Home»Home Page»Refresher on the rules of fast and abstinence during Lent 2021

Refresher on the rules of fast and abstinence during Lent 2021

Pinterest Google+

Staff Report

Ash Wednesday is February 17. 2021. Below are some of the rules and regulations binding on Roman Catholics on Ash Wednesday and throughout the penitential season of Lent.

The Catholic Telegraph Lenten Resources
Find a Mass or confession time
Find a Fish Fry 


Summed up succinctly, Roman Catholics must fast and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Wednesday, February 17, 2021 and Good Friday, April 2, 2021. Additionally, they must abstain from meat on all Fridays during Lent.

Lent is a 40 day season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Holy Thursday. It’s a period of preparation to celebrate the Lord’s Resurrection at Easter. During Lent, we seek the Lord in prayer by reading Sacred Scripture; we serve by giving alms; and we practice self-control through fasting. We are called not only to abstain from luxuries during Lent, but to a true inner conversion of heart as we seek to follow Christ’s will more faithfully. We recall the waters of baptism in which we were also baptized into Christ’s death, died to sin and evil, and began new life in Christ.

Many know of the tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, but we are also called to practice self-discipline and fast in other ways throughout the season. Contemplate the meaning and origins of the Lenten fasting tradition in this reflection. In addition, the giving of alms is one way to share God’s gifts—not only through the distribution of money, but through the sharing of our time and talents. As St. John Chrysostom reminds us: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, no. 2446).

In Lent, the baptized are called to renew their baptismal commitment as others prepare to be baptized through the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, a period of learning and discernment for individuals who have declared their desire to become Catholics.

Ash Wednesday is one of two yearly days of obligatory fasting and abstinence for Roman Catholics, along with Good Friday. According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the norms of fasting are obligatory from age 18 until age 59.

Fasting means a person is permitted to eat one full meal. Two smaller meals may also be taken, but they are not to equal that of a full meal.

The rule of abstinence from meat is binding upon Catholics aged 14 and onwards.

Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are to observe the particular law of their own sui iuris Church.

For those outside the age limits, Canon Law notes that “Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.”

Additionally, the USCCB Questions and Answers about Lent page states the non-age related exemptions.

“Those that are excused from fast and abstinence outside the age limits include the physically or mentally ill including individuals suffering from chronic illnesses such as diabetes.  Also excluded are pregnant or nursing women.  In all cases, common sense should prevail, and ill persons should not further jeopardize their health by fasting.”

The other obligatory day of fasting and abstinence is Good Friday, the day on which Catholics remember the death of Jesus on the cross. On the U.S. Bishops website, they explain the Good Friday fast should, when possible, last through the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday night.

While those are the only two days of full fasting and abstinence required, all of Lent should be a time of spiritual formation and preparation for Easter.

“For all other weekdays of Lent, we strongly recommend participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting,” the bishops wrote in the Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence. “In the light of grave human needs which weigh on the Christian conscience in all seasons, we urge, particularly during Lent, generosity to local,national, and world programs of sharing of all things needed to translate our duty to penance into a means of implementing the right of the poor to their part in our abundance. We also recommend spiritual studies, beginning with the Scriptures as well as the traditional Lenten Devotions (sermons, Stations of the Cross, and the rosary), and all the self-denial summed up in the Christian concept of ‘mortification.'”

The Catholic tradition of “giving something up” for Lent is a pious tradition but according to the USCCB website, it is not regulated by church law.

From the Archdiocese of Cincinnati Office of Divine Worship and Sacraments on Palm Sunday and the Easter Triduum:

At all times, the general guidance for worship and sacraments in a time of public health concern, as well as the regulations of public health authorities, must be observed, including the wearing of masks, social distancing, etc.

The following guidance observes the existing rubrics, includes some special permissions from Archbishop Schnurr, and is subject to clarification or revision should any specific guidance for 2021 be received from the USCCB or Rome.

As a typically well-attended Sunday, it may be advantageous to utilize an advance reservation method (online or otherwise) to gauge and regulate attendance.

