Fasting and Abstinence


Saint Antony of Egypt

Matthew 4:1-2: Then Jesus was led by the spirit into the desert, to be tempted by the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, afterwards he was hungry.

Matthew 17:17-20: And Jesus rebuked him, and the devil went out of him, and the child was cured from that hour. Then came the disciples to Jesus secretly, and said: Why could not we cast him out? Jesus said to them: Because of your unbelief. For, amen I say to you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you shall say to this mountain: Remove from hence hither, and it shall remove: and nothing shall be impossible to you. But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.

In the time of Christ's Incarnation, practitioners of the Old Testament religion fasted or abstained on Mondays and Thursdays, but Christians opted to take Wednesdays and Fridays as their penitential days.

Wednesdays and Fridays are still days of penance in most Eastern Catholic Churches, but in the Roman Church, only Fridays, as memorials to the day our Lord was crucified, remain as weekly penitential days. Other penitential days are listed in the table below. 

Note that if any of the Fasting and/or Abstinence Days falls on a Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation, the requirements (except for the Eucharistic Fast) are totally abrogated.



All baptized Catholics, seven years of age or older, are obliged to abstain on the days appointed.

Complete Abstinence

Complete abstinence, which forbids the eating of meat, and soup or gravy made with meat, is required on: All Fridays, Ember Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday; the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception , and the Vigil of Christmas.

Partial Abstinence

Permits meat, and soup or gravy made with meat, to be eaten only once a day, at the principal meal, required on : Ember Wednesdays, Ember Saturdays and the Vigil of Pentecost and All Saints


1. All baptized Catholics, ages 21 through 59 inclusive, are bound to observe the laws of fasting.

2. The days of fast are; the weekdays of Lent. the Ember Days, and the Vigils of Pentecost. Immaculate Conception and Christmas.

3. On the days of fast, only one full meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one's needs, but together they should not equal another full meal.

4. Meat may be taken at the principal meal on a day of fast, except on days of complete abstinence.

5. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk, and fruit juice, are allowed.

6. When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In doubt concerning fast or abstinence, consult the parish priest or a confessor.

7. There is no obligation for fast or abstinence on a Holyday of Obligation, even though it may fall on a Friday.


Comparison of the Traditional Fast and the New Fast

Before receiving the Eucharist (the "Eucharistic Fast")

Traditional: nothing but water and medicines for three hours, though twelve hours (or from midnight on) are recommended

1983 Code: nothing but water and medicines for 1 hour

All Fridays

Traditional: Abstain on ALL Fridays of the year.

1983 Code: Abstain. (This is not followed or implemented at all by any Novus Ordo Catholics, regardless of the "official" discipline stated in the 1983 Code)
American "bishops", however, decided that Fridays' penance can be replaced by other, unspecified sacrifices. Many follow the traditional practice and abstain from meat as penance on this day along with traditional Catholics, and the they  "recommend" the practice in reparation for the sin of abortion.

Vigil of the Immaculate Conception

Traditional: Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: abolished

Advent Embertide

Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: abolished

Vigil of Christmas

Traditional: Abstain and Fast.

1983 Code: abolished

Ash Wednesday

Traditional: Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: Abstain and Fast

Lenten Embertide

Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: abolished

Monday through Saturday in Lent

Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast (Complete Abstinence and Fast on Friday)

1983 Code: abolished

Fridays of Lent

Traditional: Abstain, like all Fridays, in addition to the Lenten Fasting
1983 Code: Abstain, even if you don't abstain on all other Fridays

Good Friday

Traditional: Abstain and Fast, like all Lenten Fridays
1983 Code: Abstain and Fast

Holy Saturday

Traditional: Abstain and Fast until Noon

1983 Code: abolished

Vigil of the Pentecost

Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: abolished

Whit Embertide

Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: abolished

Michaelmas Embertide

Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: abolished

Vigil of All Saints

Traditional: Partially Abstain and Fast

1983 Code: abolished

Traditional Laws of Fast and Abstinence

The Catholic faithful are bound under  pain of sin to observe the Church's laws of fast and abstinence, unless lawfully excused or dispensed.

The days appointed for fast and abstinence in the United States

The days of fast are:
The weekdays of Lent (Mon. through Sat.) up to Midnight of Holy Saturday

Ember Days- These are twelve in number, three per season; namely, the Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays after: the first Sunday of Lent, Pentecost, September 14 and December 13.

