Can anyone explain why we Catholics must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday or every Friday?
Glory to Jesus Christ!
Why do we fast? Christians are called to be ascetic – to train our body, souls and minds as a disciplined athlete would. St. Paul the Apostle notes:
“Brothers, I for my part do not consider myself to have taken possession. Just one thing: forgetting what lies behind but straining forward to what lies ahead, I continue my pursuit toward the goal, the prize of God’s upward calling, in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14). Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are key to the prize of prizes – communion with God.
This call to ascetic discipline takes us beyond personal sacrifice (which is of course useful to the spiritual life) and pushes us to something deeper. Fasting helps us get control over our passions. Yes, fasting from food is part of it. Fasting from sin is more important. We fast to get control over our lives and to become ever more Christ-like which leads to mystical union with Him.
Eastern Christians (Byzantine Catholics and Orthodox) fast from all meat and dairy on all Wednesdays and Fridays of the year. This is a very ancient tradition and discipline. We recall the betrayal of Christ on Wednesday and His crucifixion and death on Friday.
Also Eastern Christians have 4 “lents” each year, which includes:
(1) Advent, 40 before Christmas
(2) Great Lent, 40 days before Flowery (Palm) Sunday and Great (Holy) Week
(3) Two weeks preceding the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul on June 29
(4) Two weeks preceding the Feast of the Dormition (Falling Asleep of the Virgin Mary) on Aug. 15.
Western Christians (Roman Catholics) are asked to fast from meat on Fridays. In practice this has been reduced to a minimum of the Fridays of Great Lent and Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Sadly, many RCs I know think Vatican II cancelled or abolished ascetic discipline. The Pope of Rome has encouraged Roman Catholics to return to ascetic discipline at least every Friday. If only the world would heed the call of the Holy Father.
IMHO, fasting is a discipline all Christians need to urgently rediscover. Catholics and Orthodox have embraced and profited from the ascetic life since learning it from Christ and His Saints.
One last thought from St. Paul:
“Do you not know that the runners in the stadium all run in the race, but only one wins the prize? Run so as to win. Every athlete exercises discipline in every way. They do it to win a perishable crown, but we an imperishable one. Thus I do not run aimlessly; I do not fight as if I were shadowboxing. No, I drive my body and train it, for fear that, after having preached to others, I myself should be disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
[quote=DEESYPAL]Can anyone explain why we Catholics must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday or every Friday?
Actually, Good Fridays and Ash Wednesday are days of fasting and abstinence. Which means that you not only should tou refrain from meat, but also that you should only have one full meal on those days.
The very short answer to your question is “as a act of penence.” I’m not sure how much detail you’re looking for.
[size=3] My grandfather, a rock-ribbed Protestant, loved fish. But he never ordered fish on Friday for fear that someone would witness the event and conclude that he had “turned Catholic”. That little story (which happens to be true) illustrates the extent to which the Catholic discipline of abstaining from meat on Friday was a widely recognized sign. To practice the “Friday abstinence” was to flash your membership card. That wasn’t the purpose of the discipline, but it was its side effect.[/size]
As you all know, the discipline of abstaining from meat on Friday has been relaxed**. Instead of applying the rule on each and every Friday, the current discipline in the United States calls for abstinence from meat only on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent. By the way, this change is often cited as an example of how the Church changes her teaching. But it is nothing of the sort. The teaching behind penitential practices on Friday has remained intact. What was changed was the discipline - the particular way that the Church asks us to observe the penitential character of Friday.
Questions abound. Exactly what was (and is) the point of abstaining from meat on Friday? You may have heard the story that the Friday abstinence was instituted as a sop to the Portuguese fishing industry. That’s a cute little explanation, but it is more than a bit fanciful. Friday penitential practices began in the First Century, long before the Portuguese fishing industry had much of a lobby in the Church. The ancient penitential practices centered especially on Friday because that was the day of Our Savior’s crucifixion. By contrast, in the present culture, work-weary folks greet Friday with cries of “TGIF!” and weekend preparations begin. I can sure understand this modern phenomenon, but something is lost when we forget the penitential character of the day.
Why was the obligation to abstain from meat on Friday removed? It was not because it was felt that penitential practices were unimportant. Rather, it was felt that penitential practices were so important that they should not be made obligatory. So when we were told that we were not obliged to abstain on Friday, we were also told that voluntary abstinence was an excellent practice. And - here’s the biggy - we were asked to perform some act of alms-giving and/or service as our Friday offering, instead of simply munching on haddock.
The idea was this: Instead of having millions of Catholics eating fish on Friday “because they have to”, it would be better to have millions of Catholics practice the abstinence on a voluntary basis, coupled with prayer and specific acts of charity. Has it worked out like that? Well, not exactly. Shall we work at it?
Deacon Greg Sampson
Diocese of Rochester
From the FROM THE DEACONS BENCH website.
[quote=Timidity] The very short answer to your question is “as a act of penence.” I’m not sure how much detail you’re looking for.
I agree. I read that it is used as a small act of penance, and also one which brings all catholics together, making them feel more of a community.