Stale Cheese on Fridays!

Gossip has it that Cardinal Dolan is thinking of bringing back a more specific rule for Catholics: abstinence from meat on Fridays. The usual grumble about this is that it is not a penance to eat fish. Seafood is not only delicious, it’s can also be more of a luxury than meat. Where’s the penance in dining out at some high class seafood restaurant instead of the high class chophouse?

The point is well made that the penance is not in eating fish, but in the abstinence from eating meat. I think it’s a fine point. The general idea is still that one is engaged in some sort of penance, and eating lobster somehow doesn’t ring true.

I thought I’d get a petition going to the cardinal to suggest that everyone eat cheese on Fridays, but then what about the cheese connoisseurs? We dined out with friends on Sunday evening and the cheese board offered the most wonderful delicacies. Perhaps the only solution is for the Cardinal to stipulate that it has to be stale cheese.

I’ve develope this little ceremony for the consumption of stale cheese on Fridays: Remember to “Say the black and do the red”.

A Penitential Rite of the Stale Cheese

This rite is authorized for use on Fridays outside of Lent.

The congregation shall gather in the kitchen where a candle shall be lighted. The dog (if there be one) shall get excited at the prospect of food being consumed.

The chief penitent shall approach the refrigerator with head bowed solemnly. He (or she if it is female) shall open the door.

V: O Lord open thou my lips

R: And my mouth shall consume thy cheese.

The penitent shall search the back of the refrigerator for a morsel of cheese which has been placed there six weeks ago. The cheese shall be placed on the kitchen counter with the fuzzy moldy bits exposed for veneration. The dog (if there be one) shall be sent empty away.

A first reading may be read from the Old Testament. I Kings 22. The story of Elijah being fed by ravens.

Reader: Quoth the Raven

Response: Nevermore

 A second reading is taken from the writings of St.Elizabeth of Hungry. 

Reader: And all God’s people said:

Response: We’re hungry.

The penitent takes the scraping knife and removes the blue fuzzy mold from the morsel of cheese. This is put to one side to be disposed of in a seemly manner. The congregation bow their heads in prayer.

Prayer: O Lord, take thy sharp knife of discipline and scrape from us all the mold of sin. Leave not one fuzzy blue bit remaining so that our cheeses may be pure again. AMEN

The blue fuzzy mold is then put into the garbage disposal unit (or if there be not one it shall be disposed of in a handy ziplock bag)

Prayer: O Lord, may the blue fuzzy mold of my sin be disposed of in your eternal garbage disposal. AMEN

The penitents may then consume a morsel of stale cheese. For those who are sick or infirm it may be consumed on an old Ritz cracker. This is done in silence.

All shall then recite the Cheeses Prayer.

Let us pray to Almighty Gouda:

Our Feta, who art in Emmenthal, Quesadilla Brie Thy Name…

After cleansing the cheese dish all may wish to retire to the den to relax and enjoy an episode of the vintage television show The Munsters.



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  • Ryan Kraeger

    Ha Ha Ha! Sounds like my normal end of the week fare. Maybe I should be more ceremonial about it and call it a penitential rite!

  • Chris J


  • Diane

    I have going meatless on Fridays for several years now and I Find the real penance is trying to figure out what to have for dinner. Once I got some of those battered fish fillets. Once. That should have sprung whole battalions of souls from purgatory.

  • Christine Ereiser, OSB

    Love it!

  • Liz

    We’ve done the Friday abstinence thing (even outside of Lent) for years now. While we occasionally feast on scampi (not really all that expensive when you use only one pound of frozen shrimp for the whole family), or broiled salmon, our usual routine consists of macaroni and cheese, tuna noodle casserole, creamed eggs on corn bread, or something vegetarian (last Friday it was Fiesta casserole with black beans being substituted for ground beef). Since we raise some of our own meat, and this past year had venison in the freezer, it’s generally more expensive to eat meatless anyway, no matter whether it’s fish or seafood or not. All you can eat Friday fish fries are not exactly in the spirit of the thing, but I’m sort of glad we don’t have to go with just dried out or moldy cheese.

  • Andrew

    In all seriousness, I came to that realization some time ago (at the same time as my decision to begin abstaining from meat on Fridays). Being as delicious as it is, seafood is not a penance for me, so I do not eat it on Fridays either.

