What DID people eat -- pre-Vatican II Lent?


So, I know what Catholics were not allowed to eat in Lent (roughly pre-Vatican II), i.e. no meat, eggs, dairy, but what did they actually eat? A whole lot of pea soup? Bread? Potatoes? Beans and rice? It’s not like most people would eat fish / seafood daily, right? I guess in some regions they might.


Pre-Vatican 2, we ate a lot of spaghetti and macaroni- and not just during Lent.

I think it really varied, much like today, based on the region they lived in as well as how affluent the family was.


While I was not around then, I know that my order practically lived on bean soup, bread and coffee during lent in the days before Vatican II. For a long period of our history (about 250 years) our members were only allowed a hard boiled egg and bread for every meal on Tuesdays and Fridays, even outside of lent. Certain local Churches had stricter traditions for the weekly abstinence than others.


They actually did eat a ton of fish if they lived in any area near water.
If they lived in an area where you could grow food, they could eat vegetables (fresh or canned).
Beans, oatmeal, eggs, peanut butter, were also big.
And for Irish families like ours, potatoes, definitely! Every meal, not just Friday.
I remember my mother talking about how her mom would open the can of pork and beans, take out the piece of pork on the top and serve the beans to the family for Friday dinner. She was wondering in hindsight whether the pork would have somehow infused the beans and made it a violation of the rules, but Grandma was a practical sort and she may not have had a lot of other options for a non-meat dinner for 8 people, half of whom were men who worked in construction and manufacturing all day.

The weirdest thing I ever read was when some Pope or bishop or someone back in a much earlier era decided that baby rabbits were the same as fish because apparently some landlocked monks in Europe were having trouble finding stuff they could eat on Friday. Apparently there were plenty of hairless baby rabbits to eat up in that area.


It varied by ethnicity too, I reckon. I can see families from Italy or Central/ Eastern Europe eating a lot of pasta. I can tell you that my mother’s Irish family rarely if ever cooked or ate this stuff (except out to dinner at an Italian restaurant). They also weren’t big on vegetable soup, which was a staple in every Polish, Czech, Hungarian etc. household I ever visited.


Thanks everybody! I love reading these answers. My mom’s mom was Russian Orthodox, and my mom would tell me stories about her, and her religious / folk cultural practices. They are both long gone now, sadly. One that made a big impression on me was that if my grandma would drop a piece of bread, she would kiss it in apology (and I’m pretty sure the 5 second rule would apply). Of course, that isn’t really Lent-related. :blush:
Thanks for sharing your stories!


I don’t think your premise is correct. Meat was allowed - other than Fridays and Ash Wednesday - at the principal meal. I recall no restrictions (Latin Rite anyway) on eggs and dairy. No eating in between meals. I recall eating a lot of fish & chips on Fridays.


I’ve also heard a similar grant be given to early missionaries in North America to eat muskrat and alligator!


As a general rule whatever is deemed necessary in order to enable people to give proper attention to their duties may be taken at the collation. Moreover, since custom first introduced the collation, the usage of each country must be considered in determining the quality of viands permitted thereat. In some places eggs, milk, butter, cheese and fish are prohibited, while bread, cake, fruit, herbs and vegetables are allowed. In other places, milk, eggs, cheese, butter and fish are permitted, owing either to custom or to Indult.

O’Neill, J.D. (1909). Fast. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/05789c.htm


When I was a child preVatican ll we ate a lot of fish sticks tuna casserole beans and mac and cheese.


My grandmother ate cereal floating in her black coffee in a cup for breakfast, or biscotti that was not made with milk in the morning on non fast days.

She prepared bowls of broccoli rabe or escarole and beans for dinners as well as meatless pasta during the week. We had alot of tomatoes and salads, fried zucchini, and other vegtables.
We had fish on friday.

On fast and abstinence days it was water only and dinner which was fish.
She ate a banana at lunch.

She continued this for her lifetime even after vatican 2.


Wow – your Grandma was hard core! Cereal in black coffee! Love it!


Our late priest used to reflect on the numerous grilled cheese sandwiches and bowls of tomato soup he and his family would have during Lent. He continued having them until his death a few years ago when Jesus chose this beloved servant to spend Easter with Him.


In the Byzantine Catholic Church, we abstain from all animal products - meat, fish, eggs, cheese, butter, etc., on days of strict fast. Yesterday was our first day of Lent. I made a curry with vegetable broth, sweet potato, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower and coconut milk, served over rice. We eat a lot of peanut butter and jelly, too. And beans. Lots of beans.


I noticed reptiles are specifically allowed to be eaten under the guidelines. I understand snake and gator are pretty good, but have never eaten any.


I think you have to go further back in the Latin Rite to find the restrictions on eggs and dairy.


Ask modern day Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Christians. They still abstain from meat, fish, oil, dairy, and wine for all Lent… and all Advent… and every Wednesday and Friday throughout the year… and during two other fast seasons.


That’s just gross! LOL :dizzy_face:


Alligator tastes like chicken but it’s very chewy :blush:


Is this actually the case? Because the Romanian Orthodox cathedral in my neighborhood is renowned for having the best Lenten fish fries in the area. Every Friday, and they not only sell fried fish, but also homemade cake and pie desserts and Romanian beer. A lot of RC’s and non-religious people eat there, but I am sure the members of the cathedral are also eating at these fries as well as working at them, as they are huge events (we’re talking traffic jams and lines out the door and four guys parking cars in a huge lot that gets full).

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