A Word About the Lenten Disciplines of Fasting and Abstinence

The idea of “fasting and abstinence” is to gain self-control, simplify lifestyle, deepen solidarity with the poor and hungry, and anticipate our return to Paradise before the fall, where Adam and Eve did not eat meat or animal products.

Fasting for Eastern Catholics means no consumption of solid food from midnight until noon.

Abstinence excludes certain foods from diet; during Great Lent all meat, dairy products, eggs, alcohol & fish are excluded. Some exclude olive oil.

Three approaches to fasting and abstinence have developed. These are typically called:

  • 1) The Lawthat which is required by the Eparchy of Newton;
  • 2) The Tradition – that which has a long pedigree in Byzantine practice; and
  • 3) A Middle Ground – that which some adopt, attempting to strike a personal balance of sorts between the fist two.

No one may be obliged beyond what is set forth in The Law and every attempt to manipulate others or demand stricter observances is an offense against justice and charity.

Nonetheless, the three approaches are described below so all may determine their personal and familial observance for Great Lent.

The Law – that which is required (except in cases of advanced age or due to impaired health – each person assessing their own circumstance of age and health):
  • The first day of Great Lent and the last three days of Holy Week are days of fasting.
  • All Fridays of Great Lent are days of abstinence from meat.
  • Good Friday is a day of fast and abstinence.
The Ancient Tradition
  • Every weekday of Great Lent is a day of fast and abstinence
  • On Saturday and Sunday fish, wine and olive oil are permitted.
  • Saturday and Sunday are not Fast days – food may be taken at any time.
  • Certain feast days are treated as if they fall on a Saturday and Sunday; therefore fish, wine and olive oil are permitted.
A Middle Ground
  • The first, middle and final weeks of Great Lent are kept according to the Ancient Tradition.
  • Abstinence from meat on all days of Lent.
  • Abstinence from meat or meat plus dairy products and/or olive oil on all Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent.

Special notes to keep in mind: 1) The first day of Great Lent and the last three days of Holy Week are always days of fasting, regardless of the approach one observes; and 2) The disciplines of fasting and abstinence do not bind those with contraindicated health conditions or those of advanced age.