Why do we do that? Catholic Life Explained

Fish on Friday

Question: Why do Catholics eat fish on Friday?

Answer: For centuries, meatless Fridays were the norm for Catholics throughout the world. Friday was chosen because that was the day on which Jesus died, and Christians wanted to find a way to honor that day with special prayers and acts of penance and self-denial. The practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays — under pain of sin — grew out of that desire, and it became an official part of Church teaching until the time of the Second Vatican Council.

In the 1960s, there was a shift in the Church’s thinking, in large part because there was a recognition that differences in cultures and economic realities meant that eating or not eating meat had different meanings for different peoples. For example, in cultures that were largely dependent on seafood or a vegetarian diet, abstaining from meat was no sacrifice at all. While in other places, eating fish and other kinds of seafood was actually something rare and special and not a sacrifice. This was all part of a basic reflection on “why we do what we do” among the Church’s pastors.

Today, Catholics throughout the world are still instructed to abstain from meat on the Fridays of Lent. The bishops of some countries, such as in England and Wales, ask Catholics to abstain from meat every Friday, continuing the older tradition. The Bishops of the United States have taken a slightly different approach, encouraging Catholics to honor Friday as a special day by abstaining from meat every Friday or by taking on some other work of penance or charity for the sake of others.

Regardless of what we choose to do, the real value in all of this is to see a reflection of Good Friday in each Friday, to remember the self-giving love of Jesus, and to honor that love through some sort of sacrifice or act of mercy.