Fasting in the Modern Age: Relevance and Guidelines


Fasting is as old as religious traditions themselves. In the Catholic Church, it has been a longstanding practice to fast and abstain from certain types of food or activities as a way to grow closer to God. But in our modern age, filled with fast food, Netflix, and an endless array of distractions, is fasting still relevant? The answer, grounded in both Scripture and Church teaching, is a resounding “yes.” Let’s dig into why that is and how to go about it according to the Church’s guidelines.

What is Fasting According to the Church?

Fasting isn’t merely a diet plan or a self-imposed torture. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, fasting is “the refusal to give in to the flesh so as to help open oneself to the breath of God’s life.” (Catechism 2043, paraphrased). In more straightforward terms, fasting is saying no to our physical cravings to make space for God in our lives.

Jesus himself fasted and even instructed His followers on how to go about it. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18)

The Relevance of Fasting Today

You might wonder if fasting is still relevant today. After all, we don’t live in the same world that Jesus did. The world has changed, but human nature hasn’t. We still struggle with sin, distraction, and putting things other than God at the center of our lives. Fasting brings us back to the basics and helps us focus on what truly matters. The Catechism confirms this, noting that the “sacramental life is nourished by the works of the flesh: almsgiving, fasting, and prayer.” (Catechism 2043, paraphrased)

Types of Fasting

Fasting in the Catholic Church isn’t just about food. While the traditional practice often involves abstaining from food or certain types of foods, it can also include giving up other activities that distract us from God. The Church provides us with different kinds of fasting:

  1. Traditional Fasting: This usually involves eating one full meal and two smaller meals that do not equal one full meal. On days of fasting, you also abstain from meat.
  2. Partial Fasting: This involves giving up something that you enjoy—like chocolate, soda, or watching TV—for a period of time.
  3. Digital Fasting: This is a modern adaptation, where you abstain from using technology that distracts you from your relationship with God and others.

When Does the Church Fast?

The Church has specific days and seasons for fasting, like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which are obligatory days of fasting. But beyond these, the Church also recommends fasting during all Fridays of Lent and even throughout the year on Fridays in remembrance of the Passion of Jesus Christ.

“Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.” (Code of Canon Law, Can. 1251)

The Spirit of Fasting

Fasting isn’t meant to be a show of personal endurance or willpower. The idea is to grow in humility, self-control, and a greater love for God.

“When you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:17-18)

This scriptural guidance makes it clear that the spirit of fasting is one of private devotion, not public spectacle.

Exceptions and Practical Tips

Fasting isn’t meant to harm us. People who are sick, elderly, pregnant, nursing, or facing other specific challenges are often excused from fasting. The idea is to grow closer to God, not to harm your body or make life unnecessarily difficult.


Fasting in the modern age is as relevant as it ever was. By making the choice to give up some physical comforts, we make room for God to work in our lives in new and transformative ways. The guidelines given by the Church offer us a framework, but the most important aspect of fasting is the spirit in which it is done. It’s a practice not just of bodily discipline but of soulful devotion, designed to bring us closer to the heart of God.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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