Do we still have to abstain on Fridays?

So the question is, are the faithful of the United States that are Roman Catholic still obligated to abstain from meat or some other food on all Fridays (minus Feasts)?

Well, I called the USCCB like I said I would and got an answer…

This answer comes from a lay Canon Lawyer who is on staff at the USCCB in the Doctrine office. I received this answer via a phone call I had with her, so I’m paraphrasing here.

When reading Book IV, Part III, Title II, Chapter II of the Canon Law, we must read each of the Canons, 1249 - 1253, like the rest of Canon Law, as working together. So, while Canons 1252 and 1253 are not indented under Canon 1251, we could act and read it as it were.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, 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. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

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.

Canon 1253 is the one that we must especially read in conjunction with Canon 1251.

The simple answer, is the faithful of the United States are NOT obligated to abstain from ANY food on Fridays. The faithful ARE obligated to observe Friday as a day of penance and to take part in an act of penance on Fridays. This comes from the reading of the USCCB’s “Statement on Penance and Abstinance.”

Canon Law
Norms of the USCCB
Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence” that the Norms implemented
USCCB Canon Lawyer: Siobhan Verbeek

I don’t know why so many people don’t know this. When I was a kid, my family used to abstain from meat on all Fridays. When other people would comment that you don’t have do abstain from meat on all Fridays anymore - just during Lent, I’d tell them, “yeah, but then you have to do something else instead”. But they would just look at me funny. As a kid I didn’t have any “proof”, so thanks for the information :slight_smile:

My grandmother used to abstain from meat on ALL wednesdays and fridays. But no one I ever talked to does this. Does anyone here abstain on Wed and Fri? and why?

I think that the part which needs to be put in bold is, “The faithful ARE obligated to observe Friday as a day of penance and to take part in an act of penance on Fridays.

Abstaining from meat will fulfill such obligation, or some other legitimate thing may be substituted. But I think that most Catholics today need to know that we were not given a free pass to party on Fridays.

Sam, the Neon Orange Knight

I know this is off on a tangent, but can someone explain to me how beer-battered fish instead of beef on Friday is a form of penance (particularly during Lent)? This could also be pizza or perhaps cheese enchiladas, etc. Shouldn’t it be a form of suffering that you offer to the Lord for our sins?

One of my students (5th grade) told me that he gave up his XBox during Lent last year. I commended him on a great sacrifice. He commented back that it wasn’t that bad because he still had his Wii. :rolleyes:

Canon 1253 put the ball in the court of the national bishop’s conferences.

The US bishops’s conference removed the obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays as an obligation binding under pain of mortal sin. It removed that as a direct obligation, even while recommending that it be continued.

Trouble is, it did not actually put anything in its place.

At least, that’s Jimmy Akin’s take on the matter.

Here is a discussion of the issue: Here
and here

So then I guess those who choose not to abstain from meat, and don’t replace it with some other sacrifice, aren’t really doing anything wrong.

Even though I really enjoy pizza and beer battered fish and other meatless goodies, when Friday comes, something clicks inside me that makes me want a steak or burger that I would not care about any other day of the week. Today (Wednesday), I’m having a veggie pizza for dinner, because that’s what I really want. When Friday comes, one of my neighbors will surely fire up a grill and cook some awesome steaks, sending the fragrance right in my back door and making me want one, too. Somehow, God takes care of that penitential aspect for me. :rolleyes:


Not correct! While it is true that we don’t have to abstain from meat or another food, we are obligated to do some form of penance or act of charity. It is recommended that we still abstain from meat however.


No other day of the week do I crave meat or sweets like I do on Fridays.

The whole concept of Catholic Christianity is that of self-discipline! Also sea food is quite healthy and omega 3 oils better then meat fats sooooo go for it! Our Italian immigrant family usually ate pasta e fazoli on friday or manasta…greens in olive oil with beans…with the ice box fish was usuall too costly or risky…unless we went fishing ourselves! seriously tho…when a religion gets watered down it dies…

So true. And I actually hate most meatless things --never cared for eggs, loathe fish but will chug tuna down although I hate mayo so it’s either ‘dry’ tuna or in a casserole. And I never ate pizza until I was 18 because I loathe and detest tomatoes unless they’re ketchup. I pretty much make my own pizza when I do have it (using Contadina tomato sauce and paste and fresh herbs) because I cannot STAND it if there are even the slightest slimy BITS of tomato PIECES. Yuck yuck yuck.

And it never, never fails that even if all week I’ve had the money, time, and opportunity to go out for a nice dinner, it will only be on a Friday that I’ll actually **want to go out to eat. **

And of course, I won’t.

And even when I say, “Oh well, I’ll just wait and go tomorrow on Saturday” --when Saturday comes. . .I don’t want to go out to eat anymore!

As my post above the one you quoted says, that’s what I thought. That’s how I was raised. I was replying to the information JimG provided. You know, my parents taught me this. I believe I was the only one in (catholic) school who knew this. Which leads me to wonder if the USBishops ever did replace it with anything else or if they just said we didn’t have to do it anymore.

