Just for the halibut: no meat on Fridays

It’s happening in England, beginning on September 16th, the anniversary of the pope’s trip to the UK.


The bishops of England and Wales are re-establishing the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays as a penance to identify with Christ on the cross.

In the resolutions published from their spring plenary assembly, which concluded Thursday, the bishops announced the re-establishment of the practice, to go into effect Sept. 16.

“Every Friday is set aside by the Church as a special day of penance, for it is the day of the death of our Lord,” a statement of resolutions from the assembly reminded. “The law of the Church requires Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays, or some other form of food, or to observe some other form of penance laid down by the Bishops’ Conference.”

“The Bishops wish to re-establish the practice of Friday penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity,” the statement announced.

The prelates added that it is “important that all the faithful be united in a common celebration of Friday penance.”

“Respectful of this, and in accordance with the mind of the whole Church, the Bishops’ Conference wishes to remind all Catholics in England and Wales of the obligation of Friday Penance. The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat,” the resolution stated.

The prelates said those who do not eat meat normally should abstain from some other food on Fridays.

It remains to be seen if the practice will spread to other parts of the world.  Stay tuned.

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16 responses to “Just for the halibut: no meat on Fridays”

  1. What a crok! I think the bishops only should abstain for their sins now coming to light in Ireland. Don’t punish the Faithful or lump them in with you,

  2. Wow…

    @ Deacon Greg, I think such a universal practice should be encouraged, although Wednesday and Friday abstinence is more traditional.

    Whether or not such abstinence should be accompanied by a canonical penalty is another question altogether…

  3. I think rather than a meatless Friday Catholics should be taught and encouraged – not required – to pray St Ignatius’ Daily Examen. By reflecting back on the day with God not only do we see where we fell short and need to do better but we deepen our relationship with God and become aware of His Presence in our daily lives and actions. I am not sure that the meatless Friday will do that – it is too easy to engage in that type of abstinence without thinking about why we are doing it. I have to admit I found myself eating Sushi on Fridays this past Lent just to avoid eating meat. I love sushi so I dont think that was much of a penance. Obviously I followed the letter of the law but not its spirit.

  4. Hey I have to agree here with Fr. Deacon Daniel. There should be canonical penalty attached to this. It’s already being ignored now even though it is Canon Law, so to just “shout it on the rooftops” to me will just result in deaf ears and willful ignorance. The majority of people will probably just not care. However if a small minority of people start and influence their family and friends, well maybe in a couple of genertions it will go back to majrity practice.

    Plus I can just hear the cries of the liberals and small “c” catholics in the distance with the old “you’re bringing us back to pre Vatican II days” (which I disagree with and think is overused).

  5. I’ve been doing this voluntarily now for several years, not just during Lent. What I have found interesting is how much more meat (or whatever it is that one is abstaining from) is tempting on the day in which one has decided to not have it. However, whether “reinstating” the practice after decades of basically scoffing at it will “take” I don’t know.

  6. Never didn’t do this- just figured it was easier to remember than picking out a different penance for myself.
    I wish them luck with this- every little bit helps.

  7. Deacon Den — The sins you refer to have absolutely nothing to do with the merits of specifying how the faithful are to fulfill their long-standing canonical obligation of performing penance on Fridays. (Unless more penance would have won the graces for the sins to be avoided.)

    Fr. Deacon Daniel — Wednesday and Friday abstinence may have been the norm at one time, but canon law has specified only Fridays for so long that I think the Friday can legitimately be considered the tradition now. In any event, what the bishops of England and Wales are concerned about is the performance of the canonically requuired Friday penance. I’m willing to bet that the resistance even to that will make it obvious that any attempt to add Wednesdays as days of obligatory penance will be widely doomed to failure.

    It does seem to me that so many Catholics are unaware of their obligation to do penance on Fridays that, rather than legislating a particular method (which is the “default” under canon law), the bishops might have done better to call the faithful’s attention to the basic obligation and simply recommended the traditional form of Friday penance, i.e., abstinence from meat.

    Barbara Peters — Penances that are no penance are of little value. There is, on the other hand, some value to doing something as an expression of solidarity with the Church. When I was at Georgetown University, the cafeteria made the meatless meals of Lent so attractive that it was no penance for me to eat the main offering, so I made sure to include beets or spinach, both of which I disliked at the time.

