Why no meat on Fridays in Lent?

March 11, 2011

The Pastor's Page

Catholics abstain from flesh meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays on Lent.

Abstinence is one of our oldest Christian traditions.

“From the first century, the day of the crucifixion has been traditionally observed as a day of abstaining from flesh meat (‘black fast’) to honor Christ who sacrificed his flesh on a Friday,” according to “The Catholic Source Book.”

Written up as law

Up until 1966, church law prohibited meat on all Fridays throughout the entire year. The new law was promulgated in 1983 in the revised Code of Canon Law, which states: “Abstinence [is] to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Canon 1251).

“All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence” (Canon 1252).

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops extended this law to include all Fridays in Lent.

Since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for us on Good Friday, we refrain from eating flesh meat in his honor on Fridays. Flesh meat included the meat of mammals and poultry, and the main foods that come under this heading are beef and pork, chicken and turkey. While flesh is prohibited, the non-flesh products of these animals are not (like milk, cheese, butter and eggs).

Fish do not belong to the flesh meat category. The Latin word for meat, “caro,” from which we get English words like “carnivore” and “carnivorous,” applies strictly to flesh meat and has never been understood to include fish.

Furthermore, in former times, flesh meat was more expensive, eaten only occasionally and associated with feasting and rejoicing; whereas fish was cheap, eaten more often and not associated with celebrations.

Abstinence is a form of penance. Penance expresses sorrow and contrition for our wrongdoing, indicates our intension to turn away from sin and turn back to God, and makes reparation for our sins. It helps to cancel the debt and pay the penalties incurred by our transgressions.

Abstinence is a form of asceticism, the practice of self-denial to grow in holiness. Jesus asks his disciples to deny themselves and take up their cross (Matthew 16:24).

Abstinence is a sober way to practice simplicity and austerity, to deny the cravings of our bodies to honor Jesus who practiced the ultimate form of self-denial when he gave his body for us on the cross.

Thus, to give up flesh meat on Fridays, only to feast on lobster tail or Alaskan king crab, is to defeat the ascetical purpose of abstinence. Less is more!

There are countless options for simple Friday meatless dinners: pancakes, waffles, soup and rolls, chipped tuna on toast, macaroni and cheese, fried egg sandwiches, grilled cheese sandwiches, cheese pizza and, of course, fish.

Video: Why no meat on Fridays during Lent?

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About Father Michael Van Sloun

Father Michael A. Van Sloun is the pastor of Saint Bartholomew of Wayzata, MN. Ministerial interests include weekly Bible study, articles on theological topics, religious photography, retreats on Cross spirituality, and pilgrimages to the Holy Land, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

View all posts by Father Michael Van Sloun
  • Iabster

    “It helps to cancel the debt and pay the penalties incurred by our transgressions.”

    I’m sorry, but isn’t this the purpose of Jesus coming to die on the cross…to pay that debt for us?
    1 Timothy 2:5-6, Romans 5:8…

    • bonobf

      Don’t tell that to the crazy Catholics. They think they need to confess their sins to a man. If we get onto their scam, we will see that Pope serves no purpose.

      • Chrisbam

        You may want to go to an RCIA class at a Catholic church. They are very informative and can clear up misconceptions.

        • Diane

          i second that and also recommend all cradle Catholics sit through an RCIA class as well

        • Danielle

          I was raised with Catholic guidance – and went through the RCIA classes to become a Baptized and Confirmed member of the church and came out knowing things cradle Catholics had no idea about! And whyyyy would bonobf make a comment like that on a Catholic website… intriguing… 🙂

        • loxygirl

          That’s the last place you want to go.

      • Jenn71291

        Crazy Catholics??? I’m offended by your nasty comment.

      • lena

        Just FYI, the purpose of confessing one’s sins to “a man” is to practice humility; anyone can easily confess their sins to someone whom they can’t see (ergo, God/Christ), but it takes much more to bring oneself to confess them face-to-face to a fellow human being, even if they represent divinity.

      • obitomkenobi

        Well, it is biblical to confess your sins to one another, (James 5:16). Also, reading Part 2, Section 2, Chapter 2 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church will help clear up any misconceptions.

      • xander

        ANOTHER REVOLUTIONARY ATTACKING THE POPE AND THE PRIEST!!!! YAY!! AROUND OF APPLAUSE EVERYBODY, THE WORLD IS A BETTER PLACE BECAUSE OF THESE GUYS. AFTER ALL, THE POPE IS INSTRUCTING US TO LOVE KINDNESS AND MERCY, TO FEED THE POOR AND TO OFFER REPENTANCE TO THOSE WHO WANT TO LIVE A BETTER LIFE. BUT SURE! LET’S ATTACK THE POPE SO WE CAN ALL BE BORN AGAIN!!!!

