Traditional fasting (Lent)

I just would like to know what the rules for fasting, abstinence, etc. were for Lent (and other occasions) before Vatican II. If anyone has any info please share!


Complete abstinence on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, and Holy Saturday morning. Complete abstinence means no meat or soup or gravy made from meat.

Fast on the weekdays of Lent. Fast means one full meal and two meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength. The two additional meals may not equal another full meal. Meat may be taken at the principal meal on a day of fast (provided the day is not Ash Wednesday, a Friday, or Holy Saturday morning).

No eating between meals, but liquids, including milk and juice are allowed.

Beer and wine are allowed, but no hard alcohol.

Note that these were the rules back in the 1950s, which is what I assume you’re getting at.

The rules were much more strict in the 18th century, and even more strict in the Middle Ages. Google “Black Fast” on the Internet.

You forgot to mention that fasting and abstenance are not oberved on Sundays and Solemnities.

I am doing that traditional Lenten Fast, with just dinner (meat or fish) and supper (no meat or fish). Non-fat milk for breakfast, no solid food. Since it is no longer an obligation, I can relax knowing that if I make a mistake, it is not a sin. Just a devotion.:slight_smile:

I believe they were even more strict back in the 30s and 40s. My mother would always tell us how easy we had it in the 50s.
They had to go so far as to weigh their food. During the War she said one half of a banana on one slice of bread was her normal lunch.

And no eating 12 hrs before Holy Communion as oppposed to the 3 hrs I grew up with and the one hour today.

Thanks everybody, especially SFH, for the responses!

I am very excited about fasting more rigorously during this Lent, and have decided to do the traditional fast.

I have one more question though. What are the traditional (pre-Vatican II) rules specifically for Holy Week?


Palm Sunday: No fasting or abstenance
Monday - Thursday: Fasting
Friday: Fasting and abstenance
Saturday: Abstenance and/or fasting (sources disagree)

Main Source: 2007 Saints Calandar from TAN Books

Additional Note: Monday, 19 March is the Solemnity Of Saint Joseph, so no fasting or abstenance required on that day

what about those of us who are irish/ St. Patrick’s day is a feast day. What’s the rule for that?

Does TAN Books have website?

Is Saturday considered a weekday?


The Annunciation (March 25th) is also a Solemnity. However it falls on a Sunday and so it is observed on Monday the 26th this year under the revised calendar. I’m not sure how the old calendar handles this. Is it moved to the 24th or 26th? Or is it just not observed at all?

The Catholic Encyclopedia on The Black Fast:

This form of fasting, the most rigorous in the history of church legislation, was marked by austerity regarding the quantity and quality of food permitted on fasting days as well as the time wherein such food might be legitimately taken.
In the first place more than one meal was strictly prohibited. At this meal flesh meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk were interdicted (Gregory I, Decretals IV, cap. vi; Trullan Synod, Canon 56). Besides these restrictions abstinence from wine, specially during Lent, was enjoined (Thomassin, Traité des jeûnes de l’Eglise, II, vii). Furthermore, during Holy Week the fare consisted of bread, salt, herbs, and water (Laymann, Theologia Moralis, Tr. VIII; De observatione jejuniorum, i). Finally, this meal was not allowed until sunset. St. Ambrose (De Elia et jejunio, sermo vii, in Psalm CXVIII), St. Chrysostom (Homil. iv in Genesim), St. Basil (Oratio i, De jejunio) furnish unequivocal testimony concerning the three characteristics of the black fast. The keynote of their teaching is sounded by St. Bernard (Sermo. iii, no. 1, De Quadragesima), when he says “hitherto we have fasted only until none” (3 p.m.) “whereas, now” (during Lent) “kinds and princes, clergy and laity, rich and poor will fast until evening”. It is quite certain that the days of Lent (Muller, Theologia Moralis, II, Lib. II, Tr. ii, sect. 165, no. 11) as well as those preceding ordination were marked by the black fast. This regime continued until the tenth century when the custom of taking the only meal of the day at three o’clock was introduced (Thomassin, loc. cit.). In the fourteenth century the hour of taking this meal was changed to noon-day (Muller, loc. cit.). Shortly afterwards the practice of taking a collation in the evening began to gain ground (Thomassin, op. cit., II, xi). Finally, the custom of taking a crust of bread and some coffee in the morning was introduced in the early part of the nineteenth century. During the past fifty years, owing to ever changing circumstances of time and place, the Church has gradually relaxed the severity of penitential requirements, so that now little more than a vestige of former rigour obtains.