The Vigils of Pentecost, All Saints, the Immaculate Conception and of Christmas

A fast day is a day on which only one full meal is allowed; but in the morning and evening some food may be taken. The food maybe sufficient to maintain strength and may be taken according to one's needs, but together they should not equal another full meal.

The days of complete abstinence are:

All Fridays of the year, Ember Fridays, Ash Wednesday, and the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas.
On days of complete abstinence meat and soup or gravy made from meat may not be used at all.
The days of partial abstinence are:
Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays and the Vigils of Pentecost and All Saints'.
On days of partial abstinence meat and soup or gravy made from meat may be taken only once a day at the principal meal.

Rules of Fasting & Abstinence

1) All baptized Catholics, seven years of age or older, are obliged to abstain on the days appointed.

2) All baptized Catholics, ages twenty one through fifty nine, inclusive, are bound to observe the laws of fasting.

3) Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed.

4) When health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In doubt concerning fast or abstinence, consult the parish priest or a confessor.

5) There is no obligation for fast or abstinence on a Holyday of Obligation, even though it may fall on a Friday.
6 ) There is neither fast or abstinence on Sundays or Holydays of Obligation.


Source: My Catholic Faith: A Manual of Religion by the Most Reverend Louis Laravoire Morrow, S.T.D. (1958)


Church Laws of Fast and Abstinence

    The uniform norms for fast and abstinence adopted in 1951 by the bishops of the United States were somewhat modified at their November 1956 meeting. The regulations on this matter now reads as follows:


1. Everyone over seven years of age is bound to observe the law of abstinence.

2. Complete abstinence is to be observed on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas. On days of complete abstinence, meat and soup or gravy made from meat may not be used at all.

3. Partial abstinence is to be observed on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Vigil of Pentecost. On days of partial abstinence, meat and soup or gravy made from meat may be taken only once a day at the principal meal.


1. Everyone over 21 and under 59 years of age is also bound to observe the law of fast.

2. The days of fast are the weekdays of Lent, including Holy Saturday, the Ember Days and Vigils of Pentecost, the Immaculate Conception and Christmas.

3. On days of fast, only one full meal is allowed. Two other meatless meals, sufficient to maintain strength, may be taken according to one's needs; but together they should not equal another full meal.

4. Meat may be taken at the principal meal on a day of fast except on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the Vigils of the Immaculate Conception and Christmas.

5. Eating between meals is not permitted, but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, are allowed.

6. Where health or ability to work would be seriously affected, the law does not oblige. In doubt concerning fast or abstinence, a parish priest or confessor should be consulted.

* There is no obligation for fast or abstinence on a holy day of obligation, even if it falls on a Friday.

   The New Eucharistic Fast Laws

Motu Proprio of Pope Pius XII of March 19, 1957

1. Priests and faithful before Mass or Holy Communion respectively - whether it is the morning, afternoon, or evening or Midnight Mass - must abstain for three hours from solid foods and alcoholic beverages, and for one hour from non-alcoholic beverages. Water does not break the fast.

2. The infirm, even if not bedridden, may take non-alcoholic beverages and that which is really and properly medicine, either in liquid or solid form, before Mass or Holy Communion without any time limit.

    His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, earnestly exhorts priests and faithful who are able to do so to observe the old and venerable form of the Eucharistic Fast (from foods and liquids from midnight) before Holy Communion. All those who will make use of these concessions must compensate for the good received by becoming shining examples of a Christian life and principally with works of penance and charity. (Motu Proprio of Pope Pius XII of March 19, 1957)


To follow the traditional path, it might be easier to follow through on these disciplines if one just decides to fast and abstain on all the days mentioned. Remembering simply to "eat no more than one regular meatless meal and two smaller meatless meals that don't equal the larger meal on all the days marked on my calendar -- and no snacking!" is a lot easier than trying to memorize that chart!

Note that in following these disciplines designed to make one mindful of Christ's sacrifice, to put the world into perspective, and to discipline the body, true charity trumps every other law; Catholics are not Pharisees. In other words, if you are asked to a sit-down dinner at a Protestant's house on Friday, and the host, unaware of Catholic practices, has worked hard to prepare a huge roast beef, eat the beef and say nothing (unless you believe this person, upon learning of the discipline, would, say, see your having eaten the meat as a sign of Catholic weakness or hypocrisy and it would cause scandal or something. In other words, weigh the situation and show the Love of Christ).

