No meat on Fridays; (and Wednesdays?) What if I disagree?

I don’t understand Lent, and abstinence of certain foods on specific days entirely. While I understand the command that we ought to fast, I wanted to humbly ask some questions; not to challenge anyone but rather to learn.

  1. Catholics are not to eat meat on certain days, correct? Which days and which meats? Is it all meat or just fish? What is it I have heard about fish in the past with Catholics? Maybe it was nothing, but I think there’s a rule.

  2. What happens if I as a Catholic refuse to take part in such practices? What is the ultimate penalty and how sinful is it?

  3. Do non-Catholics commit any sin by not partaking? (that is Orthodox or Protestants) or is it just a Western practice that is not binding on all Christianity?


No meat on Fridays (which means we may eat fish or other seafoods, but no red meats, pork, and no chicken or other fowl). In the US, the obligation to abstain from meat may be substituted for some other pious act on Fridays, except during Lent. During Lenten season, no meat on Fridays, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday. We also fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

  1. What happens if I as a Catholic refuse to take part in such practices? What is the ultimate penalty and how sinful is it?

It is grave matter for mortal sin to intentionally eat meat on Friday’s during Lent (and Ash Wednesday). This is bound up in the command by our Lord, “…whatsoever you bind on earth is bound in Heaven, whatsoever you loose on earth is loosed in Heaven…” (Mt 16:19 and Mt 18:18)

  1. Do non-Catholics commit any sin by not partaking? (that is Orthodox or Protestants) or is it just a Western practice that is not binding on all Christianity?


Non-Catholics are not bound to observe Catholic discplines…to my understanding.

Hi. :slight_smile: I’m happy to answer your questions.

  1. Catholics are required to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent (and this includes all animal meats excepting fish meats, which are permissible; broth made from meat is also permissible) and are required to do some form of penance on all other Fridays of the year. Catholics may do some other penance on a Friday in lieu of abstaining from meat if they wish, but if they do eat meat and do no other penance, it can be a venial sin.

  2. If a Catholic refuses to do some kind of penance on non-Lent Fridays of the year, it is a venial sin in most circumstances. If a Catholic, knowingly and with full consent, refuses to abstain from meat during Lent, however, that is a mortal sin, because this is a very clear Lenten requirement. (This assumes that the Catholic is within the age range in which abstinence is required (I think it’s 14-65) and does not have a dispensation).

  3. No, non-Catholics do not commit a sin by not following these requirements of the Church, since they are not part of the Church. If they join the Church, these requirements are now binding. I do not know about Orthodox or Eastern Catholics, though, so someone more knowledgeable in that area will have to pitch in to answer that.

Hope this helps!

EDIT: ahs beat me by a minute. :D:D

A simple definition for “meat” in the context of Lenten abstinence is: warm-blooded animals and birds.

Meat, from the Latin carne (flesh), would be meat animals (beef, pork, lamb, etc), fowl, and other warm blooded animals.

In addition to the Bible itself (replete with passages regarding fasting and penance) I would point you to the ancient writings of the Christians, such as the Didache of the first century, which outline the ancient practices of fasting, abstention from meat, and other penitential practices within the Church. These practices date back to the first century, and in fact the Jewish practices pre-date Christianity.

The days of Wednesday and Friday date back to the first century, and distinguished Christians from those of other religions who fasted on different days.

Currently, in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, we abstain from meat on all Fridays and on Ash Wednesday. In some countries, such as the United States, the obligation is to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. One may do some other penance of one’s choosing during the other Fridays of the year.

Friday, of course, is the day in which Christ gave up his flesh for the life of the world. Therefore, traditionally Christians forego eating meat on this day.

Fish is not meat within the context of the abstention. As I mentioned above, meat comes from the Latin word carne, which had a very specific meaning, somewhat lost in the English rendering of “meat” which is more general. Carne is the flesh meat of warm blooded animals and fowl.

There is no rule regarding eating or not eating fish. Many people eat fish on days of abstinence from meat (carne). I do not eat seafood, therefore I eat vegetarian or cheese/egg based dishes on days of abstinence from meat.

