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Why Catholics do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday and on Good Friday by Rev Fr Joseph Dufe

Every religious tradition has their own dietary rules that are linked to cultic practices. Muslims totally do not eat pork. That is them! Catholics are among the only Christians who freely do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Fridays during Lent. That is them! In fact, you know you are in a Catholic town when, during Lent fish seems to be the main dish in their restaurants. In some cases every Friday of the year has been considered a day of abstinence. And some people add every Wednesday of the year. Some still go the extreme of totally abstaining from meat at any time. This may be too extreme! Thus all Fridays have become recommended days of fasting and abstinence for Catholic. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday – to largest extent – and all the other Fridays of Lent – to a lesser extent stand out more prominently.

These are days considered of special penitential observance by which Catholics gladly suffer with Christ hoping to be one day glorified with him – the word “gladly” is intentionally used because Catholics of the cream do not have any problem with that. This is a practice that has come all the way from time immemorial and is the heart of the tradition of abstinence. Let us note that the Catholic Church has three pillars of faith – Sacred Scripture, Scared Tradition and the Magisterium or Teaching Authority – in case someone jumps up to ask where it is written in the Bible. Since it is believed that Jesus Christ suffered and died on a Friday, Christians from the very beginning have set aside that day to unite their sufferings to Jesus. This led the Church to recognize every Friday as a “Good Friday” where Christians can remember Christ’s Passion by offering up a specific type of penance.

For much of the Church’s history, meat was singled out as a worthy sacrifice on account of its association with feasts and celebrations. In most ancient cultures meat was considered a delicacy and the “fattened calf” was not slaughtered unless there was something to celebrate. Thus eating meat on a Friday to “celebrate” the death of Christ did not seem right. Ash Wednesday is added to the list because it marks the beginning of the period of penance known as Lent, and which culminates with Good Friday. The Abstinence Law considers that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat. Fish, on the other hand, are not in that same classification.

In Latin the word used to describe what kind of “meat” is not permitted on Fridays is “carnis”, and specifically relates to “animal flesh”. Fish in these cultures was not considered a “celebratory” meal and was more of a penance to eat. Some current cultures are much different in their consideration of meat, since meat is generally considered for them to be the cheaper option on the menu and no longer has the cultural connection to celebrations – yet Catholic Tradition keeps the item of abstaining from meat as a symbol. So while keeping the traditional practice one would still add those practices laid down by the various local churches, such as abstaining from alcoholic drinks and those of personal nature based on what one hold of high value in normal life. One would not be abstaining from what one never finds or from what one may not easily find. This is why many people are confused about the regulations. And we must have noticed that on these days of abstinence the items of fasting often seem to come by easily and the desire for them seems to propel. This is just how the devil works.

In the end, the Church’s intention is to encourage the faithful to offer up a sacrifice to God that comes from the heart and unites one’s suffering to that of Christ on the cross. Meat is given as the very basic penance, while the purpose of the regulation should always be kept in mind – which means that from the basic requirement demanded, we are expected to do more. And the fruits of the abstinence are supposed to be transformed into items of charity for the needy. The whole point is to make a sacrifice that draws a person closer to Christ, who out of love for us made the ultimate sacrifice any person can make. We may even ask ourselves: is it heavier dying on the cross or abstaining from meat? So people who have issues with this tradition could do well by telling us how far they are ready to die on the cross if they were given the license to eat meat on the days of abstinence and fasting. And why is the issue only on those days and not on the other days that meat is allowed? The answer blows in the wind!


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