The blessing and distribution of palms may take place using any of the three forms for the Introductory Rites as provided in the Roman Missal. If a procession (First Form) or gathering of the faithful outside or in another location than the usual seating (Second Form) takes place, special consideration must be given to appropriate social distancing.

The shorter form of the Passion Gospel may be used.

The homily should be brief, or a period of silence may also be observed. (cf. Roman Missal, Palm Sunday 22)

Archbishop Schnurr grants permission for any parish to have a second Mass of the Lord’s Supper for pastoral need (e.g. seating capacity and social distancing.) A second Mass on Holy Thursday should take place in the evening as well and not be celebrated merely for convenience.

The Mandatum ritual may take place, although notably it is always optional; if the ritual is done, social distancing must be observed.

If the entire assembly participates in the Transfer of the Most Blessed Sacrament via a procession, please ensure appropriate social distancing.

Archbishop Schnurr grants permission for any parish to have a second Celebration of the Passion of the Lord for pastoral need (e.g. seating capacity and social distancing.)

While there is no short form of the Johannine Passion, in accord with the rubrics of the Roman Missal itself, the homily should be brief.

The Showing of the Holy Cross may take place in either of the two forms provided in the Roman Missal. If, because of the large number of people or arrangement of the church, it is not possible for all to approach the cross in procession, the individual Adoration can be done by only the priest and “some of the faithful”, with the entire assembly adoring the cross in silence from their place. (cf. Roman Missal, Good Friday 19) In any case, it is strongly recommended that the cross not be venerated by touch, especially by a traditional kiss; a genuflection or bow of the head would be appropriate.

A special intercession should be included as the 11th of the Solemn Intercessions. Unless Rome provides a different text for 2021, the same text from 2020 should be used:

Let us pray also for all those who suffer the consequences of the current pandemic, that God the Father may grant health to the sick, strength to those who care for them, comfort to families and salvation to all the victims who have died.

Almighty ever-living God, only support of our human weakness, look with compassion upon the sorrowful condition of your children who suffer because of this pandemic; relieve the pain of the sick, give strength to those who care for them, welcome into your peace those who have died and, throughout this time of tribulation, grant that we may all find comfort in your merciful love. Through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Consideration should be given to the safe, socially distanced gathering of the faithful at the fire and the procession into the church. If this cannot be done safely, the gathering of people at the fire may be limited to the ministers and the elect (with their godparents).

Since all would need to remove their masks and exhale forcefully to extinguish them, the use of small lit candles by the faithful is strongly discouraged both during the Lucernarium and the Renewal of Baptismal Promises. Should small candles be offered to the faithful, it would be prudent to acknowledge the circumstances ahead of time.

While the reading of the Word of God remains a “fundamental part” of the Vigil, for the purposes of brevity in this unusual year the number of readings from the Old Testament may be reduced. As few as three readings from the Old Testament may be read, both from the Law and the Prophets, and their respective Responsorial Psalms sung. The reading from Exodus 14 with its canticle may NOT be omitted. (cf. Roman Missal, Easter Vigil 21)

Candidates for reception into the full communion of the Church may be received at another time.

Baptism should be done by pouring, not immersion, and the water used for baptizing should afterward be given to the ground (via the sacrarium or otherwise). Water should not be “re-used” for subsequent baptisms.

If a priest believes it necessary for health safety, an instrument (e.g. cotton swab) may be used for Confirmation. Those instruments should be burned after Mass.

If it can be done safely in covered containers, it is desirable that the bread and wine be brought forward by the newly baptized. (cf. Roman Missal, Easter Vigil 60)

As with Palm Sunday, consider using a system of advance reservations to gauge and regulate capacity.
A circular letter by the Vatican’s Congregation for Divine Worship (click here for the letter) suggests, but does not require, that the fast of Good Friday continue on Holy Saturday.

Re-Posted January 3, 2021


Previous post

Ash Wednesday 2021: Vatican offers guidance on ash distribution amid COVID-19 pandemic

Next post

Ash Wednesday Guidelines 2021