featured image

Patti Maguire Armstrong considers the benefits of the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays—even when it isn't Lent.

What are you doing this Friday? Not that it’s my business, but I was just wondering about your menu for that day. It seems that Friday penances largely disappeared along with the long lines outside Brown’s Fish and Chips every Friday. That was the fish restaurant in my neighborhood when I was a little girl, just old enough that I remember we could not eat meat on Fridays.

I have just a snippet of a memory of a line that came out of the door and snaked around the building of Brown’s Fish and Chips because it was Friday. Our family never stood in that line because, with six kids and knowing how my mother was, she would have gone with grilled cheese and tomato soup over standing in line for an hour.

And that (the line to get into the restaurant) is probably one of the reasons that our bishops did away with the blanket no meat on Friday penance. There were people going out to dinner, indulging in a fine restaurant meal perhaps complete with a desert and drink, and calling it a penance. There are also people like me who choose fish and chips over a steak every time. It’s my favorite which really complicates a Lenten fish fry for me. I cannot pretend it’s a sacrifice for me.




It used to be that in observance of Friday as a day of abstinence, it was a sin for Catholics to eat meat. In 1966, many national bishops’ conferences — including that of the United States — allowed Catholics to replace “no meat” with another form of penance. They issued a Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence but expressed the hope that “the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.”

The current Code of Canon Law (CIC) states that, with the exception of solemnities, “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.” (CIC 1250) Furthermore, “Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities.” (CIC 1251) Our bishops have declared that it is permissible to substitute some other form of penance, but we are still told to fast from “something” in remembrance of the Lord’s death on the cross.

Turning up the passion for Friday sacrifices accesses the power of God to answer prayers, and to renew our Church and family and world. As the body of Christ, we should be in union with one another and with our Church, striving to make everyone holier.

Abstaining from meat and/or using Friday as a day of fasting in union with the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, brings us into closer union with him as we give up something our flesh desires in exchange for spiritual benefits. Fasting and abstinence from meat are not the same thing, but whether doing one or both, we do have an obligation to sacrifice on Fridays.




St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest Catholic theologians to ever live said that we fast for three reasons.

For we fast for three purposes: (1) to restrain the desires of the flesh; (2) to raise the mind to contemplate sublime things; (3) to make satisfaction for our sins.


And St. Basil the Great said,

Fasting gives birth to prophets and strengthens the powerful; fasting makes lawgivers wise. Fasting is a good safeguard for the soul, a steadfast companion for the body, a weapon for the valiant, and a gymnasium for athletes. Fasting repels temptations, anoints unto piety; it is the comrade of watchfulness and the artificer of chastity. In war it fights bravely, in peace it teaches stillness.




Click to tweet:
The meatless Friday commitment has a way of leading us to set aside every Friday to make an actual physical effort to follow Christ. #catholicmom #catholicmom

Since as a writer, since I have to read my own stuff, this article is a way to give myself that extra push to take Fridays seriously for the well-being of my own soul. I have found that committing to a meatless Friday often takes an extra effort by forcing me to skip some items such as pepperoni pizza at social gatherings and is a shared commitment between my husband and me. I do also try to fast to some extent in some way, and it seems that meatless Friday commitment has a way of leading us to set aside every Friday to make an actual physical effort to follow Christ.


Editor's note: Here at Catholic Mom we offer a family-tested Meatless Friday recipe every week of the year, unless a Solemnity falls on a Friday. 


See our full list of Meatless Friday recipes

Copyright 2022 Patti Maguire Armstrong
Image: Canva