    That said, I think that many Catholics have become so accustomed to eating whatever they want (usually including meat) on Fridays, that they will find it difficult to abstain from meat. I give you again my own example. During the “season” I go to at least a dozen concerts in Boston on Friday evenings, and I like to have dinner at a favorite restaurant beforehand. It would be a real sacrifice for me never to enjoy any of their meat dishes again.

  8. Deacon Den, I don’t think that the Friday fast is about “punishment”.

    THat said, I find it fascinating how many people who don’t regularly (or ever) attend Sunday Mass still abstain from meat during Lent. It seems to be a practice that has a strong hold on the hearts of Catholics. I would be willing to give it a try.

    I will be fascinated to see how it goes in the UK.

  9. I would be in favor of re-emphasizing Friday as a day of voluntary simplicity, especially as regards food; in remembrance of Christ on the cross, and in solidarity with the poor. As far as “canonical penalty”, if that means declaring that not doing it is a mortal sin, I feel that is counter-productive. We should be trying to change attitudes and hearts, not creating more legalistic hoops to jump through.

  10. I hope the mandatory forbidding of Friday meat makes its way to this side of the pond, for two reasons (among a few thousand) that I would imagine would strike any Catholic as reasonable:

    1) External symbols of Catholic identity are important, not just as a sign of solidarity among Catholics, but as a witness to non-Catholics. Notice that this has nothing to do with personal levels of devotional fervor, and therefore is equally true even if every Catholic ignores the spirit and follows the letter of the law. Sushi for all.

    2) For reasons more devotional in nature, I’d mention that the Holy Spirit is not an egalitarian. Different folks have different levels of spiritual discipline. Rules mandate discipline in a way that, at least for people like me, mere ‘encouragement’ or self-directed devotional routes do not. I like a few rules, thank you very much. When it comes to matters spiritual, I’m not good at self-study. I need a clear syllabus.

    I’d wager that for every person who sees mere legalism in a rule like this, there are three non-Catholic seekers who secretly admire the Church’s ability to draw lines in the sand and make real, physical and externally noticeable requirements of its members. There are also, of course, a few of us on the inside who, precisely because they don’t have an A+ record of self-directed spiritual discipline, are bummed by the Church’s reticence to be soft on these sorts of things, generally speaking.

  11. Meatless Fridays? Yes, I began the practice 5yrs ago when I started attending Traditional Anglican Church, St Barnabas the Apostle church in CA, and now St Mary of the Angels Anglican church (we are the Traditional Anglican churches that are very Catholic and are seeking to join a newly formed Anglican Ordinariate). I attended RC church as a child, pre-Vatican II.

    Nice to see that the RC church is encouraging the return to the traditional Meatless Fridays/Fish on Fridays too!

  12. For me this is just not a big deal – I would rather not eat meat – there is nothing from the sea I would rather not have than any form of meat – for penance I can always have tofu

  13. “I think rather than a meatless Friday Catholics should be taught and encouraged – not required” – by Barbara Peters in #3.

    Perfect. Completely agree. There is nothing theologically mandated by meatless Fridays. Mandating anything not based on theology has in the long run an undermining effect to religion. It becomes a rule with suspect reasoning, and therefore opens arguments for all rules. This is my opinion, of course.

  14. The theological mandate is that Christians, from the earliest times, have always done penance on the day of the Bridegroom’s death, as well as other days of the week where that seemed appropriate. Jesus foretold that we would fast when the Bridegroom left the party, and we do.

    And the UK bishops’ statement says specifically that it’s a huge mistake to think abstention from meat “isn’t really penance” if you like fish, veg, etc. Penance isn’t about some kind of ascetic Olympics; it’s putting self aside and bowing to the will of God and the Church, and trying to make little actions of amendment for our own sins and the sins of the whole world. Heck, it’s even remembering not to eat meat.

    If you want to add more penitential acts, fine. But don’t be telling yourself and all of us that bread and water isn’t penance unless the bread is made of sawdust and the water’s straight out of the sewer. That’s a prideful attitude.

  15. How many meat abstainers substitute shrimp or lobster as their Friday meal — not much penance there.

    A Friday fast of some sort would be more meaningful. Perhaps a skipped meal or smaller portions, be it of meat or something else.

  16. Wonder how successful this will be in those 2 countries. Maybe among the older folks, but I would tend to doubt if the younger generation really will follow suit.

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