Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Fridays?

Few non-Catholics understand this practice at all. And the sad truth is that many Catholics nowadays fail to properly observe these practices since abstinence from meat is actually required all year long - NOT just during Lent.

Our Lord endured a cruel and barbaric death on a Friday. Catholics observe Fridays as a required day of penance year round in honor of the Lord's death on Friday. The Code of Canon Law of the Church helps stipulate the requirements on Catholics for how this penance is to be observed. 

Catholics are required without exception to abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent. And Catholics are also required to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year unless the Bishops Conference of that area allows an alternative penance to be performed. Many faithful Catholics however choose just to honor the tradition of fish on Fridays year-round instead of substituting an alternative. Note, in Lent, there is no substituting allowed. In fact, this required is binding on all Catholics except when Friday is a Holy Day of Obligation and thus the requirement for abstinence is abrogated.

Why Is Fish Allowed?

Today many people wonder why Catholics eat fish while not eating meat. This goes back to the era of Christ when fish was all too common and other forms of meat were much harder to come by. In the very early Church, not even fish was eaten on days of abstinence until around the 6th century. The bottom line is that we must have penance on certain days of the year, and the Church observes a common penance in the form of abstinence as a means of unity among its members. We are all in it together. 

We do not abstain from meat on Fridays for instance because the meat is unclean or evil. It is the act of disobedience which is evil since the Church has the authority to require us to abstain from meat at set times. As Fr. Michael Müller remarks in his Familiar Explanation of Christian Doctrine from 1874: "It is not the food, but the disobedience that defiles a man." To eat meat on a forbidden day unintentionally, for instance, is no sin. As the Scriptures affirm it is not what goes into one's mouth that defiles a man but that disobedience which comes from the soul (cf. Matthew 15:11).

Yet, even with such a distinction, the Church has historically been wise to change disciplines only very slowly and carefully. The custom of fasting and abstinence goes back to the very apostles themselves. As Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once remarked, "It is a long-established principle of the Church never to completely drop from her public worship any ceremony, object or prayer which once occupied a place in that worship." The same may be said for matters concerning either Holy Days of Obligation or fast days. What our forefathers held sacred should remain sacred to us in an effort to preserve our catholicity not only with ourselves but with our ancestors who see God now in Heaven.

Read Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Fridays? for more information. And read the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence for much more information.

1822 Catholic Almanac New York

A Recap from the Baltimore Catechism:

Q. 1344. What do you mean by days of abstinence?

A. By days of abstinence I mean days on which no meat at all may be taken (complete abstinence) or on which meat may be taken only once a day (partial abstinence). This is explained in the regulations for Lent. All the Fridays of the year are days of abstinence except when a holy day of obligation falls on a Friday outside of Lent.

Q. 1346. Why does the Church command us to fast and abstain?

A. The Church commands us to fast and abstain, in order that we may mortify our passions and satisfy for our sins.

Q. 1347. What is meant by our passions and what by mortifying them?

A. By our passions are meant our sinful desires and inclinations. Mortifying them means restraining them and overcoming them so that they have less power to lead us into sin.

Q. 1348. Why does the Church command us to abstain from flesh-meat on Fridays?

A. The Church commands us to abstain from flesh-meat on Fridays in honor of the day on which our Savior died.

5 comment(s):

del_button July 23, 2005 at 2:42 AM
Deacon Mike said...

I have been observing meatless Friays for a while but it does seem somewhat easy for me. SInce meat is a regular part of my diet the other six days I don't really miss it all that much on Friday and even welcome the change in diet. I will have to give up something in addition to the meat in order to make the penance mpre meaningful, I think. I am thinking of any unneccesary internet access that is not directly job or school related. Surfing the net is my main diversion, long ago replacing the TV, simply because of the interaction it affords. Perhaps I can replace the time I normaly spend on the web with spiritual reading and quiet reflection. Hmmm. I shall have to think about this. By the way, thanks for the article on Friday penance, it was very interesting.


del_button July 23, 2005 at 10:14 AM
Matthew said...

I'm glad you enjoyed it :)

del_button August 30, 2005 at 8:10 AM
Audrey Yu said...

Sometimes I asked myself whether or not I shall abstain from fish instead of meat... I love fish too much and I can do without meat for weeks!

del_button August 30, 2005 at 3:44 PM
Matthew said...

I agree. I also love to have fish.

del_button August 14, 2006 at 12:18 PM
Jennifer said...

I read all your old posts in the past week...I was copying stuff and pasting it in my prayer book.

But this particular topic came in handy the other day when I was explaining to another nurse about the whole no meat on Friday subject.

Thanks for posting this. It was helpful in expaining it to her.

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