    • KeK

      labster, you are absolutely right. It betrays a fundamental lack of understanding about Christian belief to teach that human actions can (and do) “help to cancel the debt and pay the penalties incurred by our transgressions.” The meaning of Good Friday is completely lost on these people. I bet they believe in Purgatory, too, even though a belief in that is fundamentally counter-Christian.

      • xander

        Dear Sir, (again, man!! it’s so hard for people to accept sacrifices when they want an instant coffee salvation, YAY MAGIC JESUS!!!)

        Jesus is not offering an “instant” kind of salvation. The purpose of Jesus’ death is TO MAKE SALVATION POSSIBLE making the power of death subject into his power at the same time carrying the iniquities of each man (individually and then multiplied by his Father’s grace to make adequate). The process it self (salvation) is under the will and decision of man to follow the precepts of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you” (death on the cross). Notice that he makes a single commandment that condenses all great commandments into one. As Jesus is True GOD and True Man, therefore the precepts becomes one also (LOVE for God and Man at the same phase) making the two greatest commandments and all other as one. also remember his sayings: what ever you do (and do not do, we always forget that you did (did not do) unto me. So in a simple sense, Jesus pays for the debt of original sin (which we inherited but should not be accountable of) paving way to the forgiveness of the Father and allowing us to live in accordance to his laws. Therefore, these sins we ask forgiveness for are the sins we are accountable of (WHICH CANNOT BE, IN WHATEVER NON-SENSE BELIEF, WAVED BY A SIMPLE “I BELIEVE” AND “AMEN” WITHOUT FOLLOWING PRECEPTS.) are payable only by Loving kindness, prayer and penances

        • KeK

          Luke 23:

          One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

          40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

          42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

          43 Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

          Bam. Instant salvation.

    • xander

      Dear Sir,

      Jesus is not offering an “instant” kind of salvation. The purpose of Jesus’ death is TO MAKE SALVATION POSSIBLE making the power of death subject into his power at the same time carrying the iniquities of each man (individually and then multiplied by his Father’s grace to make adequate). The process it self (salvation) is under the will and decision of man to follow the precepts of Jesus: “Love one another as I have loved you” (death on the cross). Notice that he makes a single commandment that condenses all great commandments into one. As Jesus is True GOD and True Man, therefore the precepts becomes one also (LOVE for God and Man at the same phase) making the two greatest commandments and all other as one. also remember his sayings: what ever you do (and do not do, we always forget that you did (did not do) unto me. So in a simple sense, Jesus pays for the debt of original sin (which we inherited but should not be accountable of) paving way to the forgiveness of the Father and allowing us to live in accordance to his laws. Therefore, these sins we ask forgiveness for are the sins we are accountable of (WHICH CANNOT BE, IN WHATEVER NON-SENSE BELIEF, WAVED BY A SIMPLE “I BELIEVE” AND “AMEN” WITHOUT FOLLOWING PRECEPTS.) are payable only by Loving kindness, prayer and penances

  • Ann

    If this is a CHURCH law (man made), and not from the Bible or the Ten Commandments, how can eating meat on Friday during Lent by a MORTAL sin?

    • XANDER

      BIBLE MY FOOT!!! the Catholic Church was the one who listed those canonical books you call bible, why don’t you believe the one who constructed it? are you perhaps an expert? do you posses the original scripts, (which as far as I know are in the Vatican library). Or because you think of your self as a bible master, you don’t need a guide because the Holy Spirit comes down to you and tells you how interpret (misinterpret?) the bible. you must be so holy then huh?

  • Amanda

    This is very well written. It nicely explains the tradition but not meant to explain basic precepts of Catholicism. For further discussion on sin, penance, and repentance, might I direct my fellow commenters to the Catechism or a church near you!

  • colleen

    I find it sad that you feel the need to call someone a crazy catholic. I have found other studies of why we abstain from meat.. its all about the carnal purpose of the flesh. eating meat has proven to increase libido which during lent the catholic should abstain.. please don’t call someone a crazy catholic it just shows the intolerance to religion and we know this country has a war on religion!

    • Chrisbam

      Those who cry about tolerance for their causes rarely show it to those with whom they disagree

    • notlurking

      Vegetarians libido must be pretty much at zero……..lol

  • Bettyb

    Really calling crazy catholic, wow you need God whatever you are. This world is ending little by little for people like you.

  • Rsayne

    Wow, it is sad to see so may people critizcizing the Catholic Religion. Why be on this page then?? WOW. This world is so divided.

  • Soliloquized

    Christians are Christians own worst enemies. Sure, Catholics are commonly berated by people that profess to be Christians, judging others appears to know no limitation by Christians, but the effect, though most commonly seen by Christians against Catholics, actually occurs with Christians against Christians as well. Any variation in the beliefs or implementation of them bring scorn.

