Ash Wednesday, Fasting, Abstaining, and You – with notes on alligator, endothermic moonfish, and muskrat

According to the 1983 Code of Canon Law for the Latin Church, Latin Church Catholics are bound to observe fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday.

Here are some details. I am sure you know them already, but they are good to review.

FASTING: Catholics who are 18 year old and up, until their 59th birthday (when you begin your 60th year), are bound to fast (1 full meal and perhaps some food at a couple points during the day, call it 2 “snacks”, according to local custom or law – call it, two snacks that don’t add up to a full meal) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  There is no scientific formula for this.  Figure it out.

ABSTINENCE: Catholics who are 14 years old and older are abound to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent.

In general, when you have a medical condition of some kind, or you are pregnant, etc., these requirements can be relaxed.

For Eastern Catholics there are differences concerning dates and practices. Perhaps our Eastern friends can fill us Latins in.

You should by now have a plan for your spiritual life and your physical/material mortifications and penitential practices during Lent.

You would do well to include some works of mercy, both spiritual and corporal.

I also recommend making a good confession close to the beginning of Lent.  Let me put that another way:


“But Father! But Father!”, some of you are saying anxiously, “What about my Mystic Monk Coffee?  I can drink my Mystic Monk Coffee, can’t I?  Can’t I?”

You can, of course, with and as part of your full meal and two “snacks”.  No question there.

How about in between?  The old axiom, for the Lenten fast, is “Liquidum non frangit ieiuniumliquid does not break the fast”, provided you are drinking for the sake of thirst, rather than for eating.

Common sense suggests that chocolate banana shakes or “smoothies”, etc., are not permissible, even though they are pretty much liquid in form.  They are not what you would drink because you are thirsty, as you might more commonly do with water, coffee, tea, wine in some cases, lemonade, even some of these sports drinks such as “Gatorade”, etc.

Again, common sense applies, so figure it out.

Drinks such as coffee and tea do not break the Lenten fast even if they have a little milk added, or a bit of sugar, or fruit juice, which in the case of tea might be lemon.

Coffee would break the Eucharistic fast (one hour before Communion), since – pace fallentes  – coffee is no longer water, but it does not break the Lenten fast on Ash Wednesday.

You will be happy to know that chewing tobacco does not break the fast (unless you eat the quid, I guess), nor does using mouthwash (gargarisatio in one manual I checked) or brushing your teeth (pulverisatio).

Concerning the consumption of alligator and crocodile – HERE  I included notes also on the eating of endothermic moonfish, peptonized beef, and muskrat… just in case.

If you want to drink your coffee and tea with true merit I suggest drinking it from one of my coffee mugs.  I’d like to offer an indulgence for doing so, but that’s above my pay grade.

I just happen to have available a “Liquidum non frangit ieiunium” mug!  HERE

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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19 Responses to Ash Wednesday, Fasting, Abstaining, and You – with notes on alligator, endothermic moonfish, and muskrat

  1. iamlucky13 says:

    Thanks! I knew I could count on you to post a refresher on the finer points.

    Given the history of doppelbocks, a part of me feels like I need a stein that has “Liquidum non frangit ieiunium” on it. However, I’m sure the monks who fasted that way were far more rigorous about solid foods than we are these days.

  2. dbonneville says:

    These simple yet high value reminder posts are some of your best content, Fr. Z. Thanks for always posting stuff like this, and for the constant reminder about confession.

  3. tamranthor says:

    I believe I shall give up eating muskrat for Lent, thank you very much. ;)

  4. Akita says:

    Since “60 is the new 40”, may I suggest all hale and hearty “active” American seniors participate in the Lenten fast and abstinence? Sheesh, those guidelines appear to have been promulgated in the Middle Ages when few made it beyond their 6th decade.

  5. LarryW2LJ says:

    Speaking of chewing tobacco ….. in my youth I was at a baseball game where Mel Stottlemyre was pitching. He was hit by a “come backer” to the pitching mound, which caused him to accidentally swallow his chew. Shortly thereafter, he went behind second base to proceed to rid his stomach of said tobacco plug in a very unbecoming public and humiliating manner. So I would second Fr’s admonition about not swallowing the quid.

  6. David says:

    The cartoon reminds me that in this country before the Council priests never made a cross on the forehead with the ashes, just a smudge. And in Europe the custom, I believe, is to put them on top of the head.

  7. hwriggles4 says:

    Fr. Z:

    One thing I have noticed within the past 12 years is more parishes placing more emphasis on fasting and abstinence.

    Also, from a secular standpoint, I have noticed more restaurants expanding their menu this time of the year with more Lenten friendly choices and advertising them. Chicken places advertise sales on fish plates, and both Arbys and Wendy’s sell a fish sandwich, as does some Chick Fil As. Steak n Shake sells a fish platter this time of the year, and I haven’t been to Culvers that often (sorry, I don’t live in Wisconsin), but I think Fish n Chips is a year round item there.

