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Christine Ybarra wrote:

Hi guys,

I have heard different answers to this question and would like to get one straight answer:

  • Is there such a thing as a free pass during Lent?
  • For example, if someone gave up drinking fountain drinks for Lent, is there a day someone could drink fountain drinks?

From my view, if you are really giving up something as a sacrifice — then even one day of the week would be part of your sacrifice.

I only recently heard of this rule. It was not a rule I grew up with so from my view, there is no such thing as a free pass.

Since everyone I have asked has a different answer, I thought I would ask someone with more knowledge than myself.

Looking forward to your response,


  { Is there such a thing as a free pass during Lent? }

Mary Ann replied:


The obligation to fast or abstain never applies to Sundays! So, while one may fast or abstain if one wishes, (actually, there are those who say one may not fast on Sunday), one does not have to do any penance on Sunday.

If a Solemn Feast Day (Solemnity), like:

  • the Annunciation of the Lord, or
  • Feast Day, like St. Joseph

falls on a Friday of Lent, one is still obliged to abstain [and/or] fast from meat, unless a dispensation is announced by the local bishop (as is frequently done for St. Patrick's Day).

Mary Ann

Eric replied:

Hi Christine,

Giving something up for Lent is a matter of pious custom and is not regulated by the Church. Therefore you can do whatever you wish in this regard. As Mary Ann pointed out, traditionally fasting is not done on Sunday because it is a mini-Easter (although in some traditions, abstinence is) so if you skip a day, Sunday would be the fitting day to do so.

Canon 1251 says:

Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless (nisi) they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

The USCCB document, On Penance and Abstinence, says:

13. In keeping with the letter and spirit of Pope Paul's Constitution Paeniteminim, we preserved for our dioceses the tradition of abstinence from meat on each of the Fridays of Lent, confident that no Catholic Christian will lightly hold himself excused from this penitential practice.

16. During the Lenten season, certain feasts occur which the liturgy or local custom traditionally exempts from the Lenten spirit of penance. The observance of these will continue to be set by local diocesan regulations; in these and like canonical questions which may arise in connection with these pastoral instructions, reference should be made to article VII of Paeniteminim and the usual norms.

Paeniteminim Pope Paul VI's Apostolic Constitution On Penance says:

II. 1. The time of Lent preserves its penitential character. The days of penitence to be observed under obligation throughout the Church are all Fridays and Ash Wednesday, that is to say the first days of Grande Quaresima (Great Lent), according to the diversity of the rites. Their substantial observance binds gravely.

2. Apart from the faculties referred to in VI and VIII [VI refers to the prerogatives of the bishop's conference and VIII pertains to Eastern rites.] regarding the manner of fulfilling the precept of penitence on such days, abstinence is to be observed on every Friday which does not fall on a day of obligation, while abstinence and fast is to be observed on Ash Wednesday or, according to the various practices of the rites, on the first day of "Grande Quaresima" (Great Lent) and on Good Friday.

Thus I would say that on any day that is an obligation (a Holy Day of Obligation), abstinence is lifted.

Given however that neither the Feast of St. Joseph nor the Annunciation are holy days of obligation in the United States, this does not apply to the U.S. . . . St. Joseph's is one universally but not in the U.S. therefore universal law does not provide for lifting of Friday abstinence in the U.S.


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