This same charity applies to yourself: if you truly forget that it's "Fish Friday" and you find yourself eating a big, juicy steak, stop eating the steak and don't beat yourself up over what you've already eaten.

Why should we fast?

We fast for many reasons. Even if there were no other reason to fast, we fast out of obedience: Our Lord and His Apostles tell us to. We also fast to discipline the body so that we can focus more intently on the spiritual. And we fast to do penance. This last reason is described well by Pope Clement XIII in his "Appetente Sacro," written in 1759. In this document, he exhorts his Bishops to explain to their flocks the reasons for fasting:

You will begin most appropriately, and with hope of the greatest profit, to recall men to the observance of the holy law of fasting, if you teach the people this: penance for the Christian man is not satisfied by withdrawing from sin, by detesting a past life badly lived, or by the sacramental confession of these same sins. Rather, penance also demands that we satisfy divine justice with fasting, almsgiving, prayer, and other works of the spiritual life. Every wrongdoing -- be it large or small -- is fittingly punished, either by the penitent or by a vengeful God. Therefore we cannot avoid God's punishment in any other way than by punishing ourselves. If this teaching is constantly implanted in the minds of the faithful, and if they drink deeply of it, there will be very little cause to fear that those who have discarded their degraded habits and washed their sins clean through sacramental confession would not want to expiate the same sins through fasting, to eliminate the concupiscence of the flesh. Besides, consider the man who is convinced that he repents of his sins more firmly when he toes not allow himself to go unpunished. That man, already consumed with the love of penance, will rejoice during the season of Lent and on certain other days, when the Church declares that the faithful should fast and gives them the opportunity to bring forth worthy fruits of penance.

The Proper attitude when fasting

St. John Chrysostom, in this excerpt from Homily III of his "Homilies on the Statues," summed it up well:

7. ...We have this fast too as an ally, and as an assistant in this good intercession. Therefore, as when the winter is over and the summer is appearing, the sailor draws his vessel to the deep; and the soldier burnishes his arms, and makes ready his steed for the battle; and the husbandman sharpens his sickle; and the traveller boldly undertakes a long journey, and the wrestler strips and bares himself for the contest. So too, when the fast makes its appearance, like a kind of spiritual summer, let us as soldiers burnish our weapons; and as husbandmen let us sharpen our sickle; and as sailors let us order our thoughts against the waves of extravagant desires; and as travellers let us set out on the journey towards heaven; and as wrestlers let us strip for the contest. For the believer is at once a husbandman, and a sailor, and a soldier, a wrestler, and a traveller. Hence St. Paul saith, "We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers. Put on therefore the whole armour of God." Hast thou observed the wrestler? Hast thou observed the soldier? If thou art a wrestler, it is necessary for thee to engage in the conflict naked. If a soldier, it behoves thee to stand in the battle line armed at all points. How then are both these things possible, to be naked, and yet not naked; to be clothed, and yet not clothed! How? I will tell thee. Divest thyself of worldly business, and thou hast become a wrestler. Put on the spiritual armour, and thou hast become a soldier. Strip thyself of worldly cares, for the season is one of wrestling. Clothe thyself with the spiritual armour, for we have a heavy warfare to wage with demons. Therefore also it is needful we should be naked, so as to offer nothing that the devil may take hold of, while he is wrestling with us; and to be fully armed at all points, so as on no side to receive a deadly blow. Cultivate thy soul. Cut away the thorns. Sow the word of godliness. Propagate and nurse with much care the fair plants of divine wisdom, and thou hast become a husbandman. And Paul will say to thee, "The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. He too himself practised this art. Therefore writing to the Corinthians, he said, "I have planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase." Sharpen thy sickle, which thou hast blunted through gluttony--sharpen it by fasting. Lay hold of the pathway which leads towards heaven; rugged and narrow as it is, lay hold of it, and journey on. And how mayest thou be able to do these things? By subduing thy body, and bringing it into subjection. For when the way grows narrow, the corpulence that comes of gluttony is a great hindrance. Keep down the waves of inordinate desires. Repel the tempest of evil thoughts. Preserve the bark; display much skill, and thou hast become a pilot. But we shall have the fast for a groundwork and instructor in all these things.

