The Christian faithful are obliged to do penance through prayer, fasting, abstinence and by performing works of piety and charity. All Fridays through the year, especially during Lent, are penitential days.
Abstinence: Everyone age 14 and older is to abstain from eating meat on Ash Wednesday, all Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday. Why meat? Over the centuries meat has been considered to be a luxury for many people and has also been used for celebrations and feasts. At a penitential time of year, it makes sense to give up something used to mark joyful celebrations, especially on Friday, the day of our Lord’s death.
Fasting: Everyone age 18 and up to their 59th birthday is to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This practice mirrors the 40 days Jesus fasted in the desert before he was tempted by the devil. Think of it as a way to strengthen your spiritual muscles.
- Only one full meal is allowed on days of fasting. Two other meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one’s need, but together they should not equal another full meal.
- Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids are allowed.
- The obligation does not apply to those whose health or ability to work would be affected seriously.
- People in doubt about fasting or abstinence should consult their priest.
Penitential acts: Many Catholics practice the penitential act of “giving something up” or doing something “extra” during lent. This is not required or regulated by the Church but is a good practice. It helps the faithful prepare their hearts for Easter by connecting with the suffering of Jesus on the cross.