The predominantly internal and religious nature of penance does not exclude or make any less important the external practice of this virtue. True penance can never go without ascetical practice, including physical. The whole person, body and soul, must actively take part in this religious act by which a creature acknowledges the holiness and majesty of God. Accordingly, the Church has maintained the precept of fasting and abstinence on prescribed days, considering this form of traditional penance one means – but not the only one – of practicing penance that is also external.

All the Christian faithful should be convinced of the need to do works of penance for the remission of their sins and the good of the Church.

Lent is a special penitential time set aside by the Church. During Lent Christians devote themselves more intensely to prayer, sacrifice, and charitable activities.

The Church’s current norms on fasting and abstinence are as follows:

  1. All Fridays of the year and Ash Wednesday are penitential days par excellence.
  2. All Fridays of the year are days of abstinence, unless they fall on a holy day of obligation.
  3. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of abstinence and fasting.
  4. If the bishops’ conference of a country has so determined, abstinence on Fridays that do not fall within Lent may be substituted by prayer or a charitable activity.
  5. Abstinence is obligatory from fourteen years of age, and the law of fasting from eighteen to fifty-nine years of age.

N.B. The bishops’ conference in each country has the authority to specify other forms of Christian penance. You should inquire about the discipline in force in your own country.

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