8. I speak not, indeed, of such a fast as most persons keep, but of real fasting; not merely an abstinence from meats; but from sins too. For the nature of a fast is such, that it does not suffice to deliver those who practice it, unless it be done according to a suitable law. "For the wrestler," it is said, "is not crowned unless he strive lawfully." To the end then, that when we have gone through the labour of fasting, we forfeit not the crown of fasting, we should understand how, and after what manner, it is necessary to conduct this business; since that Pharisee also fasted, but afterwards when down empty, and destitute of the fruit of fasting. The Publican fasted not; and yet he was accepted in preference to him who had fasted; in order that thou mayest learn that fasting is unprofitable, except all other duties follow with it. The Ninevites fasted, and won the favour of God. The Jews fasted too, and profited nothing, nay they departed with blame. Since then the danger in fasting is so great to those who do not know how they ought to fast, we should learn the laws of this exercise, in order that we may not "run uncertainly," nor "beat the air," nor while we are fighting contend with a shadow. Fasting is a medicine; but a medicine, though it be never so profitable, becomes frequently useless owing to the unskillfulness of him who employs it. For it is necessary to know, moreover, the time when it should be applied, and the requisite quantity of it; and the temperament of body that admits it; and the nature of the country, and the season of the year; and the corresponding diet; as well as varous other particulars; any of which, if one overlooks, he will mar all the rest that have been named. Now if, when the body needs healing, such exactness is required on our part, much more ought we, when our care is about the soul, and we seek to heal the distempers of the mind, to look, and to search into every particular with the utmost accuracy.

11. I have said these things, not that we may disparage fasting, but that we may honour fasting; for the honour of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices; since he who limits his fasting only to an abstinence from meats, is one who especially disparages it. Dost thou fast? Give me proof of it by thy works! Is it said by what kind of works? If thou seest a poor man, take pity on him! If thou seest an enemy, be reconciled to him! If thou seest a friend gaining honour, envy him not! If thou seest a handsome woman, pass her by! For let not the mouth only fast, but also the eye, and ear, and the feet, and the hands, and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being pure from rapine and avarice. Let the feet fast, but ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles. Let the eyes fast, being taught never to fix themselves rudely upon handsome countenances, or to busy themselves with strange beauties. For looking is the food of the eyes, but if this be such as is unlawful or forbidden, it mars the fast; and upsets the whole safety of the soul; but if it be lawful and safe, it adorns fasting. For it would be among things the most absurd to abstain from lawful food because of the fast, but with the eyes to touch even what is forbidden. Dost thou not eat flesh? Feed not upon lasciviousness by means of the eyes. Let the ear fast also. The fasting of the ear consists in refusing to receive evil speakings and calumnies. "Thou shalt not receive a false report," it says.

Note: Text & Chart Courtesy of Fisheaters & Traditional

Winter, by Abel Grimmer, 1607Spring, by Abel Grimmer, 1607Summer, by Abel Grimmer, 1607Autumn, by Abel Grimmer, 1607

Ember Days

    Four times a year, the Church sets aside three days to focus on God through His marvelous creation. These quarterly periods take place around the beginnings of the four natural seasons . These four times are each kept on a successive Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday and are known as "Ember Days," or Quatuor Tempora, in Latin. The first of these four times comes in Winter, after the the Feast of St. Lucy; the second comes in Spring, the week after Ash Wednesday; the third comes in Summer, after Pentecost Sunday; and the last comes in Autumn, after Holy Cross Day.

These times are spent fasting and partially abstaining  in penance and with the intentions of thanking God for the gifts He gives us in nature and beseeching Him for the discipline to use them in moderation. The fasts, known as "Jejunia quatuor temporum," or "the fast of the four seasons," are rooted in Old Testament practices of fasting four times a year:

These days of fast, and abstinence from meat (dating from the time of the Apostles) should be religiously observed by ALL Catholics and are binding under pain of sin.


Fast: All those 21 to 59 years of age should eat but one full meal on each Ember Day. This should be the usual main meal. The other two meals should be no more than snacks (collations) not adding up to a second full meal. Between meals nothing but clear liquids.


Abstinence: For those 7 and older, no meat on each Ember Day, except for the main meal on Wednesday and Saturday (days of partial abstinence).