    The question is more will eating fish on Friday be of any harm? Hardly. I’m willing to bet many people jump into the comments section without reading the article. Several reasons were offered for the belief, and these reasons are not inconsistent with Jesus’ own teaching.

    I never cease to marvel at the selective adherence to the Bible by Christians, for some reason this or that doesn’t apply to them, though it is explicitly covered by the Bible. We focus too much on the mote in the eye of our brothers and sisters while ignoring the plank in our own.

    • KeK

      Ummm…Catholics are Christians. Why are you drawing a false distinction?

      • You are a Troll.

        • KeK

          He’s not a troll. He’s right.

  • KeK

    What a completely stupid rule. Absolutely nothing whatsoever in the Bible about this. And it makes no common sense at all. Why do some Catholics still do this? It’s ridiculous. It’s like a silly pagan superstition.

    • Mambo

      This isn’t a superstition, sir. Jesus was brutally tortured and murdered, suffering so that people that decided to follow him could still obtain heaven, even after they commit ugly offenses against. It isn’t a stupid rule, Christ was sacrificed so we could truly live – so on the day he died, we give something up for him, the meat is a symbol of what he did for us. Some Catholics shouldn’t be doing this, ALL of us should and are supposed to. Why do some people do a lot of the things they do, because they want to. I know for me personally, I do want to show Christ that it wasn’t in vain that he suffered. I’ve read scientific studies that show that abstaining from meat is actually really healthy to do, so the church is on to something.

      Besides, the more I’ve been not eating meat, the more interested in seafood I become. It’s about showing that we can have self control, if we can control our appetites, then we will have better control over our bodies and actions. Abstaining from things we like actually helps us as people to abstain from sex and sins of the flesh, which is another reason to give up eating flesh.

      Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it’s there and it’s bigger than your opinion. Christ is amazing, He deserves all that we can give Him.

      • KeK

        “Christ was sacrificed so we could truly live – so on the day he died, we give something up for him, the meat is a symbol of what he did for us.”

        How is cow meat and pig meat and chicken meat symbolic of Jesus? And why isn’t fish meat symbolic of Jesus?

        “I know for me personally, I do want to show Christ that it wasn’t in vain that he suffered.”

        If you want to show Christ that it wasn’t in vain that he suffered for you, then follow his commands – none of which, by the way, involves abstaining from meat on one particular day of the week during one particular part of the year.

        “I’ve read scientific studies that show that abstaining from meat is actually really healthy to do, so the church is on to something.”

        First of all, I thought you were abstaining from meat one day a week because it was symbolic of Jesus’ sacrifice. Now it’s for physical health reasons? And if it’s such a healthy thing to do, why consume meat the other six days in the week?

        “Besides, the more I’ve been not eating meat, the more interested in seafood I become.”

        So what? What kind of reason is that? Jesus died on the cross so you could acquire a taste for seafood? (And, again, why isn’t sea meat symbolic of Jesus?)

        “Regardless of your feelings on the matter, it’s there and it’s bigger than your opinion.”

        They’re not my feelings on the matter. They’re my thoughts on the matter. I don’t use my feelings to make decisions and judgments on these things. I think things through, which is how I come to reject nonsense like this.

        There are many silly superstitions that are bigger than my opinions. That doesn’t mean I’d be so weak-willed as to just fall in line with the herd. Sorry. (Actually, I’m not.)

        • Mambo

          First of all – I literally JUST replied to this comment you posted over a year ago, so what is going on there that there is an immediate attack response.

          Giving up meat from land animals is symbolic because Christ died of the flesh and on land. “Why, then, is fish allowed? The drawing of a symbolic fish in the dirt was a way that the early Christians knew each other when it was dangerous to admit in public that one was Christian. Our Lord cooked fish for His Apostles after His Resurrection, and most of these men were fishermen. After He established His Church, these fishermen became “fishers of men” for the Kingdom of God.”

          I did not say that people give up meat on Friday’s for health reasons but that it provides that benefit. As far as acquiring a taste for seafood, it’s healthier to eat fish that carbs that are laced with terrible ingredients that upset my intestines, thank you.

          You may reject whatever you wish, but you’re clearly on the attack and against this particular topic regardless if anyone decided to debate this with you. My faith isn’t up for debate, simply to explain something you commented on.

          It’s quite clear that your fingers are broken though and you have no idea how to check these answers yourself because you could have had them by now, a year later. I could tell you but it’s clear anything I say will be attacked immediately instead of contemplated in any real depth.

          I’ve provided a link, read it or don’t. No point in discussing this with someone, who from what I’ve surmised by your other posts, is strictly anti-God.

          http://catholicism.org/why-do-catholics-eat-fish-on-friday-2.html

          “For those who believe, no explanation is necessary; for those who do not believe, no explanation is possible.”

