I ran across the term "Black Fast" and looked it up. The articles I'm finding indicate that it's extreme, and give some information about the types of foods allowed during it, but I keep expecting to find information on when it was performed and why. In my experience, in Catholic tradition, there is a detailed reason and circumstance for just about everything, and I'm just not finding it.

Also, based on the restrictions, this looks to be something that is intended to be something done for an extended period of time, not just a few days...

The details of the fast, as they were prior to the tenth century, are as follows:

  • No more than one meal per day was permitted
  • Flesh meat, eggs, butter, cheese and milk were forbidden
  • The meal was not allowed until after sunset
  • Alcohol was forbidden
  • During Holy Week, the meal consisted exclusively of bread, salt, herbs, and water

No more than one meal per day would be hard for a few days, but doable, so I have to assume that this fast is meant for extended periods.

The closest I could come to a "how long" answer was a blurb in Wikipedia, but it it about how the Eastern Orthodox Church practices it today.

The Black Fast is still observed by the Eastern Orthodox on Wednesdays and Fridays and during the 40 days of Lent and three other fasting periods of the year.

So, if anyone can fill in the blanks, and explain when it is done, why it is done, and for how long it is done, I'd greatly appreciate it.

  • 1
    I'll refrain from posting a real answer, b/c I'm not certain there's no occasion when a Black Fast is still required and/or normal. But, to the point about a detailed reason and circumstance for just about everything, there are a lot of things that are practiced with precision. But, I'd say quite a lot of Catholicism is actually extracurricular. There are no mandates to pray the rosary, honor St. So-and-so, to say novena X, etc.. A good variety of recommendations from various people though. It's probably most often done per the recommendation of a spiritual advisor.
    – svidgen
    Jan 26, 2013 at 3:45
  • 1
    OK. I hope you don't think I'm trying to be hostile. I just think it's high time I started trying to really understand Catholicism. I'm really good with Protestant perspectives, but a lot of Catholic teachings go over my head simply because I never paid attention. I think that as I start to get more experience and learn the language I'll get better. Jan 26, 2013 at 3:50
  • No hostility detected.
    – svidgen
    Jan 26, 2013 at 3:53

2 Answers 2


You are right. Eastern Orthodox still practice this in a way, though it is not called the "Black Fast". As I am an Orthodox Christian I can tell you that we do fast every Wednesday and Friday, though not as strictly as the Black Fast. It's more like eat vegan, basically the same as you listed, but we get 3 meals at the regular times, though some people may do it more strictly including monastics. Also don't eat as much.

Then we also have as we call it the Great Fast, or Great Lent, that starts 40 days before Holy Week. Basically we eat the same as on Wednesdays and Fridays, also trying more then normal to abstain from sin (that's the whole goal right?). Then during Holy Week the rules change and it is a little more strict, namely maybe 1 meal a day, on special days (Holy Friday: the crucifixion) eating nothing at all. Check out wikipedia for more info.

We also have fasts before the Dormition (two weeks long called the Dormition Fast), a fast called the Apostles Fast, and A fast before Christmas, called Advent. According to Wikipedia, Advent starts on the fourth Sunday before December 25, which is the Sunday between November 27 and December 3. According to my Orthodox Calendar, this year it will start on November 15.

Also I forgot to mention, that on the first week of Great Lent we have a strict fast from Monday to Wednesday, thats a strict fast meaning no food at all. For the weak, (Children, Elderly, Pregnant) there are exceptions.

Of course thats not all the fasts that we do. Check this link for more info.

OK, just checked back at your question and saw that you asked why it is done. Um, kind of for the whole going to heaven thing that we're doing as Christians. Depriving the body of food is supposed to help with repentance and to humble the body to the Spirits will.

Hope that answers your question! If not I can say even more.