Zacharias 8:19:

Thus saith the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth shall be to the house of Juda, joy, and gladness, and great solemnities: only love ye truth and peace.

Our Israelite ancestors once fasted weekly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but Christians changed the fast days to Wednesdays (the day on which Christ was betrayed) and Fridays (the day on which He was crucified). The weekly two day fasts were later amended in the Roman Church to keeping only Fridays as penitential days, but during Embertides, the older, two-day fasts are restored. Saturdays (the day He was entombed) were added to these Ember times of fasting and are seen as a sort of culmination of the Ember Days: for example, on Ember Wednesdays, there is one lesson given during the Mass; on Fridays, there are none; and on Saturdays, there are four or five. Interestingly, the story of Sidrach, Misach, and Abdenago's escape from King Nabuchodonosor's fiery furnace with the help of an angel is commemorated on each Saturday of Embertides except that of Whit Embertide, and part of their beautiful hymn of praise follows (Daniel 3:52-56. See readings at the bottom of the page for this gorgeous hymn in its entirety).

In any case, the Dominican, Blessed Jacopo de Voragine (A.D. 1230-1298), Archbishop of Genoa, wrote a collection of the stories of the Saints known as "Legenda Aurea" (Golden Legend). This work gives eight quite interesting reasons to fast during Ember Days:

The fasting of the Quatretemps, called in English Ember days, the Pope Calixtus ordained them. And this fast is kept four times in the year, and for divers reasons.

For the first time, which is in March, is hot and moist. The second, in summer, is hot and dry. The third, in harvest, is cold and dry. The fourth in winter is cold and moist. Then let us fast in March which is printemps for to repress the heat of the flesh boiling, and to quench luxury or to temper it. In summer we ought to fast to the end that we chastise the burning and ardour of avarice. In harvest for to repress the drought of pride, and in winter for to chastise the coldness of untruth and of malice.

The second reason why we fast four times; for these fastings here begin in March in the first week of the Lent, to the end that vices wax dry in us, for they may not all be quenched; or because that we cast them away, and the boughs and herbs of virtues may grow in us. And in summer also, in the Whitsun week, for then cometh the Holy Ghost, and therefore we ought to be fervent and esprised in the love of the Holy Ghost. They be fasted also in September tofore Michaelmas, and these be the third fastings, because that in this time the fruits be gathered and we should render to God the fruits of good works. In December they be also, and they be the fourth fastings, and in this time the herbs die, and we ought to be mortified to the world.

The third reason is for to ensue the Jews. For the Jews fasted four times in the year, that is to wit, tofore Easter, tofore Whitsunside, tofore the setting of the tabernacle in the temple in September, and tofore the dedication of the temple in December.

The fourth reason is because the man is composed of four elements touching the body, and of three virtues or powers in his soul: that is to wit, the understanding, the will, and the mind. To this then that this fasting may attemper in us four times in the year, at each time we fast three days, to the end that the number of four may be reported to the body, and the number of three to the soul. These be the reasons of Master Beleth.

The fifth reason, as saith John Damascenus: in March and in printemps the blood groweth and augmenteth, and in summer coler, in September melancholy, and in winter phlegm. Then we fast in March for to attemper and depress the blood of concupiscence disordinate, for sanguine of his nature is full of fleshly concupiscence. In summer we fast because that coler should be lessened and refrained, of which cometh wrath. And then is he full naturally of ire. In harvest we fast for to refrain melancholy. The melancholious man naturally is cold, covetous and heavy. In winter we fast for to daunt and to make feeble the phlegm of lightness and forgetting, for such is he that is phlegmatic.

The sixth reason is for the printemps is likened to the air, the summer to fire, harvest to the earth, and the winter to water. Then we fast in March to the end that the air of pride be attempered to us. In summer the fire of concupiscence and of avarice. In September the earth of coldness and of the darkness of ignorance. In winter the water of lightness and inconstancy.

The seventh reason is because that March is reported to infancy, summer to youth, September to steadfast age and virtuous, and winter to ancienty or old age. We fast then in March that we may be in the infancy of innocency. In summer for to be young by virtue and constancy. In harvest that we may be ripe by attemperance. In winter that we may be ancient and old by prudence and honest life, or at least that we may be satisfied to God of that which in these four seasons we have offended him.

