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… :)

      • 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.

  • 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?

  • 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

  • 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.