          Yes, by this quote I am saying that when we learn what we need as believers, the truth is given to us, but for those that fight truth and sacrifice in order to receive these answers, there’s no explanation that would ever satisfy your disbelief.

          Believe or don’t, but maybe stop trying to convince others faith isn’t necessary and try to have some yourself.

          • KeK

            I get a notification when a response to my post is made. That’s what’s “going on there.”

            Christ’s death being on land determines which animals you can’t eat? That’s not the reason given in the link you provided. Where the heck did that little addendum come from?

            As for those health reasons, is it healthier to eat fish full of mercury? Why did God at an earlier time tell His people (the Israelites) to always abstain from shellfish and shrimp?

            I attack this particular non-biblical silly belief because it makes no common sense, has no precedent in the New Testament, and having grown up Catholic, attending Catholic school for nine years, and being around many, many Catholics all of my life, I find it ridiculous how I’ve seen so many people devote themselves so uncritically and so fully to this practice, while at the same time, they never, ever read the Bible and they routinely fail to follow many of the teachings Jesus actually articulated.

            And you conclude that I’m “anti-God” based on my limited posts here. You sound like a real radical, intolerant person.

          • Mambo

            I sound intolerant? Obviously, you haven’t been reading your words. You have provided no real backing or reasoning to say why it doesn’t make sense. You just say it doesn’t. If anyone gives you an answer you just smash it with basically saying, um nope. Do you have other proof that invalidate’s all of this? How do you know who hasn’t read the bible? I’m not intolerant, you’re angrily and unjustifiably attacking people on here for their beliefs. I’m not intolerant and where does it say in the bible that I need to be tolerant of personal attacks like that?

          • KeK

            “You have provided no real backing or reasoning to say why it doesn’t make sense. You just say it doesn’t. If anyone gives you an answer you just smash it with basically saying, um nope.”

            Hey, dope. Show me where it says in the New Testament not to eat “land-based” meat on Fridays during Lent. If you can’t read and comprehend what I write, it’s not my fault.

            And that “liberal agenda” line was hilarious. Always the same with you people, isn’t it? Out to get the liberal boogeymen!

  • A

    You forgot to add beer. Lots of beer to go with the greasy fried fish and French fries. Such a sacrifice 😉

  • DrSheilahere

    I am a diabetic; I really cannot eschew protein. But more importantly, pasta, pizza, clams, lobster, Maryland crab cakes, etc. are all delicious I am told. I don’t eat fish. How is this a penance if you love fish, etc.?

    I have never honored this more than I had to; I hate fish so for me to give up meat would be a penance. But, others have loads of choices.

    How is this the spirit of the law, let alone letter of the Law.

    Dr. Sheila Dunnells

  • DrSheilahere

    I do remember a period of time when no meat Friday was lifted in the Catholic Church. No one else seems to remember it. However, finally this article does confirm that in 1983 no meat Friday was removed. However, I find this hypocritical because many, many people love fish as much as they love meat. It is a meaningless exercise when people can have pizza, etc. foods everyone loves

    • Richard

      No fish Friday was removed in 66, and I just learned returned to a limited time in 83.

  • aceequine

    My two cents to those who are critical, not that they probably care, is to actually read about our Faith before opening their virtual mouths to the public. One makes themselves look quite uneducated among other things by name calling and spewing falsehoods. Unless you really want to learn why bother commenting at all? It’s not like you’re going to turn us away from our religion. I guess some have too much extra time on their hands….Speaking of which, I’m off!

    • HCUA

      Sometimes they open their victual mouths, also.

  • loxygirl

    Give me a break. The church and Government were as one 100’s of years ago in Italy. There was a failing fishing industry at the time and the Pope made it a sin to eat meat on Fridays. lol and it worked! people bought fish at least once a week up until 1966. For hundreds of years Catholics thought they were sinning against God, if they ate meat on Fridays!! Nothing to do with God,Sin or Jesus. Only $$$

    • Mambo

      The church said no meat Friday’s because they were allowing people to choose their own thing to give up on Friday’s because it used to be to just give up something you like. The church went with meat for all because of the symbol of Christ’s flesh but also because it was easy. Christ gave specific people authority to change things like that, such as priests.

  • michelle

    that true i am christan and the bible never say we dont need eat meat only fish i s not true catholic peolpe say if we eat god will punish so me are sin the bible dont say nothing about that all need to read a bible see the true you all sin all need to repaint your sin pray go to a real church talk about come jesus christ our lord is not to late

  • garnet

    I was raised as a catholic but every time I ask something about the Bible, it seems like they don’t know anything and not really following. I’m still confused about not eating meat on Friday and I don’t see that in the Bible. Pls help me understand.