  • GeekLady

    Submitted without comment, the Mouldy Cheese Madrigal:

  • Todd G

    I’ve always held the opinion that the importance of abstinence from meat on Friday is not so much related as to how much of a penance it seems to one person or another to go meatless, as it is due to the fact that we are doing penance in common. This penance is a source of unity and identity. Consider how many Catholics who never attend a daily mass (or may not even attend Mass regularly on Sunday) will go to mass on Ash Wednesday. Why? Because walking around with ashes on our foreheads reinforces our identities as Catholics. So, too, does abstinence from meat on Friday. It is like the Jews eating Kosher. As the dietary laws set the Chosen People apart from the rest of the world, so too does abstinence from meat on Friday set Catholics apart. The burden of remembering to go without meat also (hopefully) serves to remind us to recall Christ’s passion.

  • ann kraeger

    Father, I truly like this. The only problem in this joint is being able to keep cheese long enough for some kind of sign of age being evident. With six children all being offspring of a dairy farmer, cheese is a disappearing commodity.

  • sirlouis

    Great post, Father.
    Now in fact I was told by a priest long time ago — I think in all seriousness — that Roquefort was first eaten, dutifully, by monks who ate the rot as a matter of penance. Their views changed after a bit. They concluded that Roquefort has the odor of sanctity and is helpful unto salvation.
    My kids hate Roquefort. So I ask them to do penance by buying the Roquefort and giving it to me to eat for the good of their souls.

  • annie


  • Peter Brown

    Blessed are the cheese makers!

  • Elgar

    Most of you guys are wimps when it comes to food sacrifice. I once considered strongly Eastern Orthodoxy until I looked at their dietary restrictions–especially during lent. Not only no meat, but no eggs, no oil, no cheese, basically nothing but legumes, dry lettuce and tofu. Catholics complaining having to give up red meat on Fridays during lent and perhaps having it extended throughout the year need to re-examine the whole notion of fasting and penance.

  • Stephanie Richer

    This is hardly penitential in France . . .

  • Will

    I I think you’re on to something there. I began abstaining earlier this year, and it truly hasn’t been an extreme penance. But it is a traditionally Catholic form of penance, and as Fr. Zuhlsdorf is always banging on about, we should regain and reinforce the sense of our Catholic identity.

  • Nicholas Hinde

    They re-introduced Friday abstinence last year in England and Wales It was emphasised as a community act of witness as much as as a penance. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle – the connection RCs = fish-on-Friday has been lost within and without the church. In some parishes the new rule was not even announced.

  • Nicholas Hinde

    They re-introduced Friday abstinence in England and Wales last year. It was emphasised as much as an act of community identity as a penance. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. The asociation RC=fish-on-Friday is lost within and outside the church. The new rules were not even announced in some parishes.

  • Tracy

    I go back and forth with the meatless-on-Friday thing for year-round. For one thing, how is Lent abstinence something special? Second, this is not a penance for vegans (I’m assuming they’d choose something else, but it’s not exactly communal.)

    However, as far as your cheese liturgy is concerned, I’m with Ann–with six kids who LOVE cheese, old cheese isn’t too available. Maybe we should abstain from cheese on Fridays…

  • Dave Pawlak

    I propose allowing “variety meats” for Fridays. Liver, tripe, chitterlings…I think that would be sufficient penance…

  • Todd G

    I understand what you mean. However, at some period in history, this particular penance got started, and eventually took root. It can happen again. Just because there a bunch of lukewarm souls and, sadly, pastors who will not support it doesn’t mean it should not be done. This is the mistake (if I may be so bold as to call it that) that has been repeated by bishops and pastors multiple times over the last several decades. The bar keeps getting lowered by worrying that too many people will not live up to it. Fewer holy days of obligation, fewer days of abstinence, etc. In how many parishes is it even mentioned that January 22 is a particular day of penance in the United States? The USCCB has declared it so (, and yet even the bishops themselves do not emphasize it. The line of thought seems to be “If we tell them, and they don’t do it, they’ll be sinning. If we don’t tell them, and they don’t do it, they aren’t at fault.” This behavior doesn’t increase the Church, it weakens her.

  • Charlotte

    One day week of mainly simple, plant-based meals would be physically and spiritually healthy.

  • Joanne

    Cheese per lb. is expensive, more than modest grade meat if you do the math. It’s a treat for us. Beans & rice would be a thought.

  • John White

    I grew up with meatless Fridays. For me it was a real penance as I could not then and still cannot stand the taste of fish. I find it revolting. Scrambled eggs on toast was the only tolerable substitiute.

  • flyingvic

    Utterly ridiculous! How is anyone meant to consume a Ritz cracker in silence?

  • Nicki Schehl

    I’ve always maintained that abstaining from meat on Friday is a sacrifice for the cook! You have to plan the week’s meals and children’s lunch menus while working around (meaty) leftovers from Wednesday and Thursday that somehow don’t get eaten on the weekend and have to be thrown out on Monday! At least, I understand chicken broth is not considered “meat” now … that helps a bit.