Roman Catholic traditions on fasting

Hello there, did we as Roman Catholics ever fast twice a week like the Greek Orthodox church?

Roman Catholics used to fast during every day of Lent as well as Good Friday, four times a year during Ember Days (which are four sets of 3 days), Rogation Days (which occur twice a year), the Fridays in Advent, and the vigils of major feast days.
In addition, people abstained from meat every Friday of the year, and at first all during Lent, then later when they made Lenten abstinence only Fridays (and Ash Wednesday) during Lent and Advent there was often a second abstinence day (Saturday or Wednesday). They also fasted from midnight until Communion time at Mass for any day they planned to receive Communion.

There were a lot of exceptions to the fasting and abstinence rules for people who were elderly, ill, traveling or studying. There were also local exceptions regarding which animals counted as “meat” for abstinence purposes. Finally, priests would grant dispensations to people who needed to eat to be able to work, such as coal miners in PA, many of whom were Catholic and who worked a very physically demanding and dangerous job.


I’m not sure about fasting (outside of Lent), but at one point Wednesdays and Fridays were weekly days of abstinence (I was reading something by St. Robert Bellarmine and he mentioned in passing this as the discipline at the time). There was also much more local variation in the past.

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Yes, in US I think they did Friday and Saturday as the two abstinence days whereas in Europe it was Wednesday and Friday.

The whole thing looks crazy complicated if you had to keep track of what every Catholic in the world was doing. People would just follow whatever their local diocese told them to do, which was probably easier because everyone they knew was following the same rules.

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The early Church (East and West) all did; it was mentioned in the Didache (ca. 100 A.D.) which also is the basis of why the Greeks do it. When this practice was abridged in the West, others will have to tell you:

“But let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Rather, fast on the Wednesdays and Fridays.” (Didache, ch. 8)


It’s important to note that even today, many devout Roman Catholics do some kind of a voluntary regular fast for private devotional purposes. I usually do 1 day a week for private devotion and I know people who do 3 days a week. I also observe Ember and Rogation days because they’re part of my cultural heritage. Some of the celebrity priests also push fasting because on top of its being penance, they think it’s healthy. I usually shy away from that because priests are not doctors and our bodies don’t all work the same way.


You can fast friday and wednesday.
I do an intermittant fast on wednesday.

Since im small i cant push it. But my priest said i can just be agreeable on Wedhesday. So i smile andsay yes…when im ready to argue.

thank you everybody for the replies, it seems like we do have lots of fasts to observe. I cannot seem to organise my thoughts around the apparent change in fasting habits as proposed by our Greek Orthodox brethern.

You can certainly fast like the Greek Orthodox if you’d like. One of these years I would like to try an Eastern Church-type fast for Lent.

My impression is that the Eastern Church members both Orthodox and Catholic seem to have a lot more access to spiritual direction/ counseling than Latin Church members, who are often prevented by just sheer numbers from spending much time with the priest except for the bare necessities. The spiritual directors, especially if they have some knowledge of fasting, might make the fast more fruitful by reminding people of why they’re doing it and making sure they don’t do too much of it.

Also, you have to keep in mind why you are fasting. Is it for penance or spiritual growth or self-control or in remembrance of our Lord’s Passion, etc. I think for too many Latin Catholics the fasting requirements had turned into “is it a mortal sin if I somehow eat X on a fast day” or worrying about getting an exception to the rule if someone needed to eat because they were working, traveling, being a guest in some non-Catholic’s home, etc.

You would be surprised at how fasts that seem relatively minor can be very penitential. When you try different fasts you quickly get a sense of how your body depends on certain things to be in the diet even though you don’t eat a lot of them daily or a lot of food in general. A fast that is nothing for person A might very well make person B feel very sick.

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Thank you for bringing up many interesting points. How has fasting changed your life? I tried it last week at the detriment of the acidity of the stomach but experienced more concentration and seriousness at prayer the morning after. It also makes me sacrifice for the sake of someone else which i could not experience in my youth.

regarding this “…is it a mortal sin if I somehow eat X on a fast day” , do you feel that Catholics treat the sacrament of confession the same way? Instead of, " let me go the church as a hospital for help and advise in the confessional box."

It hasn’t, except for making me feel lousy periodically. It’s a penance offered up for particular purposes, and that’s about it. It might be making me more holy on some level that I don’t understand or appreciate.

There are probably billions of Catholics in the world who confess at least once a year. I couldn’t even begin to assume how each of them feels about the sacrament of confession. I do know that for Western Catholics, the priest doesn’t have time to give you a lot of help and advice in there. You’ll ueually get 5 minutes or less. I understand it’s different in the Eastern churches.

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