Hello Rosary Lovers! Fasting is an essential part of being Catholic. Thankfully, the Church helps us in this area.
In this post we will explore the Catholic Church Fasting Rules.
The Bible cannot help you much with fasting
The first thing to say is that the Bible won’t help you a great deal when it comes to the issue of fasting.
Loads of Christians in the world today either don’t fast or having given up fasting. One of the reasons for this is because if you go with Scripture alone, you won’t really know how to fast.
Jesus assumes his followers will fast: ‘When you fast …’ ‘When the Bridegroom is taken away, then they will fast.’
But Jesus never really tells us precisely how to do it, other than basically don’t show others that you are fasting and keep it to yourself and God (Matthew 6:16-18).
The apostles fasted often (see Acts 13:1-5). And yet, there’s no advice in the apostolic letters about how to do this.
So in the Bible, we are indeed strongly commended to fast, and it is expected that we should fast as Christians.
But there is no clear guidance about how to fast.
For Catholics, this isn’t a problem. This is one of the reasons why we need the Catholic Church and Bishops.
The Catholic Church teaches us how to fast
The responsibility to teach Christians how to fast has always been the domain of the Church, since Scripture doesn’t help much in this area.
Traditionally, Catholics would fast on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Nowdays, Catholics simply fast on Fridays. This is by the authority of the Bishops.
And when I say fast, I mean abstain.
On Fridays, Catholics are expected (unless they live in the US) to give up meat.
This does not include fish, and it does not include sweets or biscuits that contain gelatine, or gravy/sauce that is made from meat.
Simply, Catholics should not be eating chunks of meat on Fridays. This is strictly called Abstinance, rather than Fasting.
Only two Fasting Days
However, there are two days we are expected to Fast in the proper sense. Fasting means to eat less food.
These days are:
- Ash Wednesday
- Good Friday
Now, a caveat. The Eastern Catholic Churches are in fully communion with the Roman Catholic Church and the Pope. Eastern Catholics are JUST AS CATHOLIC as the Pope himself.
And yet, Eastern Catholics have their own fasting rules. You can see one here from the Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (my native Church).
Fasting is generally a good deal more central to the practice of Eastern Catholicism than to Roman Catholicism.
Anyway, if we are talking about the fasting rules of the Roman Church, the Latin rite, then it’s Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
What to do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
The Latin Church requires all Roman Catholics to do the following on these days.
- Eat no meat (fish is fine)
- Eat one main meal
- You can supplement your main meal with up to two smaller meals or snacks, so long as together these are not greater than your main meal.
You can have any drinks you like.
So, for instance, you could skip breakfast, and have a main meal at lunch, and then a small meal for dinner.
Or you could skip breakfast, and have a small meal at lunch and a main meal at Dinner.
I find skipping breakfast helpful because I cannot be done with counting up whether my two smaller meals are bigger than my main meal, that sort of thing drives me insane. So I just skip breakfast and it’s all good.
If you don’t struggle like I do with religious scrupulosity then by all means, have you main meal and your two snacks/smaller meals on these days.
Can I have meal drinks/shakes on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday?
I’m not sure about this one.
The concept of a meal drink is new, and I imagine that the Church wouldn’t really be in favour of you chugging down 6 meal shakes on Good Friday, given that it is literally drinking food into your stomach, rather than chewing it.
Best to avoid these on these days, or use them for your smaller meal.
Still, it needs to be said that the Church does not have an official rule on this, so technically it isn’t breaking the letter of the law. It may be breaking the spirit of the law however.
Can I drink milk on these days?
Yes I think the Church permits this. I don’t think there’s any limit on it either. However, if you’re drinking 6 large glasses a day to relieve your hunger, in between the meals, perhaps this isn’t exactly keeping the spirit of the fast.
Pregnant and Breastfeeding women
Are COMPLETELY exempt from the Ash Wednesday and Good Friday fasts, and also the Friday abstinance.
I suppose it would be recommended that they replace fasting and abstinance with some kind of spiritual or material work of charity, whether extra prayer, Mass attendance, doing a kind work of charity, etc.
However, I’m unsure there is an official rule on this for Pregnant and Breastfeeding women.
In all of this, remember ‘Mercy not Sacrifice’
God is a God of mercy. If you genuinely struggle with any of the Church’s fasting rules, you should speak to your priest and see if you can get some kind of exemption, or some wise counsel.
There are Catholics who are completely exempt from all of these rules because they have to have meat in their diet every, single day. That might be you. Check with your doctor and priest if you have any concerns.
Try not to focus on the external rule of the fasting laws, but rather on the spirit they are trying to lead us to.
The spirit of the fasting laws is to help us practice self-denial and self-control and to distance ourselves from food or kinds of food on these days.
This is good for us and will help us in our journey to salvation.
Is it wrong to not keep the Church’s fasting rules?
If you genuinely don’t know that the Church requires these things, then your culpability is obviously limited. Perhaps you aren’t even guilty of anything in this case.
But if you know that the Church tells us not to eat meat on Fridays and you couldn’t care less and sit down and eat a giant Beef steak, then yes, this is wrong.
It’s actually very wrong. It’s a sin against God, because it’s a sin against the authority of his Bishops.
You may need to confess such a blatant breach of God’s will in Confession to restore your relationship with God and his Bishops.
What if I forget it’s a fast day or a Friday?
If you forget, and eat meat and then remember that it’s a Friday, your culpability is limited. You aren’t guilty of serious sin in this case.
Just ask God to forgive you and try to remember next time.
Perhaps keep a calendar so you can remind yourself each Friday, or Fast Day. This is a good idea for remembering Holy Days of Obligation too.
If I can help you in any other way please let me know, or speak to your priest.