Fasting and abstinence are two ways to make reparation for our sins and the sins of the members of the Church.
Fasting means to limit how much food we eat in the day. The Church has indicated the following standards for fasting:
What is the standard for practicing a fast?
For one day, eat one normal meal and two smaller meals that do not add up to one normal meal. Avoid snacking.1
Who should fast?
Only Catholics who are 18 years old to 60 years old are obliged to fast.1
Who should not fast?
Catholics outside the age range, and those that are sick or pregnant or occupied with a job where fasting would put them in danger (police, construction, medicine, etc).1
When to fast?
At minimum, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.1
What can be consumed outside the 3 meals?
Water, medicine, coffee and tea.1
The Eucharistic Fast
For 1 hour before consuming the Eucharist, we must not consume anything except water and medicine. This is binding on all Catholics.1
Abstinence means to avoid a particular type of food during the day. The Church has indicated the following standards for abstinence:
What is the standard for practicing abstinence?
For one day, avoid eating meat.1
Who should abstain?
Only Catholics who are above 14 years old are obliged to abstain.1
Who should not abstain?
Catholics younger than 14 years old.1
When to abstain?
At minimum, Ash Wednesday and every Friday of Lent.1
What can be consumed?
Anything that is not meat. Fish and animal derived products such as eggs, butter and milk are not considered meat and can be consumed.1
Fasting and abstinence are not meant for us to enjoy pain. They serve two greater purposes.
The first is to sacrifice for God to make reparation for our sins and the sins of members of the Church.
The second is to practice spiritual self-discipline where we subject our body to our spirit. The world has many temptations and unless we practice know how to fight those temptations on a daily basis, we will always be the plaything of the devil.1
As such, we can go beyond these standards if it is prudent. In all the cases below, check with a priest to see if this is prudent for you.
How to fast above the standard?
For one day, consider eating fewer meals or avoid eating at all. Check with the priest if this is prudent for you.
How to abstain above the standard?
For one day, on top of meat, consider avoiding alcohol or dessert or sweeteners, or even certain forms of entertainment. Check with the priest if this is prudent for you.
Who should fast and abstain?
With prudence, fasting can be done by any Catholic who knows what they are doing (not children or those who are not in the right state of mind). Check with the priest if this is prudent for you.
Who should not fast or abstain?
Children and those who are not in the right state of mind.
When to fast or abstain?
With prudence, fasting and abstinence can be done throughout the year on a weekly basis. One example is to fast every Friday to remember Our Lord’s Passion and Death. Check with the priest if this is prudent for you.
Some religious orders fast and/or abstain everyday for the rest of their lives. The Carthusians for example eat one normal and one light vegetarian meal a day.1
As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, check with the priest before going far above the standard to see if it is prudent for you. Here is why.
You must ensure you are practicing prudence at all times. If you go too far, you run the risk of neglecting your duties, failing on your commitment or getting irritable.
I remember undertaking a perpetual fast where I would avoid breakfast everyday, alcohol and dessert Monday to Saturday, and would engage in the Liturgy of the Hours everyday.
One day, I learned that St. Theresa of Avila recommended all practices should be checked with our spiritual director to ensure we didn’t go too far. So, I brought it up with my spiritual director.
He looked at me and basically said, “Ryan, avoid coffee or some dessert on Friday. That’s it for now.” I realized I went too far. I didn’t know it was slowing me down and making me more irritable.
Now I ask my spiritual director before undertaking any significant sacrifices or at least share with him my practices at the moment to acquire his feedback.