The Law Of Fast: Food

by Jimmy Akin

in Canon Law

I know I said I was going to take Triduum off from blogging, and I know that this comes rather late in the day, but in case it’ll help anybody, here goes. . . .

You often hear it said that the law of fast allows one full meal per day and two smaller meals provided that the two smaller meals do not add up to a second full meal.

I’ve even said that myself.

But this is false. At least in the United States.

If you check the legal sources, the bit about the two smaller meals not adding up to a second one is not to be found.

First, here’s what the Church’s universal law–found in the 1966 Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini–says:

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 [Norms, III:2].

So there’s nothing in that about the two smaller meals (which aren’t even called meals, just "some food," with the implication htat it’s less than the "one full meal" that’s allowed) adding up to anything.

So if that requirement is not found in universal law, then it must be found in the particular law of the United States if it is to be binding here. So let’s check the complimentary norms issued by the USCCB.


If you read that, all it does is say that the norms established in the U.S. bishop’s 1966 document On Penance and Abstinence are still in force.


If you do that, you’ll see that the bishops didn’t address the subject there, either.

Therefore, while it may be customary in some places to try to calculate whether the two snacks add up to a second meal, this is not a requirement that has force of law in the United States.

Personally, I’ve always found the adding up of the two snacks to be really problematic, because my meals vary in size considerably, and I don’t have a fixed meal size. And how is that supposed to be measured, anyway? In calories? In food volume?

The good news is that this need not be a point of scrupulosity for people. You can have one full meal a day and two snacks, but you don’t need to scruple about what the two snacks add up to.

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Ryan C April 14, 2006 at 4:14 pm

Thanks, Jimmy, this good to know. When I got up this morning I was thinking about how I was going to complete my fast today. It’s nice to see that I’m doing alright.

Andrew S. April 14, 2006 at 5:26 pm

I don’t eat at all on Good Friday.

Louise April 14, 2006 at 6:54 pm

Do the “snacks” have to be taken in the morning and evening, or can one of them be mid-day?
Sorry, I know you were trying to encourage LESS scrupulosity…

Freydaddy April 14, 2006 at 7:51 pm

I tried to fast all day but suffer from low blood sugar that makes me sweat and shake. I was able to make it through on olives, orange juice and some peanut m&ms (not all at once!). I just try to follow my conscience and get by with as little as possible. I feel comfortable with that.

Benedict April 15, 2006 at 8:09 am

Between the fast and the rainy weather, I had one of my worst migraines in years. I ended up buying some frozen yogurt.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. April 15, 2006 at 9:06 am

Wow, Andrew! That’s more than St. Benedict ever asked MONKS to do. The classical fast always was one meal taken in the evening (with nothing at all during the day).
The modern U.S. regulations are meant to provide for less than two real meals on a day of fasting.
As for myself, I fast by dividing up the amount of one meal (normal to light) into three portions, and eating one portion in the morning, one at noon, and one in the evening.
By the way, the Church encourages us to observe also a “Paschal Fast” on Holy Saturday. The following is from the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” 110 (from the English version on the Vatican’s website).
Nevertheless, let the paschal fast be kept sacred. Let it be celebrated everywhere on Good Friday and, where possible, prolonged throughout Holy Saturday, so that the joys of the Sunday of the resurrection may be attained with uplifted and clear mind.

Andrew S. April 15, 2006 at 11:36 am

Thanks Fr. Stephanos! (By the way, I’m the same Andrew that commented on your blog on Holy Thursday). My sister had is recovering from a surgery and she could not eat anything at all (except pain medicine), so I decided not to eat at all. I’m not sure if she knows that.

Edward April 15, 2006 at 3:19 pm

Freydaddy: the Church does not ask us to make ourselve sick trying to fast. It was honorable for you to make the attempt, but next year, if you feel fasting would put your health at risk, consider yourself dispensed.

Cornelius April 15, 2006 at 11:55 pm

I wish you wouldn’t do posts like this, Jimmy. It just serves to confuse people. I almost feel that you’re just engaged in showing off your erudition in all things ecclesial, and that posts like these are just exercises in intellectual vanity. Sorry . . . .

Bob McCray April 16, 2006 at 4:09 am

Thanks for the explanation. Thanks for your “erudition.” I appreciate the clarity you bring to one more issue of the Christian walk.
As a relatively new Catholic (six years), I always found the two meals equivalency talk not followable. Now I have something I can follow, rather than make it up as I go along.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. April 16, 2006 at 5:21 am

Yes, it’s 5:20 in the morning in San Diego.
I’m up to join the holy women to go see the angels of the resurrection at dawn’s early light.

Mary April 16, 2006 at 11:49 am


Marty April 16, 2006 at 1:31 pm

Alleluia! Alleluia!
Let the holy anthem rise,
And the choirs of heaven chant it
In the temple of the skies;
Let the mountains skip with gladness
And the joyful valleys ring,
With Hosannas in the highest
To our Savior and our King.
That being said, let’s enjoy our Easter feast.

Fr. Stephanos, O.S.B. April 16, 2006 at 8:29 pm

“The Law Of Fast: Food”
I didn’t give up fast food for Lent.
It’s Easter Sunday now. Did y’all eat your fish today?
Luke 24:36-42
As they were saying this,
Jesus himself stood among them,
and said to them,
“Peace to you.”
But they were startled and frightened,
and supposed that they saw a spirit.
And he said to them,
“Why are you troubled,
and why do questionings rise in your hearts?
See my hands and my feet,
that it is I myself;
handle me, and see;
for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.”
And when he had said this,
he showed them his hands and his feet.
And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered,
he said to them,
“Have you anything here to eat?”
They gave him a piece of broiled
and he took it and ate before them.

Bender April 17, 2006 at 9:17 am

I’m with Andrew S. Keep it simple. If you are going to fast, then fast. True, if you don’t eat anything for 24 hours, you start getting really hungry right about 7 p.m., and the rest of the evening is tough, but isn’t that the point? Besides, in these days of starving and dehydrating people to death, maybe we can feel what they are going through and have gone through.

Andrew S. April 17, 2006 at 3:23 pm

Bender: My reasons exactly.

Anonymous April 18, 2006 at 4:29 pm

and don’t forget pretzels and beer… the original fast food thanks to our monastic heritage.

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