Meatless Fridays
A Continuing Obligation

meatless friday

Adherence to meatless Fridays continues throughout the calendar year, despite widespread confusion on the subject by many Catholics. An expert answer found on the EWTN website clarifies. “Traditional doctrine of Christian spirituality” concludes that an integral “part of repentance, of turning away from sin and back to God, includes some form of penance…” Our ability to “remain on the narrow path and be saved” depends on this practice. Both Jesus and His disciples implemented this from the earliest times. Luke 5:35 tells us that the disciples practiced this discipline once He departed.

But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, then shall they fast in those days.

Canon Law and Meatless Fridays

The Church specifies certain forms of penance. This obligation ensures that the Body of Christ, the Church, practices requirements by Divine Law while also making this action easy to fulfill. The 1983 Code of Canon law shares the obligations of Latin Rite Catholics.

(Canon 1250) All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.

While this is specific, an additional canon allows some leeway at the directive of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

(Canon 1253) It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

The above canon allows US Catholics an option. If they wish, Catholics are allowed to make a substitution. Another penitential or charitable practice of their choice is an acceptable substitution. However, the people must perform some form of penance or charity on every Friday of the year. Lenten abstinence, in the form of meatless Fridays, is still obligatory for Catholics in the US. This practice continues around the world.

Meatless Fridays Are Easy

Abstaining from meat throughout the year is a simple practice to follow. While choosing an individual alternative carries the risk of forgetting to perform a penitent act altogether, making every Friday a meatless one quickly becomes a pious habit. Unfortunately, many US Catholics are unaware of this obligation – another side effect of depending on a substitution instead of simply practicing meatless Fridays.

There are many meatless meals from which to choose that are appetizing, affordable, and easy to make. Once this obligation is practiced for a period, it will become second nature to adult and child alike.

Meatless Friday Exceptions

Although younger children, under the age of 14, are not obligated to follow this practice, they easily adapt. This enables a teachable opportunity for discussing penitence and unity of family goals. Pregnant or nursing women, the elderly, and those with health issues are also excused. However, they are certainly welcome to continue the practice if they desire.

The duties and practices we perform are always adaptable to our individual state in life. Therefore, others absolved from the obligation can include “those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offence or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline”. EWTN

In the spirit of our ardent gratitude and irrefutable need for penance, however, those who are absolved of the obligation can still avail themselves of another form penitence or charity. After all, Jesus’ gift of sacrifice and salvation is a debt we can never hope to repay or deserve.

One of my favorite meatless Friday recipes is ever so easy and family friendly. Stay tuned for more recipes to follow.

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15 thoughts on “Meatless Fridays <br>A Continuing Obligation”

  1. Like others have all mentioned, meatless is not necessarily even a sacrifice any longer. My children will happily pull up to a table with grilled cheese sandwiches or even fish sticks. After years of Lenten practices, these have become favorite meals any time of the year. So, while we do strict meatless during Lent, the real sacrifice in our home year round is left-overs! The expectation of cleaning out the fridge every Friday so as to eliminate food waste, and to do so with a smile? That is a real sacrifice in my home for everyone – self and husband included!

  2. Why is it conservative Catholics keep wanting to relive the past, which did not serve the church well. Instead of eating fIsh on Friday’s or not, TRY TO FEED THOSE WHO ARE HUNGARY.

    1. I am sure you meant ‘hungry’. This situation is not an either/or but a both/and. Within the Church we BOTH feed the hungry with such national efforts as Catholic Relief Services to local food pantries AND we can sacrifice by being meatless or other sacrifices as an act of love and fidelity.

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  4. Josephine Harkay

    Please clarify the matter about our Friday obligation to do penance; it is now a “recommendation,” but not an “obligation” under pain of sin.
    Source: Catholic Answers: The first thing is that the bishops “give first place to abstinence from flesh meat” (norm 3). This was an exhortation and as such did not establish a legal obligation. So abstinence continued to be a recommended practice for the observance of Friday but not a legally binding one.

    The next thing is that Friday continues to be a day of penance (norm 1). The norm clarifies the sense in which this is to be understood by explaining that it is “a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind, which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ crucified.”

    This qualification strongly suggests that, though Friday is a day of penance, it is not one on which all of the faithful are legally bound or bound under pain of sin to do penance; nevertheless, “those who seek perfection” will do penance on the day.

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  6. You cannot claim that meatless Fridays are both obligatory and optional! Some form of penance is obligatory. The method chosen is optional.

    1. While mandatory abstinence from meat remains for Lenten Fridays, the faithful must also abstain from meat on non-Lenten Fridays unless another form of penance or charity is performed.

    2. Josephine Harkay

      Source: Canon Law Society of America’s New Commentary on the Code of Canon Law. The commentary on canon 1253 summarizes the U.S. obligations and recommendations without indicating that a legal obligation to do penance continues to exist on typical Fridays of the year.

  7. I’ll simply give you the view of me who has never missed once…doing an alternative thing rather than the meatless thing. When 20 years old, I experienced purgatory in infused prayer for three days then it ended. During those 3 days I had to pray within every 5 minute sector of every hour. Had to…is key. Scripture Luke 22:44 says of Christ, “He fell into an agony and prayed the more earnestly”. Been there done that for three days while loading train cars but being able to sleep.
    Decades later now, I’m thankful for it but never want to be there again. On Fridays I do minimum of 100 said and done signs of the cross for victims of murder…mostly women…per the Enchiridion of Indulgences which gives that action partial indulgence for souls in purgatory.
    My view on meatlessness is that for me, it’s no sacrifice because a $7 a pound kale salad from Stop and Shop with a sweet dressing and blueberries, shredded carrots, dried cranberries etc. tastes every bit as good and better than a ham steak with eggs. Stuffed trout in a Breval sauce is better than a steak and technically the meatless Friday person can have that salad for lunch and that fish for supper. And I’m helping souls in purgatory every Friday on the button at minimum a hundred times….sometimes 200 times.
    I think your concern is valid because you Birgit are concerned with the many who drift away from doing any thing at all under the guise of finding an alternative…especially teens etc. I…very different… am thankful that I have an alternative.
    You are rightfully concerned that the majority may not be handling this new freedom well. And they should then return to giving up meat…and you are 100% correct.

    1. It is always important to look at the spirit of the law and that seems to be what you have done. It seems that the temptation for many is to simply have a lobster dinner or something that is a delicacy to them and call it Friday fish. Speaking technically, that might fulfill the letter of the law but is certainly very far from the spirit. Most people I know, who observe meatless Fridays all year long, however, realize that the meal should be modest and a true reminder of what our crucified the Lord did for us. In following Church laws it is always important to be mindful of the purpose for the law. That way we practice it with the true spirit of obedience and awareness.

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