Can you eat meat during Lent if you are over 65?

Lent is the 40 day period leading up to Easter in the Catholic Church. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. During Lent, Catholics ages 18-59 are required to fast, while those ages 14-59 are required to abstain from eating meat on Fridays. However, the rules are slightly different for those over the age of 60. This article will examine whether people over age 65 can eat meat during Lent.

What is Lent?

Lent is a period of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving that lasts for 40 days. It represents the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert while being tempted by Satan. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, when Catholics receive ashes on their forehead as a sign of repentance. The 40 days of Lent do not include Sundays, so Lent is actually 46 days long from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday.

The purpose of Lent is for Catholics to set aside time for reflection, repentance, and growth in their spiritual life as they prepare for Easter. It is seen as a time of self-denial and sacrifice. Many Catholics give up something during Lent as a way to identify with the sacrifices of Jesus. Common Lenten sacrifices include giving up meat, candy, alcohol, or luxury items.

Lenten Fasting and Abstinence Rules

The Catholic Church has specific rules about fasting and abstaining from meat during Lent for those between the ages of 14-59. Here are the basic Lenten regulations:


– Catholics ages 18-59 should eat only one full meal on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Two smaller meals may be eaten, but they should not equal a full meal.
– No eating between meals, but liquids are permitted.

Abstinence from Meat

– Catholics ages 14 and up should not eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all the Fridays during Lent.
– This includes beef, pork, chicken, etc. Fish is permitted.

Do Lenten Fasting Rules Apply to Seniors?

The Lenten requirements for fasting and abstaining from meat do not apply to Catholics over the age of 60. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops states:

“Those individuals who are above the age of sixty (60), are considered senior citizens and therefore should not restrict themselves from nutritional sources of meat during Lenten days of abstinence.”

Therefore, Catholics over age 60 or 65 may eat meat during Lent on any day, including Ash Wednesday and Fridays. They are also exempt from the requirement to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These Lenten sacrifices are not binding on the elderly.

However, seniors and older Catholics are still encouraged to participate in their own form of penance and self-denial during Lent if they are physically able. Giving up meat or fasting may be harmful to the health of seniors, so other sacrifices or acts of charity are recommended instead. Some ideas include:

– Giving up a favorite food or drink
– Limiting screen time
– Volunteering or giving to charity
– Focusing on prayer or spiritual reading
– Attending daily Mass
– Fasting from negative attitudes like gossip or judgment

So in summary, Catholics over age 65 are not required to follow the normal Lenten fasting and abstinence rules. They are encouraged to offer their own age-appropriate sacrifices, but they are permitted to eat meat any day during Lent without restriction.

Reasons Seniors Are Exempt from Fasting and Abstinence

The Catholic Church exempts those over 60 from Lenten obligations for several important reasons:

Nutritional Needs

Fasting and abstaining from meat can be harmful to the health of seniors and older adults. Malnutrition is a serious concern among the elderly, who may not get adequate nutrition from restricted diets. Seniors often need more protein and meat in their diets for muscle health. Fasting can also cause dizziness, weakness and low blood sugar for the elderly.

Medical Conditions

Many seniors deal with medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease or gastrointestinal issues that require specific nutritional needs. Restricted diets could worsen their health. Those over 65 should not fast or give up meat if advised by a doctor.

Difficulty with Change in Routine

For many older Catholics, not eating meat on Fridays or fasting from food has been a lifelong routine. Changing this regimen suddenly could be burdensome or distressing. The Church aims to limit the disruption to their usual diet.

Focus on Spiritual Rather than Physical Sacrifice

The purpose of Lent is spiritual renewal through prayer, charity and repentance. As we age, bodily mortifications can become more difficult. The Church encourages seniors to offer spiritual sacrifices instead that are more meaningful and impactful for them.

In summary, the Church exempts elderly Catholics from Lenten obligations because restricted diets can be harmful to their health and difficult to adopt later in life. The focus is on spiritual transformation through prayer and charity, not just physical sacrifice.

