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The traditional

Lenten fast:

when does it end

on the Easter Vigil?

Louis J. Tofari


There are many Catholics who desire to follow the traditional rules of fasting and abstaining, even though they are not strictly binding.

Consequently, every year on Holy Saturday, the question comes up of when the traditional abstinence and fasting of Lent ends on the Easter Vigil.

The confusion stems from the 1917 Code of Canon Law which decreed that the Lenten fast ceased at noon on Holy Saturday. This time of day was prescribed as per the Memoriale Rituum (a liturgical book containing the pre-1955 Holy Week rites[1]), the Easter Vigil ceremonies and Mass were held in the morning, hence the rejoicing over Our Lord's triumphal Resurrection (e.g., the first proclamation of "Alleluia") actually began either earlier that day or thereabout that time.

On November 16, 1955, the general decree, Maxima Redemptionis Nostrae Mysteria was published which promulgated the reformed rites of Holy Week under the title of Ordo Hebdomadae Sanctus Instauratus, or The Restored Order of Holy Week (also known by its abbreviation of "OHS"). Within the decree Maxima Redemptionis the time for ceasing the Lenten fast was changed to midnight:

838-847, III. Lenten abstinence and fast extended to midnight of Holy Saturday:


#10. The abstinence and fast prescribed for Lent, which hitherto has ceased on Holy Saturday after noon, according to canon 1252, §4 [1917 Code], will cease in the future at midnight of the same Holy Saturday. Maxima Redemptionis Nostrae Mysteria (Nov. 16, 1955) AAS 47 (1955)

So according to the fasting and abstaining rules for the 1962 liturgical calendar, the traditional Lenten fast ends at midnight on the Easter Vigil, not noon.


It should be further pointed out that the Lenten fast continued for those who did not attend the Vigil Mass until after they attended an Easter morning Mass. Thus no celebrating until after attending a celebratory Mass!

Adding to the previous citation from Maxima Redemptionis, here is some further  commentary on the subject from the American canon lawyer, Fr. Frederick McManus:

The Decree on the revised Holy Week changes the law of canon 1252, §4, concerning fast and abstinence on Holy Saturday. According to the canon, the Lenten fast ended after noon of Holy Saturday. This is now abrogated, the obligation is extended until midnight of Holy Saturday, and the entire day becomes one of abstinence and fast.[24]


Local Ordinaries at present possess the faculty to dispense all their subjects, including religious (even exempt), from the law of fast and abstinence on Holy Saturday.[25] Thus they may dispense from fast or from abstinence or from both fast and abstinence on this day. The Rites of Holy Week (Bruce 1956), pgs 22 and 23.

This fasting rule change is also highly significant as with the restoration of the Easter Vigil to start in the evening, Holy Saturday became once again a day of meditating in great sorrow on the mystery of our Lord's lifeless body resting in the tomb.


1 The full Latin title of this book is: Memoriale rituum pro aliquibus praestantioribus sacris functionibus persolvendis in minoribus ecclesiis, or in English: A Reminder of the Rites for Carrying out in Small Parochial Churches Some of the Principal Functions of the Year. It was also occasionally referred to as the Rituale Parvum or Little Ritual.

Footnotes cited in quote from The Rites of Holy Week (Bruce 1956):

[24] The obligation of both abstinence and fast on Holy Saturday is contained in canon 1252, § 2. This section of the canon now obliges for the entire day of Holy Saturday.

[25] The faculty was granted on January 26, 1946 (extending the wartime faculty of December 19, 1941), and was somewhat restricted on January 28, 1949. The only days on which the local Ordinaries may not dispense from the laws of abstinence and fast are: (1) all Fridays—when the law of abstinence must be observed; and (2) Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the vigils of Assumption and Christmas—when both abstinence and fast must be observed. This faculty and its restriction do not affect other powers of local Ordinaries to dispense from fast and abstinence (e.g., canon 1245 and the indult to dispense on civil holidays).

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