The eighth reason is of Master William of Auxerre. We fast, saith he, in these four times of the year to the end that we make amends for all that we have failed in all these four times, and they be done in three days each time, to the end that we satisfy in one day that which we have failed in a month; and that which is the fourth day, that is Wednesday, is the day in which our Lord was betrayed of Judas; and the Friday because our Lord was crucified; and the Saturday because he lay in the sepulchre, and the apostles were sore of heart and in great sorrow.

Now, in addition to the penitential fasting and alms-giving of this time, it is good to consider our stewardship of the earth, a responsibility God gave to us in the Garden of Eden, as recorded in Genesis 1:28-30:

God blessed them, saying: Increase and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it, and rule over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and all living creatures that move upon the earth. And God said: Behold I have given you every herb bearing seed upon the earth, and all trees that have in themselves seed of their own kind, to be your meat: And to all beasts of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to all that move upon the earth, and wherein there is life, that they may have to feed upon.

The point is also beautifully made in the eighth Psalm:

O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in the whole earth! For thy magnificence is elevated above the heavens. Out of the mouth of infants and of sucklings thou hast perfected praise, because of thy enemies, that thou mayst destroy the enemy and the avenger. For I will behold thy heavens, the works of thy fingers: the moon and the stars which thou hast founded.

What is man that thou art mindful of him? or the son of man that thou visitest him? Thou hast made him a little less than the angels, thou hast crowned him with glory and honour: And hast set him over the works of thy hands. Thou hast subjected all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen: moreover the beasts also of the fields. The birds of the air, and the fishes of the sea, that pass through the paths of the sea. O Lord our Lord, how admirable is thy name in all the earth

Courtesy of Fisheaters

Last Day of Pompeii, by Karl Pavlovich Bryulo, 1833

Rogation Days

    "Rogation" comes from the Latin "rogare," which means "to ask," and "Rogation Days" are days during which we seek to ask God's mercy, appease His anger, avert His chastisements manifest through natural disasters, and ask for His blessings, particularly with regard to farming, gardening, and other agricultural pursuits. They are set aside to remind us how radically dependent we are on Mother Earth, and how prayer can help protect us from nature's often cruel ways.

    It is quite easy, especially for modern city folk, to sentimentalize nature and to forget how powerful, even savage, she can be. Time is spent focusing only on her lovelier aspects -- the beauty of snow, the smell of cedar, the glories of flowers -- as during Embertides -- but in an instant, the veneer of civilization we've built to keep nature under control so we can enjoy her without suffering at her hand can be swept away. Ash and fire raining down from great volcanoes, waters bursting through levees, mountainous tidal waves destroying miles of coastland and entire villages, meteors hurling to earth, tornadoes and hurricanes sweeping away all in their paths, droughts, floods, fires that rampage through forests and towns, avalanches of rocks or snow, killer plagues, the very earth shaking off human life and opening up beneath our feet, cataclysmic events forming mountains and islands, animals that prey on humans, lightning strikes -- these, too, are a part of the natural world. And though nature seems random and fickle, all that happens is either by God's active or passive Will, and all throughout Scripture He uses the elements to warn, punish, humble, and instruct us: earth swallowing up the rebellious, power-mad sons of Eliab; wind destroying Job's house; fire raining down on Sodom and Gomorrha; water destroying everyone but Noah and his family (Numbers 16, Job 1, Genesis 19, Genesis 6). We need to be humble before and respectful of nature, and be aware not to take her for granted or overstep our limits. But we need to be most especially humble before her Creator, Who wills her existence and doings at each instant, whether actively or passively. Consider the awe-inspiring words of Nahum 1:2-8:

The Lord is a jealous God, and a revenger: the Lord is a revenger, and hath wrath: the Lord taketh vengeance on His adversaries, and He is angry with His enemies. The Lord is patient, and great in power, and will not cleanse and acquit the guilty. The Lord's ways are in a tempest, and a whirlwind, and clouds are the dust of His feet. He rebuketh the sea, and drieth it up: and bringeth all the rivers to be a desert. Basan languisheth and Carmel: and the dower of Libanus fadeth away. The mountains tremble at Him, and the hills are made desolate: and the earth hath quaked at His presence, and the world, and all that dwell therein.

