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Why Catholics Don’t Eat Meat on Fridays

Fr. Joel Being Catholic

Once upon a time the Pope had a friend who was a fisherman and the fisherman was having a hard time making a living,
so the Pope decided to require all Catholics to eat fish on Fridays in order to help his friend.The Internet

Not really. The first Pope was actually a fisherman. But back then meat wasn’t a staple food. For most ancient peoples, “flesh meat” (birds and mamals) was a luxury enjoyed by the rich. The rest of the people only ate meat on special occasions. Abstinence from meat meant everyone had to eat like the poor.

Because Jesus Died on Friday

Jesus sacrificed his life for us on a Friday. Christians commemorate His sacrifice by offering some small sacrifice ourselves. Early Christians used to be much more strict, essentially going vegan on a fast day. The Orthodox Christian community continues to fast from meat, fish, eggs, dairy products, olive oil, wine and other alcoholic drinks (except sometimes beer :-). I suspect that Catholics gradually allowed dairy, eggs, etc. until only “flesh-meat” remained on the do-not-eat list.

We need regular reminders that Jesus died for us. In fact, the Church expects every Catholic to do some penance every Friday of the year (see the excerpt from Canon Law below). After Vatican II the U.S. Bishops have allowed Catholics to substitute another penance instead of abstinence from meat. Except during Lent, when meat is the rule. You can give up more but you shouldn’t do less.

I avoid meat most Fridays throughout the year. My mom always cooked meatless meals on Fridays. It introduced us to unique dishes like pizza with anchovies or linguine with imitation crab meat. At college I was free to decide for myself. The steaks and hamburgers looked SO good on Fridays. Then I realized if it was difficult, it was probably worth doing. I’m just too lazy to think up some other sacrifice.

Good for Us, Good for the Environment

A little sacrifice never hurt anyone; most of us need more self-denial anyway. The state of Wisconsin is so accustomed to following the old meatless rules that people eat fish pretty much every Friday. During World War I and II there were campaigns encouraging people to avoid meat one day a week as a way of freeing up commodities. More recently there has been a campaign for Meatless Mondays as a push for healthier living and environmental awareness. So next time you’re enjoying a Fish Friday remember: Catholics were meatless before meatless was cool.