The season of Lent is a time in which we do penance and prepare ourselves for the wonder of Easter. We pray more. We make a greater effort to financially help those in need. (This is called almsgiving.) We make special efforts to make amends for our sinfulness (penance), and we curb our physical desires by restricting our intake of food.
Fasting means that we eat only one full meatless meal and two smaller meals with no snacking between meals. This obligation is applied on Ash Wednesday (the beginning of Lent) and Good Friday. This law applies to Catholics aged 18-59.
Abstinence means that we eat no meat (including poultry) or meat by-products. We observe abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. This regulation applies to all Catholics over the age of 14.
People who are ill or have particular medical conditions, and women who are pregnant, are not obligated to observe these regulations. Of course, people in these circumstances are urged to pray, do penance, and help the less fortunate as a sign of their repentance and sorrow.
originally appeared in Knowing Our Catholic Faith