Who can stand before the face of His indignation? and who shall resist in the fierceness of His anger? His indignation is poured out like fire: and the rocks are melted by Him. The Lord is good and giveth strength in the day of trouble: and knoweth them that hope in Him. But with a flood that passeth by, He will make an utter end of the place thereof: and darkness shall pursue His enemies.

    Recalling these Truths, beseeching God and His Saints to protect us from disaster, and doing penance so He does not see us as His enemies are what Rogation Days are about. These days are divided between the Major Rogation -- 25 April (by coincidence alone, the Feast of St. Mark) -- and the Minor Rogation, which consists of the Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday before Ascension Thursday.

    The Major Rogation is of Roman origin, instituted by Pope St. Gregory the Great (b. 540) after a great plague besieged Rome. The Golden Legend, written by Jacobus de Voragine in 1275 explains:

For as the Romans had in the Lent lived soberly and in continence, and after at Easter had received their Saviour. After, they disordered them in eating, in drinking, in plays and in lechery. And therefore our Lord was moved against them, and sent to them a great pestilence, which was called the botche of impedimy. And that was cruel and sudden, and caused people to die in going by the way, in playing, in being at table, and in speaking one with another suddenly they died. In this manner sometime sneezing they died, so that when any person was heard sneezing anon they that were by said to him: God help you, or Christ help: and yet endureth the custom. And also when he sneezeth or gapeth, he maketh tofore his face the sign of the Cross, and blesseth him; and yet endureth this custom.

    The Minor Rogation Days are of French origin, coming about in the 5th c., when St. Mamertus, Bishop of Vienne, Dauphiné instituted them after a series of natural calamities. According to the Golden Legend:

For then, at Vienne, were great earthquakes of which fell down many churches and many houses, and there was heard great sounds and great clamours by night. And then happed a terrible thing on Easter-day, for fire descended from heaven that burnt the king's palace. Yet happed more marvellous thing; for like as the fiends had entered into the hogs, right so by the sufferance of God for the sins of the people, the fiends entered into wolves and other wild beasts, which every one doubted, and they went not only by the ways ne by the fields, but also by the cities ran openly, and devoured the children and old men and women. And when the Bishop saw that every day happed such sorrowful adventures, he commanded and ordained that the people should fast three days; and he instituted the Litanies, and then the tribulation ceased.

    Pope St. Leo III -- the Pope who crowned Charlemagne on Christmas Day of 800 -- introduced these days of penance into Rome in 816, the year of his death, after which they became standard throughout the Roman Church.

The liturgy for the Rogation Days, during which the priest is vested in purple, begins with Psalm 43:26 --"Arise, O Lord, help us and redeem us for Thy name's sake" -- which is followed by the Litany of the Saints. At the Litany's "Sancta Maria," all stand and a procession begins, which in older times was (and still is in rural areas) usually around the boundaries of the parish, giving to the procession the name of "beating the bounds."

The Litany is followed by Psalm 69, a series of petitions, and the Mass, with readings from James 5:16-20 and Luke 11:5-14.

Just for informational purposes, here is what the Rogation Days' processions were like in medieval times, again from the Golden Legend. How marvelous!:

And in this procession the Cross is borne, the clocks and the bells be sounded and rung, the banners be borne, and in some churches a dragon with a great tail is borne. And aid and help is demanded of all Saints.

And the cause why the Cross is borne and the bells rung is for to make the evil spirits afraid and to flee; for like as the kings have in battles tokens and signs-royal, as their trumpets and banners, right so the King of Heaven perdurable hath His signs militant in the Church. He hath bells for business and for trumps, He hath the Cross for banners. And like as a tyrant and a malefactor should much doubt when he shall hear the business and trumps of a mighty king in his land, and shall see his banners, in like wise the enemies, the evil spirits that be in the region of the air, doubt much when they hear the trumpets of God which be the bells rung, and when they see the banners borne on high. And this is the cause why the bells be rung when it thundereth, and when great tempests and outrages of weather happen, to the end that the fiends and the evil spirits should be abashed and flee, and cease of the moving of tempests. Howbeit also that there is another cause therewith; that is for to warn the Christian people, that they put them in devotion and in prayer, for to pray God that the tempest may cease.

