Did you know that Catholics are still supposed to observe meatless Fridays?
What? Didn’t that practice end in the 1960s? Nope, not exactly. It’s seems the rule change was not issued with clarity. Either that, or people heard what they wanted to hear, and the Church was not able to get the misinformation corrected.
According to Canon Law (#1250-52) Catholics (who are able) are still expected to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays. However, in 1966, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops declared that we could eat meat on Friday if we practiced alternate forms of penance in remembrance of the Crucifixion.
Therein lies the part that people failed to hear or take to heart. In their rush to grill a juicy steak, they forgot to make a donation to charity or volunteer at a soup kitchen that day.
In my opinion, Catholics have lost more than a habit of making tuna salad on Fridays. We have lost our identity.
Those born since 1966 don’t know what it was like for Catholics to be set apart as a group. Some, of course, found it embarrassing and worried about their popularity if they had to turn down spaghetti with meatballs when out with their friends.
For others, though, it was a way to stand out, like being a member of a club or wearing your Scout uniform in public. It was gratifying that restaurants everywhere made sure there was a fish choice or a grilled cheese sandwich on the menu. Many had a “Friday special” to accommodate their Catholic customers.
I remember when my brother traveled with his high school baseball team, the considerate coach made sure there was a meatless choice at whatever restaurant they went to after the game. There was some ribbing by the Protestant team members (who might have ordered a cheeseburger to tempt their Catholic friends), but usually people were respectful.
My husband grew up Baptist in a small, predominantly Catholic, town. He had fish on Fridays at his home too! I don’t know if was a “When in Rome” mentality or a “Taco Tuesday” frame of mind, but he didn’t see Catholic kids as any different from him.
Having a day when you do something uniquely Catholic reminds you of who you are as a Christian and asks you to connect and recommit to your religion. To do this not only on Sunday in church with everybody else, but also on Friday where more often you have to make the decision and follow through on your own, imbeds Catholicism in your bones.
Apparently, Catholic bishops in England and Wales agree that meatless Fridays are important to Catholic life because, in 2011, they reversed their earlier position on alternative penance. As quoted in OSV Newsweekly,
“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. . . . It is important that all the faithful be united in a common celebration of Friday penance.” (Dennis Emmons, “Honoring Christ’s sacrifice with penance every Friday” March 2, 2016 [no link available])
Other Catholic authors are calling for a return to meatless Fridays. Doug Girardot, writing for America (https://www.americamagazine.org/faith/2021/08/23/climate-change-meatless-fridays-catholic-241270), referred to Alessandra Harris (https://alessandraharris.net/) who advocates giving up meat on Fridays as a way to reduce our carbon footprints and thus take action as Catholics to better the environment, even in a very small way. I would like to add that fish is a healthier choice for people too.
Girardot noted that the USCCB statement in 1966 advocated meatless Fridays as a time to reflect on our sins and unite with Christ in making amends for them. He also commented that “It remains true that far too many of us fail to integrate religion into our daily lives, whether out of negligence, embarrassment or fear. Like Peter on the eve of Good Friday, we are more than ready to proclaim that we will give up our lives for Christ. Yet we seem unable to make simple sacrifices in our day-to-day lives to glorify God.”
Personally, I have always continued to observe meatless Fridays. Besides making me feel dedicated to Catholicism, I thought it was good discipline – good to make an extra effort for my Catholic identity, good to make a small sacrifice of attention to my religion, good for my health and a diversified diet.
In my last blog on Catholic items around the home, (https://www.patheos.com/blogs/musingsfromthepew/2021/09/whats-in-your-catholic-home/), I advocated for a Catholic-rich environment to bolster your faith and commitment to the Church. Eating fish on Fridays is another way to say, “I am Catholic and proud of it.”