  • This is Eastern Orthodox position, but AFAIK Greek Catholic Church has the same fasting system as Orthodox Church, and it used to be very similar in the past (I don't know until when exactly, 10th or 11th century seems plausible).
    – Pavel
    Jan 31, 2013 at 13:39
  • yes @Pavel when you speak of 10th and 11th century you probably mean the Great Schism (1054). Also thanks for catching that glaring mistake. OOPS!
    – Byzantine
    Jan 31, 2013 at 15:54
  • @Byzantine can you please comment or answer this question: christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/19936/… Mar 9, 2014 at 8:49
  • @MatthewMoisen Sorry I didn't reply sooner; I will try to answer, but I am kind of busy over the next few days/weeks. Not sure when I could have time.
    – Byzantine
    Mar 26, 2014 at 5:07

How long, and in what cases did Catholics participate in the Black Fast?

First of all let us start with a general Catholic definition of a black fast.

Black Fast

A rigorous form of fasting which, in its most classic form, was limited to one meal per day, not taken before evening, and excluding all flesh meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk. Variations have been in force in various times and places.

[Note: This has been changed from Fr. Hardon's original definition, which appears to have been incorrect: “Abstinence from all flesh meat, with only eggs, butter, cheese, or milk allowed at the evening meal. Formerly a diet limited to bread, salt, vegetables, and water constituted a black fast during Lent.” See the Catholic Encyclopedia.]

Prior to the changes in fasting by Pope Paul VI, the black fast was done by many of the faithful during the Season of Lent. I is still done in some very traditional religious communities that follow the Extraordinary Form of the Mass.

It was also done at ordinations in the Tridentine Rite. And I would not be surprised if it is still observed in those communities that celebrate the Mass according to Pope St. Pius V.

This form of fasting, the most rigorous in the history of church legislation, was marked by austerity regarding the quantity and quality of food permitted on fasting days as well as the time wherein such food might be legitimately taken.

In the first place more than one meal was strictly prohibited. At this meal flesh meat, eggs, butter, cheese, and milk were interdicted (Gregory I, Decretals IV, cap. vi; Trullan Synod, Canon 56). Besides these restrictions abstinence from wine, specially during Lent, was enjoined (Thomassin, Traité des jeûnes de l'Église, II, vii). Furthermore, during Holy Week the fare consisted of bread, salt, herbs, and water (Laymann, Theologia Moralis, Tr. VIII; De observatione jejuniorum, i). Finally, this meal was not allowed until sunset. St. Ambrose (De Elia et jejunio, sermo vii, in Psalm CXVIII), St. Chrysostom (Homil. iv in Genesim), St. Basil (Oratio i, De jejunio) furnish unequivocal testimony concerning the three characteristics of the black fast. The keynote of their teaching is sounded by St. Bernard (Sermo. iii, no. 1, De Quadragesima), when he says "hitherto we have fasted only until none" (3 p.m.) "whereas, now" (during Lent) "kings and princes, clergy and laity, rich and poor will fast until evening". It is quite certain that the days of Lent (Muller, Theologia Moralis, II, Lib. II, Tr. ii, sect. 165, no. 11) as well as those preceding ordination were marked by the black fast. This regime continued until the tenth century when the custom of taking the only meal of the day at three o'clock was introduced (Thomassin, loc. cit.). In the fourteenth century the hour of taking this meal was changed to noon-day (Muller, loc. cit.). Shortly afterwards the practice of taking a collation in the evening began to gain ground (Thomassin, op. cit., II, xi). Finally, the custom of taking a crust of bread and some coffee in the morning was introduced in the early part of the nineteenth century. During the past fifty years, owing to ever changing circumstances of time and place, the Church has gradually relaxed the severity of penitential requirements, so that now little more than a vestige of former rigour obtains. Black Fast (Catholic Encyclopedia

Some Eastern Catholics still practice the tradition of the black fast on Fridays during Lent, especially on Good Friday.

A priest who undertakes the office of exorcist should be himself a holy man, of a blameless life, intelligent, courageous, humble, and he should prepare for the work by special acts of devotion and mortification, particularly by prayer and a fasting (Matthew 17:20)

20 But this kind is not cast out but by prayer and fasting.

Exorcists take their work very seriously. Fr. Gabriele Amorth mentions that the black fact is common place among exorcists in his books, An Exorcist Tells His Story and An Exorcist: More Stories.

Although decline in this practice has been noticed within the Catholic Church, it is still practiced in some more traditional circles within Catholicism.

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