Ash Wednesday – Fasting, Abstinence, and You (with notes on alligator, endothermic moonfish, &, of course, 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 on 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 coffee?  I can drink my coffee, can’t I?  Can’t I?”

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

How about in between meals on Ash Wednesday?

The old axiom, for the Lenten fast, is “Liquidum non frangit ieiuniumliquid does not break the fast”, provided – NB – 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

And there’s also this new choice…

3:16 isn’t just in John.


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Jenson71 says:

    Could you give a rundown on the 1 hr pre-Communion fast?

    Is that 1 hr prior to Mass starting, or since Communion takes place roughly 45 minutes into Mass, did I have only a 15 min burden pre-Mass?

    [One hour before COMMUNION. (I know, I know.)]

  2. APX says:

    I always tell myself the communion fast is one hour before Mass even though I know it’s one hour before communion. The reason being is that a) I thought as a kid it was one hour before Mass and that’s the habit I developed, b) I know when Mass is going start, but I don’t know when communion will be. Some of these Masses during Covidtide have been pretty short, making communion earlier and earlier.

  3. redneckpride4ever says:

    Until I see you refer to a “quid” of chewing tobacco, I thought only my Dad and I used that term.

    When I was 17 I decided to be a “man” and swallow my dip…and although it breaks the fast, I would argue doing such a foolhardy thing is a penance unto itself…I didn’t touch Cherry Skoal again for 6 months after that illustrious stunt. I’m glad I made use of the passenger window of my friend’s car and didn’t have to clean his seats.

  4. An Liaigh says:

    Dear Father,
    What of fake meats: meat substitutes made of vegetable matter? i have never tried them, but they are on offer in many of our fast food places.

    [“Fake meat” is, by definition, not meat. But if it really imitates meat, it is not really in the spirit of Lent. Also, the point of giving up meat in Lent is that it was expensive: people gave the money they would have spent on meat to the poor.]

  5. Kent Wendler says:

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

    The Solemnity of The Annunciation, March 25, falls on Friday this year. (I know, I know, like go with a hamburger instead of a char-grilled rib-eye steak.)

  6. G1j says:

    Sludged again…
    When did we get away from the practice of blessing ashes with a sprinkle of Holy Water? According to my Magnificat, that is the “Do the Red” blessing. My parish, for the last few years, now makes a sludge of ashes, Holy Water, and Chrism Oil, requiring dish soap and a Scotch Bright pad for removal at the end of the day.

  7. Pork rinds? I have tried in vain to find an answer.

  8. Not says:

    My wife and I are seniors in excellent health, Thank God. Even though we are not required at our age, it is still pretty easy to abstain to a point.

  9. APX says:

    But if it really imitates meat, it is not really in the spirit of Lent.

    I don’t know what kind of meat people are eating, but these “Beyond Meat” don’t even compare to eating real meat.

    My biggest problem with not eating meat all of Lent is iron deficiency. With groceries rising, I had to cut back on red meat, but then ended up iron deficient and feeling like crap. If I was a woman back when the old rules were in place, I would have been exempted because I’d like be pregnant or nursing.

  10. xavier says:


    You can eat kidney beans (red or white), lentils and other foods. You can always look up on the net for iron rich foods.


  11. hwriggles4 says:

    About 12 years ago I decided to try not eating meat on Fridays all year (my mother’s family did this prior to 1965). Here’s what I found:

    1. There’s much more to eat than fish, tuna, shrimp, etc.
    2. Three things I found I like are eggplant parmesan, vegetable pizza, and spaghetti with marinara sauce.
    3. Linguini with clam sauce is good too.
    4. Veggie omelettes – great with salsa.
    5. Vegetable soup with the broth being Campbells tomato soup.
    6. I tried falafel a few times at the Mediterranean restaurant in my neighborhood – although I have eaten it I didn’t really enjoy it – too bland.
    7. I like the alligator nuggets the cajun fish and chicken place in my neighborhood serves.

    After a while I found it wasn’t too difficult to abstain from meat one day a week.

  12. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Raisins are my go-to iron food when I can’t eat meat. But not everybody absorbs iron well from vegetable sources, or even from multivitamins. (Heme iron is easier for the body to absorb than non-heme iron.)

    Oysters and other shellfish. (But of course this gets mocked for being “expensive” and “luxurious.”) But it’s heme iron.

    Fish, especially tuna. Also heme iron.

    Dark chocolate. (Not very Lent-ish.) But it’s non-heme iron.

    Spinach. Pumpkin seeds. Tofu. Beans. (All non-heme iron.)

  13. APX says:

    You can eat kidney beans (red or white), lentils and other foods. You can always look up on the net for iron rich foods.
    Plant based iron isn’t the same as meat based iron. The body doesn’t absorb plant based iron as well as it absorbs meat based iron. I have far greater concerns to deal with right now than meticulous meatless nutritional planning to no longer have iron deficiency anemia. Food is fuel for the body. I have a very labour-intensive job that requires me to be on my A Game every day.

    This is what frustrates me with Traditional Catholicism. I hate feeling judged because I choose to not do the 1962 fasting and abstinence laws for Lent. It’s actually easier to not eat than it is to eat properly when exhausted, which is why I took up eating properly for Lent.

  14. I had a curious conversation with an elderly woman who lives alone — her husband died in December — who I visit each First Friday. She is in her mid-to-late 90s and doesn’t get out of the house at all anymore.

    She asked me whether we eat meat on Fridays in Lent now, or not? “The rules keep changing,” she said. In all candor, I think she may just be getting a little misty in her memory, but she has a point.

    Since it was Friday, and I didn’t know what she had in the house, after explaining to her that, yes, we give up meat on Fridays in Lent, I added: but if that’s what you have to eat today, you can eat what you have.

    Lest there be any lack of clarity: this was advice for a very old person, who is getting frail, who doesn’t drive and might not have a lot on hand to eat. It is NOT advice for those of us who have plenty of options.

  15. APX says:

    It is NOT advice for those of us who have plenty of options.

    In Canada, even the Fridays in Lent aren’t by law meatless. The only days of mandatory abstinence are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics are free to substitute a different penance or act of charity.

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