Fasting and Abstinence: 6 Basic Questions and Answers on Lent

“Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land.”

Listers, Lent is a penitential season within Holy Mother Church and all Catholics are called to participate. For various reasons there is always a spectre of confusion around the time of Lent regarding the requirements of fasting and abstinence asked of all Catholics pursuant to Canon Law. Since the Catholic Church allows the local bishops’ conferences to articulate and command the details of the overall prescribed rule, it is good for us within the United States to turn to the USCCB. The following series of questions is taken from the USCCB’s resources on Lent and is presented in full with supplemented numerical titles. SPL has also published The Idiot’s Guide to Fasting and Abstinence, which includes citations to Canon Law and Sacred Tradition.

Other Lists from the USCCB


1. On the 40 Days of Lent

Q. Why do we say that there are forty days of Lent? When you count all the days from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, there are 46.

A. It might be more accurate to say that there is the “forty day fast within Lent.” Historically, Lent has varied from a week to three weeks to the present configuration of 46 days. The forty day fast, however, has been more stable. The Sundays of Lent are certainly part of the Time of Lent, but they are not prescribed days of fast and abstinence.


2. On the Sundays within Lent

Q. So does that mean that when we give something up for Lent, such as candy, we can have it on Sundays?

A. Apart from the prescribed days of fast and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the days of abstinence every Friday of Lent, Catholics have traditionally chosen additional penitential practices for the whole Time of Lent. These practices are disciplinary in nature and often more effective if they are continuous, i.e., kept on Sundays as well. That being said, such practices are not regulated by the Church, but by individual conscience.


3. On the guidelines for abstinence from meat

Q. I understand that all the Fridays of Lent are days of abstinence from meat, but I’m not sure what is classified as meat. Does meat include chicken and dairy products?

A. Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat. Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are technically not forbidden. However, moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste). Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.


The Crucifixion. Icon by Theophanes the Cretan (16th century, Stavronikita monastery, Mount Athos). – Wikipedia, Great Lent

4. On the heart of penitential practice

Q. I’ve noticed that restaurants and grocery stores advertise specials on expensive types of fish and seafood on Fridays during Lent. Some of my Catholic friends take advantage of these deals, but somehow I don’t feel right treating myself to the lobster special on Fridays during Lent.

A. While fish, lobster and other shellfish are not considered meat and can be consumed on days of abstinence, indulging in the lavish buffet at your favorite seafood place sort of misses the point. Abstaining from meat and other indulgences during Lent is a penitential practice. On the Fridays of Lent, we remember the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday and unite ourselves with that sacrifice through abstinence and prayer.


5. On the rules for fasting

Q. I understand that Catholics ages 18 to 59 should fast on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday, but what exactly are the rules for these fasts?

A. Fasting on these days means we can have only one full, meatless meal. Some food can be taken at the other regular meal times if necessary, but combined they should be less than a full meal. Liquids are allowed at any time, but no solid food should be consumed between meals.


6. On age and other requirements

Q. Are there exemptions other than for age from the requirement to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?

A. Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes. Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women. In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.

I STAND WITH THE CATHOLIC CHURCH: 10 Graphics In Defense of the Church

An unjust law is no law at all – we will not and cannot not comply.

Listers, the HHS mandate has jolted the soporific Catholic Church in America into action. We are at war. We are in a multi-front conflict that cannot be reduced to violations of religious liberty. The Church is calling the faithful to stand against the scourge of abortion, the unnatural and artificial recreation of marriage and family, and the inalienable right for Catholics to worship God in the mass and serve him in the poor according to the truth of the Gospels. As our world abandons God and natural law for the dictatorship of relativism, Holy Mother Church is calling us to defend the faith and to promote that which is natural and rational in man.

Spread the faith. Spread the truth. Let people know where you stand. Do not be afraid.

Permission and Use: Permission is given, indeed, it is encouraged that you use these images for any personal means especially on your blog, facebook or twitter. All we ask is that you kindly credit us with a link back to this page (when possible) and that you don’t modify the images. To download them, you can simply right-click on any image and choose your browsers “save as” or “download as” option. If you’re on an iOS device you can simply tap and hold on an image and a dialog will appear allowing you to save the image. Finally, if you’d like to you can download all 10 images in a .zip file.

The SPL Store is Open


1. I Stand with the Catholic Church

I Stand with the Catholic Church

2. Catholicam Sto cum Ecclesiam

Here is a Latin version of the same.

UPDATE 02/10/12: Mea culpa. Thanks to Josh McManaway in the comments and @JWY80 on Twitter for the reminder that “‘cum’ semper requirit casum ablativum.”

3. We Cannot – We Will Not – Comply

Echoing the words of our Bishops and the leaders of many Catholic institutions.

We Cannon - We Will Not - Comply

4. An Unjust Law is No Law

One of St. Augustine’s most famous quotes seems more applicable now than ever before in the history of the United States.

An Unjust Law is No Law

5. The Church Has Outlived Every Major Empire. Think Twice.

This isn’t the first time we have stood up and had to pay for it. We’re not going anywhere.

The Church has outlived every major Empire. Think Twice. HHS Mandate

6. The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail – Matthew 16:18

The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail - HHS logo

7. If “What Goes On” In The Bedroom Doesn’t Affect Me, Why Make Me Pay For It?

If what

8. Pregnancy Is Not A Disease

Pregnancy Is Not A Disease

9. “Give me an army praying the Rosary and I will conquer the world.” – Blessed Pope Pius IX

10. BONUS: Keep Calm and Catholic On

Keep Calm and Catholic On

Facebook Timeline Cover Images

Here are three images sized specifically for Facebook Timeline Cover Images. (You can thank Lister Tammy who made this suggestion in the comments.  Be sure to click the image and then save the full-sized version!




Listers, we’ve recreated our popular Keep Calm and Catholic On graphic. The papal tiara is an original SPL design and red will be the new theme color.  We will soon begin production of this graphic on various SPL merchandise.

In the midst of all the troubles and anxieties we as Catholics now face in this modernist world, please remember to faithfully attend mass, pray the rosary and most of all – Keep Calm and Catholic On.

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New Missal Roundup: 10 News Articles on the New Translation

Grievous faults, spirits, and parishioners pronouncing consubstantial, the new translation of the mass is here in all its divine and human elements. The following is but a brief sampling of the media’s reaction.

Vatican Radio: Commentary on the New English Translation

FATHER DWIGHT LONGENECKER: Parish Preparation & the New Mass

The Adoremus Hymnal: Fitting Music for the New Translation of the Mass – NCRegister

CNA: The Old Mass Books Will Be Cremated or Buried

Whispers in the Loggia: How did your parish do? – 125 Comments & Counting

NPR MUSIC: “New Liturgy Reanimates Catholic Music”

The New Translation… the Marines had it in WWII?

10 Comments Overheard After the First New Mass

Huff Post Religion: A Left-Wing View of the New Translation

FR Z: Praise for the New Mass