It is grave matter to purposely and obstinately refuse to assent to the law of the Church.

Note that those who are ill, pregnant, or infirm may be excused from fasting and could be excused from abstinence from meat if needed. Children under 14 are excused from abstinence from meat and those under 18 and over 60 are not obligated to fast.

Non Catholics are not bound by the ecclesial laws of the Catholic Church.

The Orthodox have their own abstinence and fasting requirements, which are much more restrictive than the current Catholic practice. They abstain not only from meat but from dairy products and they have many more days of fast and abstinence.

The Latin Code of Canon Law is binding on all Latin Rite Catholics, and all Eastern Rite Catholics have their own canon law which governs their practices. It is definitely not a “Western practice” as it has it’s roots in the very beginning of Christianity.

While not obligated by law, all Christians should consider the role of fasting and abstaining in their practice of their faith.

Note: This is true of US Catholics. It is not true of Catholics in other places.

Universal Church law states all Fridays, and many places follow universal law. The US has been granted this deviation. The UK, for example, requires abstaining on all Fridays of the year.

And some other countries, like the Philippines, allow meat on ALL Fridays of the year, including Lent, with the same requirement that an act of piety or charity be substituted.

I believe the same is true in some countries in South America as well.

The previous posts address the answers to your question well; however I just wanted to address a clarification on the second question as to the “why” it is sinful to knowingly and voluntarily refuse to abstain from meat on a Friday of Lent. There is nothing sinful in the act of eating meat itself. The sin is for knowingly refusing to follow a teaching/discipline of the Church. As ahs said, this is due to the authority given to the Church (“whatever you bind on earth. . .”). Also, it is in keeping with Hebrews 13:17 - “Obey your leaders and defer to them, for they keep watch over you and will have to give an account, that they may fulfill their task with joy and not with sorrow, for that would be of no advantage to you.” The requirement isn’t meant to be a burden on the faithful, but rather to be of spiritual benefit in helping us to ensure that we fast and that we remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross.

The current rule is that we are to abstain from meat on every Friday and on Ash Wednesday, defining meat as the flesh of a warm-blooded animal. (So alligator, frogs, fish, and seafood are all fine, for example) The exception is if a solemnity falls on a Friday. So if Christmas is on a Friday, if the Assumption is, etc. Also, the entire octave of Easter is solemnities, so you can always have meat on the Friday after Easter.

There’s another exception that parts of the world have a more lenient rule, but I’ll get to that later.

  1. What happens if I as a Catholic refuse to take part in such practices? What is the ultimate penalty and how sinful is it?

It is not a sin in and of itself to eat meat on a Friday. The sin would be disobeying the Church’s authority to bind and loose. It’s never been a sin to eat meat. But because Christ was crucified on a Friday, it’s customary to do some sort of act of penance on Fridays. Historically and to this day, it’s been abstaining from meat. (Actually Latin “carne” which is only warm-blooded animals)

However, Catholics in parts of the world, such as the US, have been permitted to substitute with other acts of penance outside of Lent. And apparently even during Lent in places like the Philippines.

But any sin involved in eating meat would be for not doing an act of penance like asked of us. It would not be for eating meat.

  1. Do non-Catholics commit any sin by not partaking? (that is Orthodox or Protestants) or is it just a Western practice that is not binding on all Christianity?

I don’t believe it’s just a Western practice. Someone else can answer for Eastern Catholics. But it’s not a sin for non-Catholics to eat meat on Friday. It’s just an act of penance the Catholic Church asks of her followers.

I think disobedience would be part of that sin as well. If we refuse to do as the Church requires us, we deny her authority. That’s pretty big.

If you accidentally eat meat, that is just an accident. If you habitually “accidentally” forget, that is more serious, because you’re obviously not trying very hard to remember. But refusing to do it is much more serious. In addition to not doing the act of penance, we are denying the authority of the Church. Since Christ established the Church and gave her the authority, that is pretty serious.

But there is nothing about the actual act of eating the meat that is sinful, and it’s perfectly allowed most of the time.


