunto I have taken them. Then they, fasting and praying, and imposing their hands upon them, sent them away" Acts 13:2-3
  • "And when they had ordained to them priests in every church, and had prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord, in whom they believed" Acts 14:22
  • "Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry" Matthew 4:1-2
  • "And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain, Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting." Matthew 17:17-20

Church Teaching:

  • "Q: Is it a sin to transgress a Precept of the Church?
    A: Knowingly to transgress a Precept of the Church in grave matter is a mortal sin
    Q: Name the Precepts of the Church.
    A: The Precepts of the Church are:
    1. To hear Mass on all Sundays and on Holy days of obligation.
    2. To fast during Lent, on Ember Days and appointed Vigils, and not to eat meat on forbidden days.
    3. To confess our sins at least once a year, and to receive Holy Communion at Easter each one in his own parish.
    4. To contribute to the support of the Church, according to local custom.
    5. Not to solemnize marriage at forbidden times, that is, from the first Sunday in Advent until the Epiphany, and from the first day of Lent until Low Sunday" Catechism of Pius X, The Precepts of the Church
  • "The holy season of Lent approaches, which is full of mysteries but not without mystery. It precedes that great celebration of Easter, by which alone the dignity of all other religious occasions is consecrated. Venerable Brothers, you should see that the faithful religiously observe this holy fast, which was recommended by the testimony of the laws and the prophets, consecrated by the Lord Jesus Christ, and handed on by the apostles. The Catholic Church has always preserved it so that by the mortification of the flesh and the humiliation of the spirit, we might be better prepared to approach the mysteries of the Lord's passion and the paschal sacraments" Encyclical On the Spiritual Advantages of Fasting by Pope Clement XIII, 1759
  • "Today, there are many evils which must be corrected, and many good things which must be promoted. See that your people may come to detest the enormous crime of blasphemy which violates everything these days. Also, by observing the laws concerning keeping holy feast days and fast and abstinence, they may carry out their duties, thus avoiding the punishments which contempt of these things involves" Encyclical On Proclaiming a Jubilee by Pope Pius IX, 1874


Fasting and abstaining from food and drink has been a practice since before the time of Christ. While Church rules surrounding fast and abstinence have varied over time (and also vary based on location), it is very clear that fasting and abstaining at designated times during the Church year is mandatory for all Catholics.

Aside from the mandatory laws of fast, all true Catholics should regularly want to practice fasting along with prayer, as a means of penance. To avoid fasting during the year is not Catholic!



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