Do Catholics Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday? Lent Fasting Rules Explained

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, a religious season observed by Catholics and many other Christian denominations around the world. Ash Wednesday may look a little different this year, but it still possible to follow important traditions, including fasting and abstinence.

Millions of people will choose to give up something of their choice for 40 days to observe Lent. For Roman Catholics, Lent starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on the evening of Holy Thursday.

But what are the rules surrounding fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Lent?

Eating meat on Ash Wednesday

Catholics will avoid meat, including beef, pork, chicken, ham, and lamb, on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and other Fridays during Lent. However, fish and animal products like eggs and milk are allowed.

They do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and other Fridays during Lent as an act of penance.

Ash Wednesday follows Shrove Tuesday, which is also known as Pancake Day. On Shrove Tuesday, those who observe Lent traditionally used up the foods they intended to give up for 40 days. These foods traditionally included items like eggs, fats, and sugar, which would be used to make food like pancakes.

Ash Wednesday
A Catholic woman has her forehead marked with a cross of ash during the celebration of Ash Wednesday in Bogota on February 13, 2013. Ash Wednesday initiates the Christian period of Lent, which ends in the Holy Week. Luis Acosta/Getty

Ash Wednesday is a Day of Fasting

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of fasting. Catholic Fasting involves eating less than usual but does not mean that people who observe Ash Wednesday have to go all day without eating.

Typically, Catholics will eat one full meal and two smaller meals (that do not add up to a full meal) throughout the day. They are allowed to consume liquids at any time throughout the day but should not consume any solid food between meals.

Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 are expected to fast, but some people are exempt from fasting, such as children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people who are unwell, for example.

Giving Up for Lent

As Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Lent season, many people will choose to give up something for 40 days.

Lent is a season to remember how Jesus went to the desert to pray and fast for 40 days. While in the desert, Satan tried to tempt Jesus, but he was able to resist. When Christians give up something for Lent, they are making a sacrifice and are practicing self-discipline, as Jesus did.

Some Christians traditionally give up foods like meat, animal products, and fats, while some people give up things they enjoy, like sugar or snacks, for example.

Other people choose to give up certain habits for Lent, such as smoking or drinking alcohol, among other lifestyle changes, to practice self-discipline.

Holy Week

Holy Week takes place around the end of Lent. The important days of Holy Week are Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. Easter Sunday then begins the Easter season.