Anyone know why, historically, fish and seafood are okay? And how is it really giving up anything when you can have a great seafood dinner, or vegetarian dishes (eggplant parm is my favorite!)?

I believe that 1ke explained the first question. Latin has a word with a meaning that is not exactly shared by any word in English. What is prohibited is what was/is meant by the word in Latin.

And if you don’t find it a sacrifice, you are encouraged to add another penance of your own. I personally hate all kinds of seafood, so it is a sacrifice for me.


Captain Rick. As to the historical segment, I am not totally aware of why that came about. As to the second part, note that the Church only states this as a bare minimum requirement. Obviously we excel when we go beyond the bare minimum.

For me personally, as I don’t care that much for meat in the first place, I tend to add to it. On Fridays throughout the year it’s no meats or sweets, and no intermittent snacking. On Lenten Fridays I additionally fast (following the rules for Ash Wednesday)

After all, look at what the Lord said to the man who wished entry into Heaven. “Follow the ten commandments.” Stating he did this already, he said, what more can I do? “Go, sell all that you possess and give it to the poor, then, follow me.”

Abstinence from meat is a small penance that we offer on Fridays in honor of the Lord’s passion and sacrifice for us on the cross. Fish is allowed.

  1. What happens if I as a Catholic refuse to take part in such practices? What is the ultimate penalty and how sinful is it?

Why would you do that? Is Jesus Christ not worthy of this small penance?

  1. Do non-Catholics commit any sin by not partaking? (that is Orthodox or Protestants) or is it just a Western practice that is not binding on all Christianity?


N-Cs don’t count. But if one wants the fullness of truth then one embraces all of it. There are no half measures. My best friend and I used to call n-C Christianity “Christianity Lite” because it’s over simplified and easy.:shrug:

What if you disagree?

If you disagree, you disagree. :wink:

It is my understanding that broth or gravy made from meat is NOT permissible during lent. God Bless, Memaw

No red meet at fridays during lent, fish is ok as its not red meat.
Fridays outside of lent season we are supposed to do penance and that penance can be to abstain from meat, but can also be something else.
Like if you normally enjoy drinking beer after a long day at work, you could decide to offer it up on a friday as penance.

To eat meat on fridays during lent on purpose is a Mortal sin, not becouse eating meat in and of itself is sinful, but becouse its dissobediance against the Church herself.
I dont know how serious the friday penance outside of the Lent season is to be honest, but again I will assume that ignore it on purpose will be Mortal Sin, but again Im not entirely sure.
If you miss friday penance becouse you simply forgot then its considered to be a venial sin regardless of its being Lent or not.

It only applies to Catholics as we are bound by Canon law.
Orthodox arent bound by the Catholic Canon as they have to follow the rules of their own church. Prostestants arent bound either.

Yours in Jesus and Mary

  • MarianCatholic

I hear you. It is [not] a sacrifice for me to abstain from meat and eat fish and vegetables… Needless to say that it is a great healthy alternative.

It is a lot harder to stay away from electronics [or] to watch my language at work [or] to not drink coffee. Deep down, when I want to *actually *fast on something, I give up on those things.

I think this may be one reason that we are allowed in the US to make a different sacrifice outside of Lenten Friday. Many MANY Catholics do not realize that we are still supposed to fast on Friday in some way. It can be fasting from a food or a habit, or rather than not doing something, one could choose to do something in mercy and love (Is 58:5-8).

To address a question by the OP, non-Catholics are not bound under pain of sin to the precept of the Church regarding fasting. It seems as if part of your question is about the organized aspect of the fasting-- the Church giving certain times of fasting. Protestantism seems very individualized, in my opinion (it seems to be all about “me and Jesus”), but Catholicism is very much about community, the Body of Christ. The Church gives certain days to fast so that we, as a community, will fast together. It’s pretty amazing to realize on Ash Wednesday that there are literally millions of people fasting with you. Of course, we are not limited to the fasting on the days that the Church asks us fast, many Catholics fast on their own on other days too. Jesus fasted, He clearly expected us to fast (Mt 6:16) and the Apostles fasted (Acts 14:23). Lots of value to fasting…

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