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Janet wrote:

Greetings,

My name is Janet and I am involved in RCIA in our parish. One of our friends asked:

    • Why do we eat fish on Fridays? and in a related question,
    • What does abstinence from meat mean?

  • So why do we eat fish on Fridays?
  • Did a Pope in the Middle ages have a brother-in-law who was a fish monger and
    he wanted him to prosper, so he declared an edict that everyone eat fish on Friday?
  • I know part of the reason has to do with Christ dying on a Friday and fasting was
    a Jewish custom, but how come?
  • Is there more to it than Church law?

Thanks in advance for any enlightenment.

Janet
Holy Spirit parish
Crown Point, Indiana

  { Why do Catholic Christians eat fish on Fridays and what does abstinence from meat mean? }

John and Mike replied:

Hi, Janet —

Abstinence from meat means to refrain from eating meat.

Eating fish on Friday was never a requirement. It used to be required that we abstain or not eat meat on Fridays because they are considered penitential days (Canon 1250), so instead people ate fish.

Today, we are no longer bound by that specific sacrificial act. Canon Law states:

Canon 1251

Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on ALL Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Most Episcopal Conferences have determined that, instead of abstaining from meat, Catholics may perform an act of penance of their choosing. The main rule is still to abstain from meat on Fridays; the performance of another penance instead is an optional alternative.

We are still obliged to do some personal penance on Fridays as on offering to Our Lord, but we are not obligated to [abstain from|not eat] meat on Fridays, unless you are in an diocese that has not allowed the optional alternative.

On the other hand, there is nothing wrong with Catholics abstaining from meat on Fridays.
The Church has just broadened the options for the lay Catholic to say:

"Thank-you Lord for your saving death on the Cross. In return, on this Friday,
I offer you this personal sacrifice of mine."

This is a matter of discipline and not doctrine. While we must obey it, it is subject to change by Holy Mother Church.

Fasting has always been part of the Christian life and it is something that Jesus expects us to do in one form or another.

16 "When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. — Matthew 6:16

Notice that Jesus does not say: IF you fast He says : "WHEN you fast".

When we fast we unite ourselves to Jesus and His suffering. We learn to deny ourselves as He did for us. Thus we strive to be more like Him. Further, fasting has the additional benefit of increasing the virtue of self control in us. If we learn to say "no" to a prime rib dinner, it makes it easier to say "no" to other sinful acts.

Having said that, not everyone can fast or abstain from certain foods. One might have medical reasons, eating disorders, and so on, but there is always something we can deny ourselves from.

I hope this helps.

God Bless and thanks for the question.

Under His Mercy,

John and Mike

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