Archdiocese of Ottawa-Cornwall

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting and abstinence. What does that mean for you? 


What is fasting and abstinence?

Fasting means limiting what you eat and drink to one regular meal and two smaller meals (that together do not equal the regular meal in size). In the spirit of this, we typically avoid any sweets or treats, like dessert or alcohol, and don’t snack between meals.

Abstinence means removing meat from your meals. While all Fridays are days of abstinence, in Canada the CCCB has decreed that “Catholics can substitute special acts of charity or piety on this day.”


Why do we fast?

Fasting isn’t a punishment for our sins. Instead, it’s a way to honour Jesus’ sacrifice and to unite our sufferings to his. He took on his shoulders our every sin and carried it with him to the cross. Fasting and abstaining for two days a year is a small way to show him our love and gratitude.

Fasting also helps form us in discipline. By saying no to something we crave, we can develop our self-control. A little self—denial is healthy. For those of us fortunate enough to have food to eat, it gives a hint of the suffering many in the world experience regularly.


Who has to fast and abstain?

If you are a Catholic aged 14 or older, you must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. If you are between the ages of 18 and 59, you must additionally fast on those days.


What if I have a medical condition?

Not everyone can fast in the same way! Some people have medical conditions that make fasting dangerous, or they may be pregnant. If this is the case for you, look for another way to fulfill the spirit of fasting while still taking care of your body. You could fast from desserts and rich food or choose to eat simple meals that day.

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