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July 15, 2011

No meat?

As a post-Vatican-II Catholic convert who joined the Church about 15 years ago, I have no memory of a time when, as a Catholic, I was expected to abstain from meat on Friday. And I admit that it seems no sacrifice for me to have a meal of coconut shrimp or blackened redfish or broiled scallops. Truth be told, those meals are pricier and considerably more extravagant in my eyes than meat loaf.

But I'm also aware that there is a move among some of the bishops to impose the rule of Friday abstinence from meat once again. My husband even proposed that for us (although I didn't see much sense in the practice, in that seafood is more of a treat than a sacrifice at our house).

But the other day I read this article about the renaissance in the practice of abstaining from meat. The article came from the Catholic Education Center, and I was struck by this quote:
The trend of abolishing distinctive marks of Catholic identity now seems dated. In 1967, when getting rid of compulsory Friday abstinence, the English bishops wrote: "While an alternative dish is often available, it is questioned whether it is advisable in our mixed society for a Catholic to appear singular in this matter. Non-Catholics know and accept that we do not eat meat on Fridays, but often they do not understand why we do not, and in consequence regard us as odd."

By "odd" the bishops of the day meant "different," and by different, they meant not Protestant. In a desire to fit in, to seem less, well, Catholic, the English bishops made themselves, in fact, less Catholic.
As I considered these words, I began to ask myself: what is it that distinguishes my church from others? What makes Christianity different from other faiths? How do we set ourselves apart, or do we work so hard at assimilating that there's nothing unique about us at all? And shouldn't there be?

For me, the value of abstaining from meat on Friday is still undecided. And you may not be Catholic, so it may not be an issue for you at all. But if we profess to be Christian, something about our lives should "tell us apart" from those who are not. As it says in 1 Thessalonians:
But you, brothers and sisters, are not in darkness so that this day should surprise you like a thief. You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be awake and sober.


  1. Man certainly seems to get fixated on things we eat and drink. Some Christians believe that they witness to the world by abstaining from alcoholic beverages and some believe they should not eat meat at all (7th Day Adventists). I guess I am with Jesus on this - it is not what goes into our mouth (food or drink) but what comes out of it (our speech) that defiles us.

  2. I am now following from Super Stalker Sunday, I hope you will come check me out at

  3. We don't abstain from meat except during Lent, and like you I see little value in "sacrificing" meatloaf and eating seafood instead. On the other hand, I think there is value in doing something--I just need to figure out what "something" is.

  4. I came here from Sunday Snippets ...

    My Dutch Reformed friend had me over to her house on a couple of occasions. It's small, modest and has lots of books. I did not see any religious articles hanging on the walls and I wondered how anyone would know a Christian family lived there. But it was the love, the hospitality, the warmth, the welcome.

    Actions speak louder than words and they'll know we are Christians by our love.

    These days, so many people are vegetarian (often on principle) that I don't let my abstaining from meat on Fridays make me self-conscious of my religion in the least.

  5. I have a terrible time remembering to not eat meat (or do something else to replace that) on Fridays. Although I was raised Catholic, it just wasn't part of our landscape by the time I came along in the 60's and 70's.

    Such an odd justification for doing away with it, though--others won't understand it! There is a lot that Catholics do that others don't understand. It doesn't necessarily mean you don't do it.

  6. I think Bob nailed it in the first place--but on the other hand, it is good for us to offer something that *is* a sacrifice regularly. And for us, abstaining from meat is an inconvenience, requiring thought and planning, so I tend to think it has value. However, outside of Lent I am not rabid about it, even though in my family we did grow up that way.

  7. I am Catholic and was raised when the no meat on Fridays during Lent was the tradition. And yes, I thought that seafood was fine with me because I would rather eat that than meat any day of the week. BUT, as my children have pointed out to me, you are supposed to eat something that is a sacrifice and so instead of the seafood that you really rather, you should be eating something like beans, meatless soups, etc. The problem is I like so many foods that it's hard to find anything I call a sacrifice!!
    I am following you from the Sunday blog hop. Please check out my site and I would appreciate a follow back!

  8. Groups maintain cohesion in the present and to the past by maintaining distinctions that may have lost their original relevance.

  9. visiting you via SSSBH!

  10. I don't necessarily think it's all about sacrifice but about obedience. Our family has chosen to not eat meat but that doesn't mean we eat extravagant seafood meals. We eat mac&cheese, lentil casseroles, lentil tacos, fish sticks, southwest pasta, etc etc etc.... occasionally we will have shrimp but it is certainly not the norm.
    This past Friday we wanted to take my dd out to celebrate after her opening night of a show - we went to Nothing But Noodles - none of us added meat or shrimp to our pasta dish

  11. I grew up when it was a mortal sin to deliberately eat meat on Fridays. The Church has actually not changed the meatless Friday requirements, but I think it is no longer a mortal sin to do it. Pope Paul VI is the one who said that Catholics *must* substitute some other penance or good work on Fridays if one is not going to abstain.

    Renee is right about obedience, but I also believe it is sacrifice in union with Christ's death on the cross that is behind meatless Fridays. My husband and I still keep the meatless Fridays and we don't use them as an excuse to have other extravagant food. It takes planning and effort to do this, which is part of the sacrifice picture.

    Christian was right when he commented: "Groups maintain cohesion in the present and to the past by maintaining distinctions that may have lost their original relevance." Today, more than ever, we need to reclaim our Catholic identity and understand why we do what we do.

  12. Great post!I think that if a faith differs from others than those differences would manifest in ways other than man made rules. I am not catholic but I strive to live a "Godly" life.

  13. I'm a cradle Catholic and have always viewed abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent as a powerful devotion of Catholics ~ we are ALL dying to the flesh and standing united in Christ. We are ALL do this sacrifice for the love of Jesus. I think it's beautiful! A whole community of believers standing united in tradition.

  14. As a born again Christian I had no idea Catholics didn't eat meat on Fridays until a dinner with our nephew by marriage's parents and they were Catholic. I thought they were on a diet. Nothing was explained and the father proceeded to get drunk. Now my sister in law and niece are Catholic but my sister in law treats my brother in law like crap and won't even take care of him while he is sick and my niece is shacked up so honestly abstaining from meat on Friday's is lost on me. I personally don't recognize the Catholic faith (in general)as true Christians because it just seems like a bunch of man made rules and traditions to me.

  15. Although the Catholic church has not had the rule of no meat on Friday for many years I think the idea that fish on Friday is something that lots of people practice. Personally I love fish and could eat it every day. It would be no sacrifice for me to give up meat on Fridays.
    Interesting post. Thank you for sharing.


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