Ways for Seniors to Observe Lent Meaningfully

Here are some suggestions for how seniors can fully participate in the spirit of Lent without fasting or abstaining from meat:

Increase Prayer Time

Spend more time each day in prayer, Scripture reading or meditation. Attend daily Mass if possible. Pray for others in need.

Focus on Personal Repentance

Examine your conscience and seek forgiveness in Confession for sins and failings. Offer sacrifices by giving up negative attitudes or behaviors.

Give Up a Favorite Item

Give up sweets, alcohol, television or other favorite item that does not impact your nutrition or health. Offer this small sacrifice to God.

Perform Acts of Charity

Donate money to organizations that help the poor and vulnerable. Volunteer your time and talents to help others in need.

Attend Lenten Devotions

If health permits, attend Lenten devotions like Stations of the Cross, Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament or communal Penance services.

Focus on Personal Growth

Read spiritual books, listen to inspirational speakers, or join a Bible study to grow in faith. Examine your conscience & seek growth.

The most important thing is for seniors to pray and offer sacrifices however they can, without compromising their health. Lent should be meaningful and attainable for each individual.

Should Seniors Consult a Doctor?

Seniors who wish to fast or give up meat for Lent should consult their physician before changing their normal diet. A doctor can advise if dietary restrictions are safe based on one’s medical conditions, nutritional needs, and current health status. They can recommend appropriate alternatives or modifications.

Some tips if considering fasting or abstinence during Lent:

– Talk to your doctor several weeks before Lent begins.
– Follow your doctor’s advice on whether restriction is safe for you.
– Modify fasting loosely rather than a full fast if needed.
– Only give up meat if okayed by your physician.
– Drink juices, broths and fluids even when fasting.
– Never attempt to fast without medical guidance.
– Focus more on spiritual goals than specific food sacrifice.

With a doctor’s guidance, some seniors can safely participate in milder forms of Lenten fasting and abstinence. But the highest priority is health and adequate nutrition during this holy season.

Other Exemptions from Fasting and Abstinence

In addition to seniors over 60, other Catholics may be exempt from Lenten regulations for health reasons. According to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, the following are also excused from fasting and abstinence:

– Those with a medical condition requiring a more complete diet.
– Pregnant or nursing women, who need increased nutrition.
– Those who perform hard physical labor and require more sustenance.
– Those with mental illness or developmental disorders who cannot comply.
– Those with chronic illnesses like diabetes that require specific diets.

In general, if fasting or abstinence poses a health risk or severe burden, Catholics are not required to follow the Lenten norms. Those who are unsure if they qualify for an exemption should speak to their doctor or parish priest.

Keeping a Holy and Healthy Lent as a Senior

Here are some final tips for seniors to observe a prayerful, meaningful Lent without compromising health:

– Consult your physician about any dietary restrictions.
– Focus more on spiritual growth than specific food sacrifices.
– Increase time in prayer, Scripture reading and attending Mass.
– Only fast or give up meat if your doctor approves.
– Perform acts of charity and kindness towards others in need.
– Give up enjoyable activities like hobbies or screen time in moderation.
– Attend Lenten devotions if possible.
– Confess sins and pray for personal repentance.
– Make Lent about growing closer to Christ through devotions that are realistic for your abilities.

Lent is ultimately about spiritual renewal and preparation for Easter. Seniors can fully participate in this holy season through prayer, penance and charity without being bound to fasting or abstinence rules that may be harmful to their health.


In summary, Catholics over the age of 60 or 65 are exempt from the normal Lenten fasting and abstinence regulations. This is because restricted diets can be detrimental to the health and nutritional needs of the elderly. Seniors should not give up nutritional meat or fast without approval from their doctor. However, they are encouraged to participate in some form of penance or spiritual sacrifice suitable for their abilities. Other appropriate Lenten observances for seniors include increased prayer, Scripture reading, attending Mass, performing charitable works, and focusing on personal repentance and spiritual growth to draw closer to God. With guidance from their physician and focus on spiritual renewal over specific food sacrifice, seniors can fully embrace the solemn spirit of Lent in preparation for Easter joy.

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