Off the hook: should we give up more than just meat on Fridays?

While some bishops are calling for a return to the discipline of giving up meat on Fridays, at least one writer says we should skip fish, too.


Catholic bishops in the U.K. want to reinstate year-round meatless Fridays, which sounds great to me, except for one thing: They still seem to think that fish are swimming vegetables.

Like all other animals killed for food, fish are sentient beings who value their lives. Research on fish intelligence abounds, revealing that fish use tools, tell time, sing, and have impressive long-term memories and complex social structures. Fish also create cognitive maps that allow them to navigate through vast expanses of water.

More importantly, like other animals, fish feel pain. Renowned scientist Victoria Braithwaite noted, “[T]here is as much evidence that fish feel pain and suffer as there is for birds and mammals.”

You can read more here. The author’s motives aren’t religious, but he makes some points to ponder.

My only problem with the concept of meatless Fridays is that, in this day and age, it’s not really that great of a sacrifice.  The modern diet is gravitating more toward fish and lighter fare; the American freezer is now well-stocked with Boca burgers.  (As it is, my wife and I eat meat for dinner only two or three days a week.  The rest of the time it’s pasta, salads and fish.)   Maybe fasting on Fridays, as we do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, would be more of a challenge and have more of an impact.

I also question how many Catholics would really follow this discipline anyway.  We are mandated to make some sacrifice on Fridays already — which may be news to most in the pews — and this is the sort of thing that’s almost impossible to enforce.  If the Church can’t get 70% of Catholics into the pews on Sunday, under the threat of  mortal sin, how will it get them to change their diet?

Meantime, for another take, check out what Elizabeth Scalia wrote on the topic last week, over at First Things.

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10 responses to “Off the hook: should we give up more than just meat on Fridays?”

  1. Perhaps a day of fast and abstinence every Friday? Or perhaps instead of giving up something, maybe adding something such as serving the soup kitchen at the local Church or visiting old folk at the nursery? Praying the liturgy of the hours? Picking up a book to know more about our beliefs and doctrines? Getting closer to Christ by developing a relationship with him trough scripture reading? The choices are infinite.

  2. “Maybe fasting on Fridays, as we do on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, would be more of a challenge and have more of an impact.”


    Jesus says in Matthew 6:

    “16 When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward.
    17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face,
    18 so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.”

    I note that Jesus expects us to fast. He says “When you fast”, not “If you fast.”

  3. I agree that it’s not that much of a sacrifice. I think a call to some kind of penance or sacrifice is worthwhile though – for each individual that will take a different slant.

  4. I know this isn’t a politically correct question, but what exactly is penitential about giving up some food one day per week? To me it just seems like one more little detail of life to screw up. An occasion of sin, too, when I get halfway through my turkey sandwich on a Lenten Friday and say, “Oh —-!”

    I’m a wife and a mother, jobs which require constant attention to detail. In my for-pay job, I do tech support, another job of a gazillion details and constant interruptions. That constant state of low-level brain fry which mothers of young children call “mommy brain” is my life. I find it to be a significant challenge to my spiritual life, as well. (Did I turn off the coffee maker? Did I remember to pay the oil bill? Did I recite Compline? Did I take my pills this morning? Did I call the dentist office? Aieeeeee!!!!) Remembering not to eat meat on Fridays is just one more stupid thing to remember (or forget!) in a life of remembering (and forgetting!) stupid things. Why is adding to my brain fry a GOOD thing?

  5. Not much of a sacrifice for who? Lots of Americans still eat lots and lots of meat, so let’s be careful before we generalize our own experiences. Our country is full of sushi-lovers but also burger-lovers.

    As to this question: ” If the Church can’t get 70% of Catholics into the pews on Sunday, under the threat of mortal sin, how will it get them to change their diet?”

    Well, the loss of meatless Fridays is just one aspect of the massive dumbing down and countless changes that send the message that the Faith isn’t the biggest deal.

    If people see the faith as actually challenging and demanding, they are more likely to take it seriously. But if Catholics can eat meat on Fridays (once in our culture unthinkable) so why should we go to Mass, that might change too, after all?

  6. For those arguing it’s too hard (cathy): that’s why it’s a good penance.

    For those saying it’s too easy: great! so you can do it and add something else. There was never a rule saying “give up meat on Friday and no other penance at all.”

  7. As long as we do it sacrificially and not as some act of personal piety alone that will get us closer to heaven, then it is great to give things up. It should be hard but we should know that it is God’s grace that carries us through sacrifice, not our own efforts.

    It might be meat for some, other things for others; it is a good idea.

  8. If God did not want us to eat meat (ie be vegan, vegatarian, whatever you want to call it, I know there’s a difference, but do not care), He would not have created us with canine (meat eating) teeth!

    MMMMMMM Steak!

  9. This year, I gave up all meat and beer for Lent. Really, it was a piece of cake. My husband and I already have several meatless meals a week as it is and we are both carnivores- but we are at that age in life where you change your diet to better your health. We don’t eat meat on Fridays because that’s how we were raised as Catholics. It used to be ingrained, but perhaps isn’t any more.
    Meat eater or Vegan isn’t that big of a deal in our everyday American lives.
    Redemptive suffering might be more meaningful, but I am not sure how it could be mandated–or it might kind of lose it’s meaning, like giving up meat on Fridays year round has.
    Just my thoughts.

  10. Giving up meat on Friday is not really that hard to do. Pretty much everyone can manage this–that’s why it worked so long as a Church-wide penance. Should it ever catch on again, it would become even easier to do, as it used to be in the 50s, when my public school cafeteria invariably served fish sticks on Fridays for the sake of the Catholic students.

    It’s _okay_ for the penance to be easily manageable for most people, even barely noticeable for some who rarely eat meat anyway. A Church-wide penitential practice on Friday is not supposed to be the Olympic high jump competition. If individuals, or religious orders, want to do more, they are always welcome to do so.

    (Only please do not make it your “penance” to visit the elderly in nursing homes. Imagine how you’d feel being made the object of someone else’s superior penitential efforts.)

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