Lenten penance explained

THE Church’s Canon law reaffirms the obligation to do penance – to interrupt the usual comforts of life, to rediscover in prayer the saving love of God, and to practice charity and justice towards those in need.

During Lent and on the Fridays of the year, we do penance, not only on our own account, but also in the name of the Church and of the world. We must take seriously our penitential obligations and be sure to carry them out. The Australian Catholic Bishops’ Conference has not restricted our penance to fast and abstinence in all cases, it has left room for our own responsible choices. We should carefully select the form of penance that we consider most appropriate for our own circumstances and growth in the Christian life.


1. Abstinence from meat, and fasting, are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. All who have completed their 18th year and have not yet begun their 60th year are bound to fast. All who have completed their 14th year are bound to abstain.

2. On all other Fridays of the year including the Fridays of Lent, the law of the common practice of penance is fulfilled by performing any one of the following:

(a) prayer – for example, Mass attendance; family prayer; a visit to a church or chapel; reading the Bible; making the Stations of the Cross; praying the Rosary.

(b) self-denial – for example, not eating meat; not eating sweets or dessert; giving up entertainment to spend time with the family; limiting food and drink so as to give to the poor of one’s own country.

(c) helping others – for example, special attention to someone who is poor, sick, elderly, lonely or overburdened.

Lent lasts from Ash Wednesday (February 10) to the Mass of the Lord’s Supper (March 24) exclusive. On Good Friday and, if possible, also on Holy Saturday until the Easter Vigil, the Easter fast is observed.


Each of the faithful is obliged to receive Holy Communion at least once a year. This is to be done between Ash Wednesday, February 10, and Trinity Sunday, May 22, 2016 unless for a good reason it is done at another time during the year. All the faithful are obliged to confess their grave sins at least once a year.

*This is an edited version of a statement provided by Catholic Communications, Archdiocese of Sydney.