Why We’re Sticking to Meatless Fridays

Meatless Fridays
Meatless Fridays

This past Lent, my family and I were good (at least better than usual) at remembering to abstain from meat on Fridays.

Now that lent is over we’ve decided to make it a thing we do every Friday; a way to remember the Lord’s passion, and to fast as a family.

My wife and I have three young kids. We have, in the words of Janet Smith, reached a point of chaos from which we will never return; and though I’d love to be the uuber pious, Catholic family that gets together each morning to pray the Rosary, I’m still trying to get my five year old son to make the sign of the cross without getting distracted: “In the name of the Father, and of the—hey Dad, my arm’s like a sword . . .”

My point is that in giving up meat on Fridays, in deciding that this’s what we’re doing, we’ll be reminding ourselves in a very simple and poignant way that our lives are about Jesus Christ. We may even ask the kids each Friday who they will be fasting for.

Before Vatican II

Before the Second Vatican Council, Catholics were required to abstain from meat on Friday’s in remembrance of the Lord’s passion, and as an act of communal penance.

Here’s what the  Code of Canon Law has to say:

Can. 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or some other food according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

So while the law of the Latin rite of the Church is that Catholics abstain from meat on all Fridays throughout the year, (except solemnities) as well as Ash Wednesday, canon 1251 permits the conference of bishops to substitute some other food for meat on these days, and Canon 1254 goes one step further, stating that the conference of Bishops can even choose other forms of penance in place of abstaining from meat.

This means that as U.S Catholics (Canadians click here, but basically the same thing applies) we need to look to what the Conference of Catholic Bishops have said. When we do so we see that they have “terminated” the law which states that a Catholic sins if he eats meat on Friday.

What The U.S. Bishops Have Said

Here’s the section of what the document, Pastoral Statement On Penance And Abstinence, says about abstaining from meat on Fridays:

22. Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified.

23. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.

24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law. Our expectation is based on the following considerations:

  1. We shall thus freely and out of love for Christ Crucified show our solidarity with the generations of believers to whom this practice frequently became,especially in times of persecution and of great poverty,no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church.

  2. We shall thus also remind ourselves that as Christians, although immersed in the world and sharing its life, we must preserve a saving and necessary difference from the spirit of the world. Our deliberate,personal abstinence from meat, more especially because no longer required by law, will be an outward sign of inward spiritual values that we cherish.

So while we’re not obligated to abstain from meat on Friday’s, my family has decided that we’re going to any way. Who’s with me?

16 thoughts on “Why We’re Sticking to Meatless Fridays

  1. I have been doing so for many years now. I grew up not eating meat on Fridays and while for a time it didn’t matter if I did or not, I have returned to going meatless.

  2. Been doing this since last year’s Lent. It’s been a great way to reflect on Fridays – having to conciously think about your meal choices brings your prayers to the forefront. Plus, it’s a good conversation starter with family and friends to explain your faith and why you aren’t eating just anything on Friday. Good luck and God Bless.

  3. We generally do, though not the point of inconveniencing others. (I’ll substitute another penance for myself, rather than inflict a penance on someone who would find abstaining excessive, ie due to seafood allergy, etc.)

    It also makes solemnities that much more fun!

  4. Seafood allergy – why fret over that?

    There’s no Catholic seafood eating obligation. And one day a week of dairy and vegetable dishes is good for a body. Expands the palate, too.

  5. Our children, now grown, were raised without meat on Fridays their entire lives. It is actually easier to have a weekly tradition than try to think of something else or new to do for penance each week on Fridays. We also tried to have very simple meals on Fridays in addition to their being meatless. Although we had pizza some times, other times we had hummus wraps or beans and rice, etc. It is not hard to do when you always do this.

  6. In Poland we don’t eat meat on Fridays and I think that the bishops have said that we can’t. In Sweden people (I mean Catholics) eat meat on Fridays and the bishop has said that everyone can come up with an own penance. I think it’s a great way to live out the faith in our everyday life and it’s a great reminder for all the family members that Fridays are special.

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