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It’s Fishy: A Mini-Guide to the Lenten Fasting Rules.


Richard C. Vara

Fed.27, 2024

Every year around this time, Catholics prepare to celebrate one of the most important seasons on the church’s liturgical calendar: Lent. Lent is a time to celebrate/mourn the passion of Jesus Christ. One of the biggest and most confusing acts during Lent is the rules on fasting.

The season of Lent lasts for 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday, ending on Holy Saturday, and giving way to the Easter season. The church prescribes various acts to become closer to God and repent for sins during this time. Acts such as prayers, almsgiving, and self-sacrifices, such as giving up various vices, are all prescribed ways of becoming closer to the Lord.

However, there are other acts that people can do to become closer to God during this time of year such as the Stations of the Cross, praying the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, and fasting. Most of these acts are simple enough to follow. However, millions of Catholics are confused by the fasting rules of the church.

Traditionally, Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays during Lent. This is a good rule to follow; however, it is good to note that the church requires you not to eat meat for two days during the season of Lent. The first day is Ash Wednesday, and the second is Good Friday. The other days should be observed but are not required.

Fish and Sprouts
Photo by: Richard C. Vara

People who practice the Friday fast tend to get confused about the rules on what meat is in the Catholic Church. Most people have the idea that you should not eat red meat on Friday, and this is true; however, people tend to think that you can have white meat such as chicken and pork. This is false in the Catholic Church and has been a misconception among many of its followers. Just to name a few, meats such as beef, chicken, lamb, and pork are considered meat you cannot consume on Fridays during Lent.

I am sure many practicing, non-practicing, and on-and-off-practicing Catholics wonder where this definition of meat and when to eat meat comes from. The Latin word for meat is Caro meaning flesh. The word caro pertained to the meat/flesh of warm-blooded animals such as cows, chickens, ducks, pigs, and lamb to name a few. It did not include fish and other cold-blooded animals such as fish, shrimp, oysters, alligators, or turtles. All forms of protein that are acceptable for consumption during Lent.

So why is it that we do not consume meat on Fridays? To fully understand why Friday is the chosen day of fasting, we must look towards the crucifixion of Christ. According to the “Catholic Source Book”,

“From the first century, the day of the crucifixion has been traditionally observed as a day of abstaining from flesh meat (“black fast”) to honor Christ who sacrificed his flesh on a Friday” (Klein, P., Catholic Source Book).

Christ was crucified on a Friday, hence Good Friday, and why we give up eating meat on Fridays. Christ’s flesh was sacrificed for us, and this is why we sacrifice eating flesh.

Technically this rule was meant to be for every Friday of the calendar according to Cannon Law,

 “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday”

(Can. 1251).

According to an article in the “Catholic Times”, in 1966 the United States Catholic Conference came together and made changes to the fasting rule that amended what Catholics eat every Friday and when,

 “In 1966, the United States Catholic Conference (now the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) ended the obligation to abstain from meat on the Fridays outside of Lent if some other form of penance or work of charity was done; they kept in place the obligation to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent (and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday) under pain of sin”.  

Another big question is when do you start observing the fasting rule? According to Cannon Law individuals aged 14 and up should observe the fast rule,

“The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance” (Can. 1252).

Of course, the church makes an exception to this rule based on individual health.

There are a lot of complexities in dealing with the fasting rules set by the church, but it can be simplified into a few simple rules.

1. No meat other than seafood on Friday during Lent.

2. Definitely, no meat other than seafood on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

3. The fasting rules apply to everyone aged 14 and up.

If you follow these three simple rules you should be off to a good start for your Lenten season. Should you falter a little that is okay, that is why confession is readily available and there is always next year. However, in case you have never noticed this is also why a lot of fast-food chains promote their fish sandwiches this time of year. So, when you are in line at the drive-thru, ordering your fish sandwich with extra fries, remember it’s a small sacrifice compared to the bigger sacrifice that was made for you.


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