Good Friday, Fasting, Abstaining, and You

Two days of the year Catholics are asked both to fast and to abstain from meat.

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 and Good Friday.

Here are some details. I have posted them before, and 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… and Good Friday in the Triduum.

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.  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”(portions that wouldn’t make a full meal) .  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 seem 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 or Good Friday

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 – because tooth powder was in use back in the day).

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.

There’s always the Liquidum non frangit ieiunium mug.

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  1. TopSully says:

    One of our downtown parishes schedules confessions every work day before noon Mass. This is where I usually make my confession because of the ease of access. There’s usually a handful of people there and usually one or two priests hearing them. Wednesday was the last day they were going to be offered this week and so I went over. Well there were 4 priests hearing confessions and about 30 people in line when I arrived. After my turn, and after my penance, there were still about 30 people in line. I thought you might like to know that a lot of people were taking advantage of the opportunity.

  2. acardnal says:

    I continue to read in countless parish bulletins and websites the common error that those who are 59 years old are obligated to fast on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.

  3. JMody says:

    Like we used to say in the Army discussing integrity or safety — if you consider a course of action and a voice in your head says “I wonder if …”, then you HAVE figured it out, and the voice is right. Stop and consider how that works, and you see what I mean.
    “Hmm, if I decide to take the cash payroll back to the Finance office without my armed guard in my own car so as to be incognito, I wonder if someone would think I was stealing” –> that little voice is right, people would think you are stealing, stick with your guard and the approved procedure, etc.
    “Hmm, I’ve only had a half a bottle of rum, and I need to run along the top of this wall with friends as we reenact the Pirates of Penzance, but I wonder if I might slip …” and accidentally remove myself from the gene pool? Yes, the little voice is still sober, listen to it.
    Same with fasting and abstaining — if you wonder, you have figured it out. Eat less, drink less — nothing compared to the Passion.

  4. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Same with fasting and abstaining — if you wonder, you have figured it out. Eat less, drink less — nothing compared to the Passion.”

    Someone might say to themselves, “I am 59 years old. I wonder if I have to fast?” Certainly, they have not figured it out at that point. Indeed, the law is a bit confusing. I hang my beak in shame because, I too, thought one had to fast until the sixtieth birthday. I hope I didn’t pass that on to anyone I know :( It always pays to read the text, slowly.

    The Chicken

    P. S. If one is over sixty, but in good health, nothing prevents one from fasting, if one wants to, even for a single meal. The Church says you don’t have to fast, not that you can’t. Let prudence be your guide.

  5. Laura R. says:

    I was 59 the Easter I was received into the Church and had quite a time of it trying to figure out whether or not I was obligated to fast on Good Friday — it is indeed a confusing rule. Nowadays I don’t fast by the prescribed rule, not being obligated and knowing I’d probably be adversely affected, but I make my meals as sparse and penitential as possible.

  6. Supertradmum says:

    I am way over 59, (66), and just beginning to have trouble fasting. Abstinence, of course, must be kept until a Catholic dies. My Ages Ps, including my dad who turned 92 today on Good Friday, of course, abstain, but can no longer fast. I just eat less, and usually two meals rather than three, but I cannot do the hard fasts I would do even a year ago…ah, age. I do not snack, or eat between meals anyway, but of course, the evil one brings this to mind on the days of fasting, just to be irritating.

  7. RichardT says:

    A question I have asked in various places, but never got an answer – what is a day for fasting and abstinence purposes? Is it midnight or going to bed / waking up?

    So if I am up late on Maundy Thursday, after midnight, as people will be if they work odd shifts (or are just late back from the pub, assuming they haven’t given that up for Lent) , can I have a ham sandwich and finish my glass of scotch? If I have something non meat, is that one of my 2 Good Friday snacks?

    What about the other end of the day, if I am up late on Good Friday, after midnight? Is Good Friday now over so I can have a ham sandwich and the large scotch I poured last night but had doubts about drinking?

    My gut feeling is that going to bed normally marks the end of the day, so the ham sandwich and last glass of Scotch when I am up late after midnight on Thursday seems allowable, even though it is, by the calendar, Friday, but the one after midnight on Friday seems wrong, even though the calendar says it is now Saturday. But does Canon Law agree?

  8. Imrahil says:

    Dear JMody,

    I have a feeling that that attitude would have been termed, in the old manualist days, quite precisely “tutiorism”. And while there are some areas where tutiorism is the course to be followed – such as where validity of the sacraments is involved, or, I might assume, gun safety – on the whole, it has been looked upon with disfavor by the Magisterium.

    Besides, sometimes this “voice in the head” would make itself known in areas plainly settled by Church law in one’s favor, such as: “well, I plan to eat a nice fish, with potatoes, for my one Good Friday meal, to satiety, but I wonder if that’s really really allowed… after all, just a small plate of noodles with tomato sauce would keep me in health as well”… and there’s a technical name for that too, and it’s “scruples”.

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