They also discuss the gradual evolution of the fast:

From what has been said it will be clear that in the early Middle Ages Lent throughout the greater part of the Western Church consisted of forty weekdays, which were all fast days, and six Sundays. From the beginning to the end of that time all flesh meat, and also, for the most part, “lacticinia”, were forbidden even on Sundays, while on all the fasting days only one meal was taken, which single meal was not permitted before evening. At a very early period, however (we find the first mention of it in Socrates), the practice began to be tolerated of breaking the fast at the hour of none, i.e., three o’clock. We learn in particular that Charlemagne, about the year 800, took his lenten repast at 2 p.m. This gradual anticipation of the hour of dinner was facilitated by the fact that the canonical hours of none, vespers, etc., represented rather periods than fixed points of time. The ninth hour, or none, was no doubt strictly three o’clock in the afternoon, but the Office of none might be recited as soon as sext, which, of course, corresponded to the sixth hour, or midday, was finished. Hence none in course of time came to be regarded as beginning at midday, and this point of view is perpetuated in our word noon which means midday and not three o’clock in the afternoon. Now the hour for breaking the fast during Lent was after Vespers (the evening service), but by a gradual process the recitation of Vespers was more and more anticipated, until the principle was at last officially recognized, as it is at present, that Vespers in lent may be said at midday. In this way, although the author of the “Micrologus” in the eleventh century still declared that those who took food before evening did not observe the lenten fast according to the canons (P.L., CLI, 1013), still, even at the close of the thirteenth century, certain theologians, for example the Franciscan Richard Middleton, who based his decision in part upon contemporary usage, pronounced that a man who took his dinner at midday did not break the lenten fast. Still more material was the relaxation afforded by the introduction of “collation”. This seems to have begun in the ninth century, when the Council of Aix la Chapelle sanctioned the concession, even in monastic houses, of a draught of water or other beverage in the evening to quench the thirst of those who were exhausted by the manual labor of the day. From this small beginning a much larger indulgence was gradually evolved. The principle of parvitas materiae, i.e., that a small quantity of nourishment which was not taken directly as a meal did not break the fast, was adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas and other theologians, and in the course of centuries a recognized quantity of solid food, which according to received authorities must not exceed eight ounces, has come to be permitted after the midday repast. As this evening drink, when first tolerated in the ninth-century monasteries, was taken at the hour at which the “Collationes” (Conferences) of Abbot Cassian were being read aloud to the brethren, this slight indulgence came to be known as a “collation”, and the name has continued since. Other mitigations of an even more substantial character have been introduced into lenten observance in the course of the last few centuries. To begin with, the custom has been tolerated of taking a cup of liquid (e.g., tea or coffee, or even chocolate) with a fragment of bread or toast in the early morning. But, what more particularly regards Lent, successive indults have been granted by the Holy See allowing meat at the principal meal, first on Sundays, and then on two, three, four, and five weekdays, throughout nearly the whole of Lent. Quite recently, Maundy Thursday, upon which meat was hitherto always forbidden, has come to share in the same indulgence. In the United States, the Holy See grants faculties whereby working men and their families may use flesh meat once a day throughout the year, except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigil of Christmas. The only compensation imposed for all these mitigations is the prohibition during Lent against partaking of both fish and flesh at the same repast.

