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What’s the Difference Between Fasting and Abstinence?

We understand, these two Lenten practices can get quite confusing at times.

Tomorrow, February 17, Catholics all over the world will be celebrating Ash Wednesday which marks the start of the Lenten Season. It means that there will be 40 days of commemorating the Life and Passion of Christ, and His ultimate sacrifice for mankind— 40 days that will be spent reflecting on His teachings, renewing our faith, and reminding ourselves to live as Christ did when He was still on this earth.

But aside from reflections and realizations, another practice that will be done during Lent is fasting and abstinence. Both are done through food, as a sacrifice to symbolize Christ’s 40-day (and night) fast while on a journey in the desert (Matthew 4:1-2). It can also be symbolic of how people in Jesus’s time fasted prior to making decisions to “gain divine assistance.” (Read: Catholics Urged to Burn Own Palms for Ash Wednesday)

But many are confusing one with the other, and interchanging it at times— and that’s okay because it can really be confusing especially if you’ve just begun doing the practice! That’s why My Pope Philippines is helping clear the confusion by explaining the difference between these two practices so you’d know which one to do this Lent!

What Does ‘Abstinence’ Mean?

what-is-the-difference-between-fasting-and-abstinence
Photo from (Pan Seared Salmon) Once Upon a Chef

Abstinence comes from the word ‘abstain,’ which means to “restrain oneself from doing or enjoying something” — which is exactly what we all do when we practice abstinence during the Lenten season. (Read: 4 Avocado Recipes for a Full-Course Meal)

But what do we stop enjoying in the meantime? The answer is meat, which is considered “flesh,” such as those from land animals like cows, pigs, chickens, and the like. Still, this doesn’t mean you have to avoid animal by-products such as eggs, milk, and cheese. Broths and soups from meat can also be eaten even when abstaining.

All Latin Rite Catholics aged 14 and above (except for those who are pregnant or suffering from chronic illnesses) are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent.

What is ‘Fasting,’ Then?

what-is-the-difference-between-fasting-and-abstinence
Photos from I Am A Food Blog and Tastemade

Fasting, on the other hand, is when one only eats one full meal a day during Lent, and two small meals. For some traditional Catholics, the two small meals— when put together— should not equate to one full meal. However, there is no specific rule that states it nowadays. (Read: 5 Vegetarian and Vegan Restaurants That Deliver Food at Your Doorstep)

“The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening, observing— as far as quantity and quality are concerned— approved local custom,” says the Paenitemini by Pope Paul VI.

All Latin Rite Catholics ages 18 through 59 are required to fast for the entire duration of the Lenten Season. Exemptions to the practice are those who are mentally or physically ill, those who suffer from chronic illnesses, and pregnant and nursing women.

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