What is the difference between fasting and penance?

Do you know what fasting and penance are for?

The Church proposes to us fasting as a way of educating ourselves, of learning to dominate our bodies and also our inclinations. Fasting and penance are not meant to make us feel hungry or needy. Penance is “a radical reorientation of all life, a return, a conversion to God with all our hearts” (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1431). That is, these spiritual practices serve to help us find God through prayer.


The Church “contains sinners in its midst” ( CIC , n. 1428) and is, at the same time, holy and in need of purification, constantly pursuing its effort of penance and renewal. “The Christian’s inner penance can have very different expressions. Scripture and priests insist, above all, in three forms: fasting, prayer and alms that express conversion ”(CIC, n. 1434).

Fastings and mortifications, although they are outward acts, impel us to prayer, to a better listening to God through temperance, the spirit of sacrifice, balance of body and mind, leading us to this inner conversion. It is even recommended that the gesture of fasting be accompanied by sharing with those in need the uneaten food. The liturgical season of Lent has this penitential dimension of interior revision, but also of concrete love for one’s neighbor.

Why does the Church recommend this spiritual practice?

It is important to know that fasting is a practice much more interior than exterior, it is not just something you stop eating, but it has a purpose: to abstain from certain foods. Fasting is not a diet, but a spiritual practice that aims at greater intimacy with God. Fasting is for conversion and also for us to love God and our neighbor more. Pope Leo the Great advised:

“Let us mortify the outer man a little, so that the interior is restored. Losing a little of the corporeal excess, the spirit is strengthened ”. Penitential practices are so important in the search for conversion that the observance of some of them has been indicated as one of the Church’s commandments. Much more than precepts, these penitential practices reveal to be the search for perfection in love.

The fourth commandment of the Church says that it is necessary “to fast and abstain from flesh, as the Holy Mother Church commands”. Penitential days and times throughout the Church are every Friday of the year, and the time of Lent. Catholics who are fourteen years old are bound by the abstinence law, and all Catholics of legal age up to the age of 60 are bound by the law of fasting.

Read more:
:: Lent should lead us to conversion, penance and mercy
:: Beware of absurd penances in Lent
:: The origin of Lent
:: Lenten conversion exercises

Fasting and abstinence

Abstinence from meat or other food, according to the prescriptions of the Conference of Bishops, must be observed on every Friday of the year, unless they coincide with any day listed among the ceremonies. On Ash Wednesday and the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ, fasting and abstinence must be observed. ( Code of Canon Law , canon 1250).

In Brazil, the CNBB says that the faithful Brazilian Catholic can substitute abstinence from meat for a charity, an act of piety or exchange the meat for another food.

Monsignor Jonas Abib , founder of the Canção Nova Community, presents in his book “ Practices of Fasting ” four types of fasting, to show us that everyone can do it, as long as he chooses which one best suits his reality.


by Abdullah Sam
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