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The Three Pillars of Lent: Fasting & Abstinence


Recall that the three Pillars of Lent are Prayer, Fasting, and Almsgiving. Today we will speak about Fasting and Abstinence.



Fasting is the act of doing with less. In the Catholic Church, those ages 18 - 59 must fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On such days, those fasting may eat one full meal, as well as two smaller meals, sufficient to maintain strength. However, together, the smaller meals should not equal a full meal. Eating between meals is not encouraged, but liquids are allowed.



Abstinence is the act of “doing without” or avoiding something. For example, someone may abstain from chocolate or alcohol by not consuming them. Particular days of abstinence during Lent are Fridays, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. As canon law states, Catholics over the age of 14 are expected to abstain from the eating of meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays throughout the Lenten Season.


During Lent, Catholics are also encouraged to undertake some sort of personal penance or abstinence. Examples include giving up sweets, a favorite TV show or not listening to the radio in the car on the way to work. Giving up these things is not some sort of endurance test, but these acts are done to draw the faithful closer to Christ.


Here are some of the spiritual benefits of fasting

  • It makes room for God. By emptying ourselves, even if just a little bit, we make room for God to enter our lives more fully. When fasting and abstinence are hard, we are moved to turn to God in prayer for help.

  • It strengthens the will. Fasting is a spiritual discipline; just as physical exercise makes our body stronger, fasting strengthens our will. Practicing self-denial in small things strengthens our will to resist sin in other areas of our lives.

  • It prepares us for mission. Fasting imitates the forty days that Jesus spent in the desert. Just as Jesus used this time to prepare for his public mission, fasting prepares us to continue his mission in the world.

  • It puts us in solidarity with the suffering Christ. Whatever small suffering we experience when we fast, brings us closer to the suffering Christ, and all people who suffer from hunger, malnutrition, and abuse on a daily basis



  • Social Media. Giving it up altogether may be difficult since many students use social media for school or athletic purposes, but perhaps limiting their use is a good start.

  • Give up warm showers to save energy (and water)

  • Be mindful of food waste and utilize all of your leftovers.

  • Give up unnecessary lights (the darkness will be appropriately Lenten)

  • Give up unnecessary car trips (use the time walking or biking to pray)

  • Junk food. If students are in the habit of buying a soda or candy bar or coffee drink on a regular basis, encourage them to give that up for Lent. Also encourage them to use the money they would have spent on junk food to help others. Perhaps they can treat a friend to a soda or coffee drink, or they can donate the money to other charities.

  • Sarcasm. This can be a tough one for students but attempting to give this up can encourage students to think about what they say and to look for ways to lift others up.

  • Sleeping in. Emphasize again, that students should not do this for its own sake but should use that extra time on Saturday mornings to do something meaningful and productive. Fast from the Snooze Button.

  • Do not take the best spot available in the parking lot.

  • Do not use the dishwasher.

  • Buy only things written on your shopping list.

  • Do not eat out at restaurants.

  • Give up all sweets.

  • Switch from coffee to tea or vice versa.

  • Eat up the food that is in the back of your pantry and freezer.


This week choose one way that you can fast this Lent in order to draw closer to the Lord and be united with His sufferings.


Resources from: Catholic News Agency; Archdiocese of Atlanta - Office of Formation and Discipleship; Teaching Catholic Kids: Spirit 4 Teens; The Catholic All Year

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