I abstain from meat every Friday. I do it because it seems right to me. It has become a habit after about several years . At first I would forget, then I just kept going and now it is a habit and I like doing it and thinking of every Friday as “Good Friday.” I reflect on the passion. I don’t understand what Wednesday abstainance is. I was just wondering about that recently and thinking I might abstain on Wednesday also if I find out what it is. Can anyone tell me that? As for Friday, it just seems wrong to me to always be doing the minimum.

We are ‘strongly encouraged.’

The bishops of the 1960s (bless their trusting little hearts) had been besieged by Catholics telling them that Friday abstinence was just not ENOUGH for them. They were already vegetarians. . .they thought it wasn’t fair. So the bishops thought, “We’ll let people set their own penance! This will be wonderful! But we won’t make such a rigid guideline. Look at what happened when we decided to have people sacrifice meat. Turns out it isn’t a sacrifice for a lot of them. We’ll let each individual choose. That way, we won’t put too heavy a burden on people. We’ll trust them to choose. This is a new springtime! People are so into peace and love and justice and bell bottoms and felt banners and love-ins and save the whales. . .imagine how they will be when they have the FREEDOM to set their own penance! They’ll do spectacular things! They WANT to do spectacular things, that’s why they asked us to help them!”

And the bishops said, “you are strongly encouraged in the U.S. to choose a penance” (remember, this is an INDULT. it is a permission that has been given to DEVIATE FROM THE NORM. The NORM for ALL Catholics still remains Friday penance all year round. And indults may be revoked at any time.)

And the people said, "Cool. I can choose my own penance! Well. . .let’s see. I. . .nah, don’t wanna do that. Hey, you know, I’m awful busy. I’ll think about it some other time. . .

Time passes. . .

“I’m thinking. . .I already give up plenty. There’s an oil crisis going on. I do this every day. I don’t need to be tied down.”

Time passes. . .

"What do you MEAN “Friday penance?” The bishops said we don’t gotta do that no more. Good thing too. You know, it was only about helping out fishermen anyway. They aren’t the boss of me over in Rome, you know. Ivory tower. . .I do plenty. Put a dollar in the collection every Sunday. . .every Sunday I’m there. . .been a while. . .

what do you MEAN we have to go to Church every Sunday? The bishops said that if we didn’t feel well we didn’t have to go. I work hard. . .Sunday’s my only day to sleep in. Can’t go on Saturday–I’m busy. I’ve got a life, damn it. . .It’s MY conscience. The bishops said that if my CONSCIENCE is clear then I’m good no matter what the silly RULES say. . .dumb jerks. . . You shouldn’t be JUDGING me! I’m a GOOD person. No, I DON’T follow all the damn rules, why should I? Nobody else does. JESUS just wants us to be happy. You’re just a rigid zealot wanting to drag us back to the Middle Ages. Good thing the bishops are dragging this Church into the 21st century finally. . .if they want ME in Church they need to do the adjusting to MY NEEDS! "

"God isn’t gonna send me to hell for eating meat on a Friday, even a Lenten Friday! If my conscience says it’s all right, it’s all right. STOP THE JUDGING! "

And in the afterlife, the bishops who asked for the indult are crying. . .

When the USCCB made the change, my own family continued with the old practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays.

There were some times when, using the fact that it was no longer binding under pain of mortal sin, that we did eat meat on Friday. But the question was always, OK, what did we replace it with? So we went back to the original practice.

As I understand Akin’s analysis, the bishops removed the previous obligation, while recommending that we voluntarily continue it. But they did not formally replace it with another obligation. At least, that’s his analysis of the USCCB document. It would be nice if the USCCB would clarify if there really is any obligation remaining.

Take courage. The wheels grind small. Look how long it took to get the EF (which had never been abrogated in law but de facto had virtually disappeared for decades). I would not be surprised to see in the next 5 years or so the rescinding of the U.S. indult and a specific guideline put in. Probably on the order of:

If you are not a vegetarian, abstain from meat every Friday.
If you ARE a vegetarian, choose any of these three penances: Say one set of rosary mysteries (Joyful, Sorrowful, Glorious or Luminous), abstain from any food group for the day provided you are medically cleared --that is, if you’re a vegetarian and not a diabetic, pregnant or nursing, abstain from either fruit, vegetables, dairy, or bread for the whole of Friday; or perform an anonymous act of charity for someone.

I was told from at least two sources that, by removing the mortal sin associated with eating meat on Friday, Pope Paul VI was appealing to our higher spirituality levels to perform such penance. He definitely didn’t tell us to go pig out every Friday.

A good guide:

Umm…Isn’t that what I just did? The Canon Lawyer that works for the USCCB said that the obligation to abstain from meat has been made voluntary, but there is still an obligation for a penitential act. That is the obligation that they replaced it with.

very nice post.

The Canon lawyer who replied to your telephone call (post #1) made reference to universal canon law. From what you reported, it does not seem to me that he commented specifically on the US Bishops directive, which, acting in accordance with the terms of Canon 1253, specifically abrogated the requirement for Friday abstinence (while still recommending it.) As I mentioned before, the bishops, while abrogating that obligation in accordance with the delegation of authority given them in canon 1253, did not specifically replace it with any other obligatory penance.

It is still unclear whether failure to observe any form of penance on ordinary Fridays is seen as a matter for confession. And in the absence of clarity, it apparently isn’t.

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