Not eating meat on Fridays

I am hoping someone one here can help me settle a disagreement. At one time it was Church discipline that we did not eat meat on Fridays. A lot of people therefore ate fish on Fridays. Now I have been having a discussion with a friend who says that the Church told us we had to eat fish of Fridays. That used to be my belief. My argument is that the Church did not tell us to eat fish on Fridays. Not eating meat was a penitential practice. It was about giving something up (i.e. meat) not replacing it with something else (e.g. eating fish instead of meat).

Now, I was of the same opinion as my friend until I read an article by quite a senior prelate who said what I’m now saying: the Friday penance was to give something up not just to swap one thing for another. My problem is I cannot remember (a) who the prelate was (although I think it was Cardinal Basil Hume) or (b) where I read it.

Which one of us is correct?

The prelate is correct. You don’t have to eat fish, you just have to abstain from meat. In some of the Eastern churches, there are various levels of fasting and abstaining, so that in some cases even fish is not allowed.

Since fish is not meat (in the Latin understanding), but is a suitable substitute for meat in cooking, it was frequently used for meals on Friday. Centuries of this has led to it being part of Catholic culture in the West to eat fish on Fridays.

Thank you for “supporting” my argument. There never seemed to me any logic in swapping fish for meat. The whole purpose is to give something up. It’s a bit like saying I giving up beer for Lent I’m going to drink wine instead.:confused:

As a Texan, I can tell you that not eating meat on Fridays is a sacrifice.

The whole point is that not eating meat on Friday is penance. If fish isn’t actually penitential to you (say you’ve got some wires crossed and you like it better than beef…) then don’t eat it on Friday either. The point is, Friday abstinence is a form of fast that we can all do, all year round, to show Jesus Christ our love for Him and our reverence for his holy sacrifice upon the Cross.

In the USA anyway (not sure about elsewhere), we’re allowed to do a substitute penance, which means instead of abstaining from meat on Fridays throughout the year we can do some other penance instead (except during Lent, when no substitution is permitted). However, in practice most Americans erroneously take that to mean that they can do absolutely no penance whatsoever on Fridays except during Lent.

A very unfortunate attitude, but I shouldn’t say more about its origins outside of the Traditional Catholicism forum.

All I know is: You didn’t HAVE to eat fish on Fridays, just no meat. You could have a cheese sandwich, or similar.

These days (at least in the RC Church in the USA) - apart from Fridays in Lent and Ash Wednesday you are free to select an alternate penance, the thought being that Fridays are still penance days.

In England and Wales, we too may also choose some other form of penance. Abstinence is still compulsory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I think its also mandatory on Fridays of Lent.

Yes, thanks—I forgot to add Good Friday. -_-;;

As others have said, its about giving something up, more than the substitute. Fish is just the classic substitute for red (or white) meat on Fridays. As was said, it could be cheese instead.

On a lighter note, I’ve often wondered how much the practice influenced the popularity of pizza in the US.

Before the 16th century, the Roman Catholic fasting was almost identical to that of the Orthodox. Granted, there were some different fasting periods, but both gave up the same foods: meat (including fish), diary, alcohol, oil, and animal products (including eggs, butter, lard, etc.). Shrove Tuesday was originally to get rid of all the dairy before Ash Wednesday. Both used to fast on Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year and if memory serves me well, both also fasted during Advent and Great Lent of the aforementioned things.

I don’t know when the practice disappeared and changed to only meat on Fridays, however.

In Christ,

I’m summarizing third-hand here, but Father Corapi has often quoted someone as saying, “The people (of our time) will scarcely be able to fast for a single day without fainting, but they will be greater than we, for they will fight Satan unbound.”

This was the topic of another recent thread too.

In the US, we are not required to do penance on Friday (other than in Lent).

I was surprised by this too.

See Jimmy Akin’s pieces:

See the Code of Canon Law
Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

… it remains a penitential day …even in the USA

The Bishops too make this clear.

As to if one is still required to substitute something else…there seems to be a division of opinions out there…

I think one could make an argument for both sides myself.

Anyhow bottom Line is even if it is not longer required outside of Lent to do penance on Fridays in the USA…it is still a penitential day…and so Hopefully all will do something…if not for their sins…for mine :slight_smile:

We try not to eat meat on Fridays, but comments above are right–substituting fish is not necessarily a penance. I give up sweetener and desserts and eating between meals (or try to).

I hate fish. I spent two months in Portugal once and basically lived on omelets and salad, although I did have some bacalhau casserole once to say I’d done it. (Actually, given that I hate fish, it was pretty good, although I still prefer a cheese omelet.)

So, for me eating fish is itself a penance. In order to differentiate between Fridays in Lent and throughout the year, I abstain from meat on all Fridays, but during Lent, I also make myself eat fish at least once every Friday. One of the main purposes of relaxing the discipline about how Fridays were to be treated penitential, was (as I understand it) to tailor the penitential practice to the individual, so that for example a vegetarian could pick a relevant practice to engage in, such as praying the Stations of the Cross or something.

Unfortunately, this has led (as other posters have pointed out) to too many people deciding that they don’t need a penitential practice at all. :frowning: I find it difficult to support the idea that no penitential practice is required, as it is certainly supposed to be a penitential day, and how is it a penitential day if we perform no penance? But many holy people appear to believe that the practice is not required, so I accept the possibility. But there is no disagreement as to whether it is a good idea to perform some penance every Friday–why not be on the safe side? :smiley:

I’m pretty sure that there was never a time when fish was required to be eaten. There have always been many poor, who would not have been able to afford it, especially if they lived far inland and away from any large bodies of water. (You can get enough water for a village out of a small river, but you can’t get enough fish out of it.)


Where did you get the idea that you need to force yourself to eat something you don’t like? Are you intentionally trying to make yourself suffer? :eek:

In Christ

Many people here would say that you must.

Myself, I’m not so sure that’s a good thing. It may lead to pride. We will also probably be given enough suffering just by living.

If we are genuinely “taking up our cross” and following Christ sufferings will come upon us whether we want them or not. There is no need for us to invent them for ourselves.

Yes, in a very small way. Doing something that I don’t enjoy but that is nevertheless good for me is a penance I can perform in honor of Christ’s infinitely greater sacrifice, and in a tiny amount of reparation for my sins.

I don’t have the idea that I need to do it, just that I choose to do it. I am not in any way saying that others need to do it; I only offered it as an example. It’s not like it’s a huge sacrifice to eat some sort of food one doesn’t like. I’m not sure how it is that different from someone who really likes meat abstaining from it.

It’s very difficult to remember to offer up all of the suffering that comes on us involuntarily, especially those things that are ongoing. For me, it helps me to remember Christ’s sacrifice and to offer up a very small amount of suffering that I have chosen to take on. If I can manage to be proud about a tiny thing like eating fish 7 times in a year, I have so many problems that I need all the reparation I can get.


Who are the reparations being paid to?

Just curious; are you a revert from some form of Calvinism?

Yours in Christ

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