Guide to Fasting and Abstaining During Lent


" guide to fasting and abstinence during Lent" by Barb Szyszkiewicz (


Lent: it’s supposed to be a time when we simplify, stripping down to the bare physical essentials so we can intensify our spiritual lives. It gets a little more complicated when you’re responsible for more than just your own spiritual life. Moms often discover just how much our decisions (and our attitudes) regarding Lent affect the whole family. Nowhere is that more evident than the issue of food.

Fasting is one of the three “pillars” of Lent, along with prayer and almsgiving. And during Lent, we practice fasting in a particular way, as well as observing Meatless Fridays, when we abstain from eating meat. Fasting and abstaining are not the same, though sometimes they happen together. So what does it all mean?

We fast on Ash Wednesday (this year, February 14) and Good Friday (this year, March 30). Fasting means that we may eat one full meal and two smaller meals (which, put together, are smaller than the one full meal). When we are fasting, we do not eat between meals. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) notes that everyone between the ages of 18 and 59 must fast, with these exceptions: pregnant and nursing women and anyone suffering mental illness or physical illness such as diabetes.

  • Do children have to fast? No.
  • Do senior citizens have to fast? No.
  • Do we have to fast from liquids? No. Fasting concerns food, not liquids. Liquids are allowed at any time, but no solid food should be consumed between meals.

We abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent, as well as on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstaining from meat means that we do not eat meat or meat products on Fridays during Lent, or on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics age 14 and up must abstain from meat on those days.

We can eat:

We cannot eat:

  • chicken or other poultry
  • beef or veal
  • lamb
  • pork
  • game

The gray area: things like gravy and broth. The USCCB notes:

Abstinence does not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat. Thus, such foods as chicken broth, consomme, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are technically not forbidden. However, moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste). Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.

Brittany Ann offers a printable “cheat sheet” with menu ideas for what you can eat during Lent.

The USCCB also emphasizes that as Lent is a penitential season, this is not the time to indulge in pricey, lavish meat alternatives. That’s always tempting for me: I love almost all kinds of fish and seafood, and I’d gladly take advantage of those Lenten sales and specials on some of my favorites. But it’s not in keeping with the spirit of Lent. I remember my dad wondering, when I was a kid, “If pizza or fish is a treat, how can it be a penance?”

Part of the penance, of course, is following the discipline that involves giving up most of the array of available choices for meals. But choosing the salmon on special is, for me, a treat — even if it is on sale. This year, I’ve decided to keep things simple and very low-cost, so we’ll be alternating between two meal plans on Lenten Fridays.

Keeping your Lenten meatless meals low-cost and simple has an extra bonus beyond the spiritual benefits of penitence. It’s a gateway to almsgiving. Our friends at CRS Rice Bowl (an outreach of Catholic Relief Services) encourage families to serve simple meals on days of abstinence and share the money they saved with those in need by donating through the Rice Bowl boxes you receive in your parish or through the free CRS Rice Bowl app. In addition, each Lent CRS Rice Bowl features five meatless recipes from some of the countries in which they serve. Look for those each Lenten Friday right here at!

We share family-friendly meatless recipes all year long. Find all our Meatless Friday featured recipes here.

Copyright 2018 Barb Szyszkiewicz, OFS


About Author

Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom of 3 young adults, and a Secular Franciscan. She is managing editor for Today's Catholic Teacher magazine and editor at Barb enjoys writing, cooking, and reading, and is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom and her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at Cook and Count.

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