I get why Catholics abstain from meat on fridays. But I would like to know why it is meat that we abstain from. What is the significance of meat, instead of say, eating sugar?
Meat is a food for celebrations and feasts. Consider the story of the Prodigal son, the reading for Saturday’s daily mass: what the father serve when his lost son returned? A fattened calf.
Friday being a day of penance (at least during Lent) the Church decides to abstain from celebratory foods more appropriate for feast days.
Notably, Eastern Catholics abstain from meat and all meat products for the entirety of Lent.
Unlike now, meat was more expensive than things like fish in past times and was considered valuable, so giving that up was a great sacrifice. Now we mimick Jesus in the practice of “giving up” something as He gave up His life for us on Calvary.
Actually, I am not so sure that giving up meat in the past was as big of a sacrifice as it is now. The point was that meat was usually eaten by most people in celebration of some event. As a result it would have been eaten somewhat rarely. As a result, abstaining from meat was not so much a sacrifice as a reminder of the solemn nature of the day. In modern times when we often not only have meat every day, but often 2 or 3 times a day, the sacrificial nature of abstaining is I think much stronger.
I agree completely… I have never understood the “meat used to be a luxury” explanation. That’s like saying that we should give up caviar and pate foie gras as a sacrifice. it isn’t a sacrifice because I can’t afford them anyway!
When I was a child I used to think that the reason that we abstained from meat on Friday and focused on eating fish was because the Apostles were fisherman and that they were trying to bolster their business.
I had actually heard from a Non-Catholic friend that one of the Popes had financial interests in the fishing industry!!! :rotfl:
Good thing I wasn’t tied in with the Brocolli and Spinach industries!!!
How about both?
Remember, the times where this was most in force were basically between the many ‘poor’ (serfs, slaves) and the few ‘rich’.
The rich gave up meat because it was a luxury and they did need to be reminded to look beyond the comfortable living they had in the ‘world’ and to consider becoming detached from the world and to be humble. And yes, it was a reminder of the solemnity of sharing sacrifice with Christ.
The poor did not ‘legally’ have much meat, although there was always poaching (and we know it occurred because of the constant reinforcement of poaching charges and medieval records). Especially in the “little ice ages” times, February and March had few if any decent vegetables, the grain was getting spoiled–a couple of tasty hares would have made a much more enjoyable dish than pease porridge! To give up that illegal but welcome chance was a sacrifice for the poor person as well. Not to mention those ‘spring chickens’ or a slab of bacon or ‘pickled pork’ (most households slaughtered their meat in late fall, to last through the winter until the spring breeding season).
I guess we have to remember that people then didn’t have the ‘variety’ we do now. It’s easy to skip meat on Friday when we have eggs and cheese (those were usually not eaten in Lent until more recently), nice clean fridges, microwaves, canned goods, take-out, etc. etc.
Even the medium well to do (a knight, for example) probably had the same thing as most of the villagers or peasants: A breakfast (literally to ‘break the fast’) of a cup of thin ale, and bread (very unappetizing by our standards); the main meal at noon with perhaps some type of porridge with vegetables, more bread (often the bread was used as a trencher to hold the food), more ale, perhaps some ‘fresh’ pot or farmer cheese or maybe–not every day–some spit roasted meat, eaten sparingly. For dinner, a lighter meal than at noon, more ale, maybe some wine, more pottage, perhaps a savory or sweet pie to share.
The poor would have had the coarsest bread (in smaller portions), the thinnest porridge, little meat, and only very rarely a pie or even the cheese unless they had a milch cow and someone in the house was ill.
Meat was more expensive than fish in past times. Heard that the other day on EWTN by Fr. Mitch Pacwa.