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Question: Meatless Fridays 


Full question by anonymous:

Are meatless fridays still enforced all year or is it just during lent?


(This post is more about the practice of Friday abstinence, and whether that is mandatory or not. For a more detailed exploration of why we abstain from meat in the first place, go to this post )

While it’s true that meatless fridays are not obligatory year round, the full answer is a little more nuanced than that.

As it stands right now; Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent are obligatory days of abstinence (not eating meat), with Ash Wednesday and Good Friday also being days of fasting. Eating meat on Fridays in the rest of the year is not forbidden; but before you order that porterhouse let me continue.

Here are the two relevant paragraphs from the 1983 code of cannon law:

  1. Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
  2. Can. 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Can.1250 clearly lays out that every Friday is “a day of penance” for the whole church, but Can.1253 says that each episcopal conference can determine what the details will be and what can be substituted for fasting and abstinence.

The USCCB wrote a letter in 1966 (17 years before this cannon came into effect, but since it follows what would later become Can.1253 it was said to be within the letter and spirit of the law) called Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, in that letter it lays out some very good reasons, and in beautiful language, why we should abstain from meat on Fridays (paragraphs 18-28). It also contains this paragraph, that answers the question from the top of this post:

 Paragraph 24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.We do so in 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. 


So you see that the act of abstaining from meat wasn’t abolished, it was changed from mandatory to voluntary. The USCCB had hoped that faithful Catholics would continue the practice out of love for Christ and not just obedience to the Church.

Is that what happened? From my experience I’d say no, most Catholics are completely unaware that they are required to observe Fridays as a day of penance. (In the letter the Bishops also stated that you may substitute some other form of penance for meat, so to perform a corporal or spiritual work of mercy, or fast some other food item would be a valid form of penance)

So to make a long story short; yes you can eat meat…. But should you? Only your conscience can answer that.


{The relevant episcopal conference for me, as an American, is the United States Confernece of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), if you are not an American I’d check what the rules are with your national episcopal conference}
(To ask a question, go to This page  )

2 comments on “Question: Meatless Fridays 

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