    It makes life easier for planning, particularly those who travel frequently, and sometimes it’s a reminder that it’s Friday. There are also Fridays that I just have a veggie sub at Subway, or a bowl of Campbell’s vegetarian vegetable. The Progresso Garden Vegetable Soup is also vegetarian and very tasty.

    Happy Lenten Season!

  8. acardnal says:

    Despite your annual reminder of Canon Law [and the USCCB ‘s website], I still read and hear many incorrect statements about the upper age limit for obligatory fasting! When one celebrates their 59th birthday, one is no longer required to fast!

  9. Fallibilissimo says:

    Coudn’t agree more dbonneville. They are a great help!

  10. Julia_Augusta says:

    Thank you for the reminders! Preparing for fasting is more complicated than many people think. I found out the hard way during Ember Days last Advent when I found out the hard way that I needed to eat more fruit and nuts as the breakfast snack and have the main meal of the day at lunch. Before I figured that out, I almost fainted the day before, since I am a very active person who likes to hike and run. So fasting properly isn’t just about eating only one main meal, it’s also about knowing what foods to eat for your snacks and when to eat them (according to your body type and level of physical activity).

  11. Hugh says:

    Thanks, Fr Z.

    On a lighter note: we didn’t finish all our pancake mix on Pancake Tuesday night.
    Does Pancake Tuesday have a solemn octave?

    [Only in flat regions.]

  12. APX says:

    Sometimes I get the impression that we fast for the sake of fasting (despite what we tell ourselves) rather than out of love for God or to make reparation for sin, etc. We get all caught up in the planning of fasting (obviously if you’re the type of person who doesn’t eat meals, but mindlessly grazes throughout the day some thought needs to go into planning what one will eat, which is a type of Penance in and of itself), but forget why we’re doing it and it just turns into cutting calories and not really anything more. Do we try to adjust our lifestyle to reflect why we’re fasting (ie: cut back on other unnecessary tasks to make more time to spend in communion with God through mental prayer (which fasting helps with), or do we just go about our day as we usually would and try to fit fasting into it?

  13. Nan says:

    In the Byzantine Church, Great Lent began on Pure Monday, fasting from meat, dairy, oil, wine. It will end on Good Friday, fasting from those same things. Meanwhile, as in the Ancient Church, we fast on Wednesday and Friday. but fast on Fridays throughout the year.

    Here the fast is individualized so one may end up with a simple fast on Wed and Fri, on a strict fast from pure Monday to Good Friday, or anything in between. This is one of four fasting periods, so plenty of opportunity to gradually make the fast more strict.

    Note that shrimp and shellfish are legal because that’s what poor prople ate in ancient times.

  14. David Collins says:

    “60 is the new 40.” Only someone who hasn’t reached 60 could believe such rubbish- that, or 40 year olds are in terrible shape these days.

  15. TonyO says:

    @APX, while admittedly we should be spending more time in communion with God, fasting as penance / reparation for sin, and for the purpose of training the body to submit to the goals of the will rather than the other way around, are of themselves worthy reasons to fast. Both of these purposes are good. They are not the highest good, but they tend to serve the highest good by better preparing and disposing us to it. And fasting as penance and discipline has that effect (preparing and disposing) even if one should do it without conscious and explicit intention that it serve to better prepare us for more perfect union with God, as long as one does not fast for determinately bad reasons (like for vanity). Even fasting in to lose weight for health (not for vanity) is effectively part of discipline, which in itself tends toward self-control and thus toward being better disposed to prayer.

    While we are all better off in having a clearer idea on how each of our immediate purposes are connected to our final end (i.e. serving God), we need not be too worried about the exact pathway by which this or that action serves God when it is also simply a matter of following the Church’s explicit laws: it is enough to do it for obedience to the Church, and to simply assume that the Church’s institutional knowledge (and holy inspirations) mean there are good reasons for the rule.

  16. Fr_Andrew says:

    Father, and Hugh,

    In fact, there probably shouldn’t only be an Octave in and around mountains, since, looking at the cross-section of a pancake in scientific literature, it’s a better model of Tibet than Kansas :

  17. Joe in Canada says:

    To our edible bestiary we could add seal, in Newfoundland and Norway.

  18. Imrahil says:

    Dear TonyO,

    allow me to agree in principle but take what you say one step further: you say

    Even fasting in to lose weight for health (not for vanity)

    I say:

    Vanity is by definition an excess and therefore bad, so, of course, fasting for vanity is bad. But

    even fasting to improve the aesthetics of one’s bodily appearance, to impress a potential bride (provided one is in a state of possible future marriage), or to have the nice feeling of having had success (without lying to oneself about it) in doing a good and not altogether easier thing, even fasting for these things, which are not vanity, but which most people in the street would understand when hearing the phrase “fasting for vanity”, are acceptable motives.

  19. MoreIncenseLessNonsense says:

    Hi All,

    Read about the Eastern Catholic discipline during Great Lent on my blog at I converted to the Melkite Greek-Catholic Church in 2016 and it’s been an incredible blessing, fasting included!