What is the Lenten fast?


What is the right mode of fasting for Catholics? There’s a debate here on it. Is it one full meal a day or half-meals, etc? Thanks for your kind reply.



This is what our director of apologetics, Jimmy Akin, sent to all members of our staff:

Here is what the Church’s official legal documents have to say regarding the penitential disciplines of Lent.


Can. 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. [NOTE: Our episcopal conference has removed the requirement of abstinence from meat except on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the Fridays of Lent]

Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year *. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year *. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.


III. 1. The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk or condiments made of animal fat.

  1. 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.


People often hear informal summaries of the law of fast that say you can eat one full meal plus two smaller meals as long as they don’t add up to a second meal. Many find this guideline unhelpful as they have no standard size for a meal, making it hard to figure out whether two snacks add up to a meal or not. Fortunately, the law does not contain this guideline. It simply says that you can have “some food” two other times besides your full meal. “Some food” is clearly less than a full meal (and the less it is, the more in keeping with the spirit of fasting it is), but the law does not encourage people to scruple over what two instances of “some food” add up to.



Fr. Vincent Serpa, O.P.*

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