A Quick Guide for Lent

Here are some basic reminders for Lent. I like to think I know my faith fairly well, but after seeing this I realized I had the age requirements for fasting vs. abstinence confused.

Remember, the seasons of the Church are not intended to be like a merry-go-round, forever spinning us in circles, but like an upward spiral toward union with God, lifting us closer each year.

Happy Lent!



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  1. When I became Catholic (some 25 years ago) I was surprised that the rules for fasting were not stricter. A fast for Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) means nothing, nada…no water, no food…from sunset to sunset. I didn’t follow that rigorously during my time as a secular Jew, but took coffee.
    This year (almost 31 years over the age limit) I still intend to fast, although my definition of a “smaller meal” may be stretching it.

  2. Hi Bob,
    I also find the fasting rules unimpressive. One meal and two smaller meals is a typical day for me. Of course, these are a minimum, we can always do more if we are healthy enough.

  3. Problem with any of the guidelines is that they’ve got to avoid both the folks who go overboard, and the folks who aren’t really getting into it.

    The thing I find more important is that you are not to freak out about things like “does this broth have bits of beef in it?”

    You’re free to not even use beef broth– I generally don’t, it just “feels” better- and you’re free to do a black fast if you want; the “one normal meal and two half or less meals” makes it really, really hard to be tempted to feeling all judgy at people, or at least easy to avoid it.

  4. Y’know foxfier, I think that hits the nail on the head.

    The rules of thumb are always gonna be flawed. That’s why we have objective laws in the church. And this whole “three meals but not really” thing does not represent the law well.

    The law is 1 meal max. In Italy, where Paul VI lived, the big meal wasn’t dinner; it was lunch. He said if for health reasons you need some more food in the evening or morning, take it. Reason being, at the time, you were encouraged to fast every weekday in Lent.

    So, the rule was – and is -1 meal max, with the permission for diabetics and manual laborers, and pregnant women, and soldiers, et alia, ad infinitum, to not go absolutely nuts for a full 40 days.

    In other words, if you’re wondering if eating anything more than 1 meal, is for you – and you’re not gonna do it every weekday in Lent – stick to 1 meal OR LESS.

  5. My wife remarked on reading this post that she had read the following about one of the Medici Popes (Clement VII?): he observed the Lenten fast by reducing the number of courses in his dinner from 12 to 9. I can’t confirm that from a cursory web search, but it doesn’t seem unlikely.

  6. Clay- that’s not what the universal law actually says, though, and the guy even specifically ruled out considering what his local custom was.

    It just says “some” food, in addition to one full meal.

    Jimmy Akin use to link it every single year– chapter and verse is here:

    There’s also Paul VI’s own words linked here:
    The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing—as far as quantity and quality are concerned—approved local custom.

    So, both from what the law says and what the Pope in question wrote, the bare minimum is “reduce two of your meals, unless you’re excused from fasting.”

    This is especially good for those who are technically excused (more fast-days than not, in the last decade, I’ve been excused–pregnant or nursing) can still fast, without causing harm.

  7. Americans eat a lot of snacks between meals and fasting rules that out.
    The dawn to dusk fasting of Ramadan without even water strikes me as being dangerous. Especially for older people since dehydration can occur before they feel the sensation of thirst.
    I know practicing Catholics who think the one hour fast from food and liquid, excepting water before receiving the Eucharist is no longer obligatory.

  8. The rules of fast and abstinence have been eased to remove any benefit one might receive from the practice. This is another of the Vatican II efforts to turn Catholics into Protestants which is now largely accomplished. There is simply nothing onerous about lent any more. We are left to impose true sacrifice on ourselves, something mostly unlikely to happen.

  9. The three important things to do in Lent are not “Prayer, Fasting, Abstinence”. They are Prayer, Fasting (including abstinence and other forms of self denial), and ALMSGIVING.

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