There is also the banner of the King, that is the Cross, which the enemies dread much and doubt. For they dread the staff with which they have been hurt. And this is the reason wherefore in some churches in the time of tempest and of thunder, they set out the Cross against the tempest to the end that the wicked spirits see the banner of the sovereign King, and for dread thereof they flee. And therefore in procession the Cross is borne, and the bells rung for to chase and hunt away the fiends being in the air, and to the end that they leave to tempest us. The Cross is borne for to represent the victory of the Resurrection, and of the Ascension of Jesus Christ. For He ascended into Heaven with all a great prey. And thus this banner that flyeth in the air signifieth Jesus Christ ascending into Heaven.

And as the people follow the Cross, the banners, and the procession, right so when Jesus Christ stayed up into Heaven a great multitude of Saints followed Him. And the song that is sung in the procession signifieth the song of angels and the praisings that came against Jesus Christ and conducted and conveyed Him to Heaven where is great joy and melody.

Picture and Text Courtesy of Fisheaters

Sermon on Rogation Days

    As the beautiful month of May begins, we are met almost immediately with the ancient custom in the Church of observing the Rogation Days. Just what are these days of "rogation", and why is it so important that we all — not merely the clergy, but every member of the Church — observe them? To begin, the word "rogation" is derived from the Latin verb rogare, which means "to pray". From this we can easily understand that the Rogation Days are special days of public prayer that take place on the three days just before Ascension Thursday. They are one of the means by which the Church brings to a fitting close the remembrance of the forty days that Our Lord remained on this earth after His Resurrection.

    But for what shall we pray? Abbot Gueranger sums up our rogation duties in this way in his work, The Liturgical Year: The object of the Rogation Days is to appease the anger of God, and avert the chastisements which the sins of the world so justly deserve; moreover, to draw down the divine blessings on the fruits of the earth. These twofold intentions for the Rogation Days — reparation for sin and petitions for our temporal welfare — are derived from the history of this great devotion.


    In the late fifth century, the country around Vienne (in modern France) was conquered by the Burgundians. This was followed by a host of terrible calamities. St. Mamertus, the bishop of Vienne, prescribed on the faithful under his charge three days of public prayer and penance to turn this scourge from their midst. He chose the three days before Ascension Thursday as the time for this exercise. By the grace of God, the scourge was turned away, and thus began the custom of setting aside the three days before Ascension Thursday as a time of special prayer and penance. Before long, this custom was practiced throughout the Christian world, and was made a mandatory liturgical observance by Pope St. Leo III.  It was at that time that the Litany of the Saints, and some other appropriate prayers, were made mandatory for what soon became known as the Lesser Litanies (as compared to the Greater Litanies on the Feast of St. Mark, April 25).

     Liturgical historians remark that, over time, Catholics started to demonstrate an indifference toward the Rogation Days, and especially the public processions. On the one hand, far too many Catholics began (and still do) stay away from these public prayers out of laziness and a lack of faith. On the other, some prefer to substitute their own private devotions in place of the public prayer of the Church, the Bride of Christ. Perhaps one reason for the great increase in the anti-religious sentiment of the world, and the advancement of the enemies of Christ, can be attributed to the failure of Catholics to attach great importance to the observance of the Rogation Days, if not at their churches, then at least in their homes. Indifference toward this important ancient custom has brought upon all a terrible moral and spiritual disaster.


    Since the rogation observances first began, the need for prayers of reparation for sin and for the temporal welfare of mankind have not lessened. What is rapidly disappearing is the spirit of faith in Catholics to the point that the clergy must beg and plead for them  to remember these simple duties. Sin abounds as the worst of plagues on mankind, and even in our Catholic homes, because few understand the necessity of making reparation for these offenses (personal and/or public) against God. Likewise, the temporal needs of mankind (and of our Catholic families) also seem to be ever increasing, even despite the much advancement in society to help lessen these burdens. Understand that the prayers of Rogation Day are not meant solely that the farmers can have a successful planting of their crops, and a safe and bountiful harvest in the end (from which we all reap the fruits). No, any of our temporal needs are included in our petitions during this time – needs which seem to be increasing nearly day-by-day. Instead of complaining about the gas prices, why not join in prayer during the Rogation Days to have ourselves delivered from this scourge of greed? Or, if you find yourself without a job, or without sufficient employment to meet your daily necessities, the join in prayer during the Rogation Days for the help you need. Our needs our great, and, with faith, we can lessen their burden.


Fr. Kevin Vaillancourt
Gaudens, May 2005