And here are the American regulations as of 1913:

Diversity in customs, in climate, and in prices of food have gradually paved the way for modifications of the law of abstinence. Throughout the United States the ordinary Saturday is no longer a day of abstinence. During Lent, in virtue of an indult, the faithful are allowed to eat meat at their principal meal on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, the second and last Saturdays excepted. The use of meat on such days is not restricted to the principal meal for such as are exempt from fasting by reason of ill health, age, or laborious occupations. Eggs, milk, butter, and cheese, formerly prohibited, are now permitted without restriction as far as the day of the week is concerned. The use of lard or dripping in preparing fish and vegetables at all meals and on all days is allowed by an indult issued 3 August, 1887. It is never lawful to take fish with flesh, at the same meal, during Lent, Sundays included (Benedict XIV, Litt. ad Archiep. Compostel., 10 June, 1745, ap. Bucceroni, Enchiridion Morale, 147). At other times this is not prohibited (Bucceroni, ib.). On Wednesdays and Fridays, as well as on the second and last Saturdays of Lent, flesh meat is not permitted. Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays during Ember Week are still days of abstinence and fasting. The vigils of Christmas, Pentecost, Assumption, and All Saints are also days of abstinence and fasting. In virtue of faculties granted by the Holy See, workingmen, and their families as well, may use flesh meat once a day on all abstinence days throughout the year except Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigil of Christmas. This indult was issued for ten years, 15 March 1895, and renewed for another decade on 25 February, 1905. (See “Exposition of Christian Doctrine”, Philadelphia, 1899, II, 528-529 Spirago-Clarke, “The Catechism Explained”, New York, 1900; Diocesan Regulations for Lent.)

So a traditional fast may include these elements, though throughout history they were in different combinations:

Abstinence on Vigils.
Fasting on all the weekdays of Lent
Meat only at main meal.
Two collations permitted (basically, coffee and toast at breakfast, and a smaller meal in the evening)
Never fish and flesh at same meal in Lent (even Sundays).
Abstinence on all Fridays of the year.
Abstinence on Wednesdays of Lent. Abstinence also on Ember and Rogation days.
Used to be abstinence all through lent also, and no eggs, butter, milk, cheese or lard either.

This is a sample fasting schedule, as practiced by the Canons Regular of the New Jerusalem, a tridentine order:

[LEFT]54. Everyone is bound to fast on the following days (Constitutions ¶ 64):[/LEFT]

[LEFT]Fridays throughout the year[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Ash Wednesday and the three days which follow[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]All days of Lent[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Vigils of:[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Christmas[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Pentecost[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Ascension[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Assumption[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Nativity of Saint John the Baptist[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Saints Peter and Paul[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Ember Days in their four seasons[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Rogation Days[/LEFT]

[LEFT]55. Certain of the foregoing days of fast concur. In such cases liturgical law determines which fast is observed.
56. There will be no fasting on First or Second Class Feasts, nor Fridays falling within the octaves of Christmas, Easter and Pentecost.
5. Abstinence:
57. The current discipline of the Latin Church regarding the nature of abstinence is in force in the institute. Abstinence refers to the consumption of food devoid of all meat, meat products or meat juices.
58. Everyone is bound to abstinence on the following days (Constitutions ¶ 64):[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays in Advent[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Wednesdays, Fridays, Saturdays in Septuagesima[/LEFT]
**[FONT=Verdana]Ash Wednesday and the Friday and Saturday which follow **

[/FONT][FONT=Verdana]Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays in Lent

[/FONT] [LEFT]Vigils (as listed in DOD ¶ 54)[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Ember days in their four seasons[/LEFT]

[FONT=Arial] [LEFT]Rogation Days[/LEFT]

Although Sunday is never a penitential day, and thus never a day of fast or abstinence, just how are we to conduct ourselves in keeping with the season? Is it wise to grant ourselves mitigations of other personal Lenten disciplines in honor of the Lord’s day, or should we try to continue the sobriety on all days, even if we eat more meat or some snacks on Sundays?

Rogation days? I know and observe Ember days.

I said “fast on the weekdays of Lent.” Saturday and Sunday were excluded except as noted in my earlier email.

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