No Meat on Friday: Why? What is its deeper meaning? – Part 1

Beginning on September 16th 2011, the Bishops of England and Wales are re-introducing the obligatory practice of abstaining from meat on Friday as a weekly ascetical discipline. That date is the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s state visit to the UK. A new CTS booklet will look at the history of abstinence and fasting in more detail; here its author, Sister Mary David Totah OSB, answers a few questions concerning the practice.

Catholic Compass: What is the history of this practice?

From the dawn of Christianity, Friday was kept as a day of abstinence, in memory of Our Lord’s passion and death on that day of the week. The fasting in Paradise consisted of abstaining from certain food — namely of “the fruit of the tree.” For centuries, most Western Christians, in common with their brethren in the Orthodox East, abstained during Lent – and at other times – not only from meat but from animal products, such as eggs, milk, butter and cheese. Today the practice and idea of fasting and abstinence is largely ignored and the meaning of food restriction is less and less familiar to Christians in the West, though it exists in other religious traditions, and even outside them, for example in some therapies or medical treatments.

Catholic Compass: What is its meaning?

Meat is one of our chief sources of protein and therefore to abstain from it is to make us just a fraction weaker for one day, so that we feel ever so slightly less well fed without doing ourselves any harm. Meat, to become food for humans, involves the killing of a living creature. This was permitted to human beings in the Book of Genesis. Nevertheless, on the day when we are remembering the cruel way in which Our Lord was killed, by our abstinence from meat we are saying: Christ died for me, out of love for me and the whole world; today I do not want any blood shed for my mere enjoyment. The poorest in the world cannot afford meat. On this day, when I remember that I owe everything in this world and in the next to Christ and his love, I make this tiny sacrifice in solidarity with them.

Catholic Compass: Why now?

Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the decision was inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain last September and the enthusiasm showed for abstaining from meat during Lent. The papal visit had given Catholics “a fresh expression of self-confidence and identity”. “We observed there was a greater enthusiasm amongst many Catholics to observe the penance in Lent,” he said. Vegetarian Catholics are being encouraged to give up another food on Fridays.

Watch this space for news of Sr Mary David’s booklet!

Of related interest:

SP16 Spiritual Warfare – This booklet enlightens the struggle by searching the wisdom of the scriptures. It gives hope to everyone, because Christ is always by our side to help us in every battle.
D720 Lent and EasterSpanning the seasons of Lent, Easter and to Pentecost, this booklet describes the rich heritage of customs and traditions long practiced by Catholics down the ages, up to today.
lf20-new Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving – The three traditional “weapons of the spirit” used by Christians particularly during Lent.

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4 comments on “No Meat on Friday: Why? What is its deeper meaning? – Part 1

  1. “The poorest people in the world cannot afford meat”

    The poorest in the world certainly cannot afford fish, fresh fruits and vegetables and so on. All of which are likely to be eaten instead of the the meat on Fridays. In fact the porest people in Britain are more likely to be eating meat in the form of cheap meat cuts, spam/luncheon meats and McDonalds 99p burgers.

    Personally I do not eat meat for enjoyment but rather for sustainance. I like good food but this is not really related to the meat content nor is it necessarily related to the cost.

    For real solidarity with the poor then we need to direct more of our energy, time and money toward alleviating their sufferings rather than trying in some way merely to feel their suffering with them.

  2. I love Archbishop Nichols and respect him deeply, but I’m having trouble understanding the reasons for this move. I’m a convert to the Catholic faith so maybe for me, taking on the culture of cradle Catholics is much more difficult than being theologically Catholic. In part 2 of this article, the Sr. writing states that meat is something ‘purely for enjoyment,’ but I spent five years as a vegetarian and had to return to eating meat because my health was suffering. During Lent when I fast and abstain, I find myself unable to go about my work and becoming irritable with people around me because I feel extremely weak. I’m not a big meat eater but I also can’t stand fish and don’t eat any seafood. It’s hard to understand how we’re all doing the same thing when the penance takes on a totally different context for each of us.

    I think I understand that in Britain, one problem we have is that culturally the British are very prone to privatise themselves and their faith as well. If we are Catholics we have to be prepared to wear our hearts on our sleeves. I suppose this move is to push people to make a more public demonstration of their Catholicism. I have found some different ways of doing this, but one simple way I find is always to pray before meals in public as well as at home. At first, my husband and I (both converts) found this awkward, but as we persevered we found praying together quietly and then crossing ourselves in the busy and worldly atmosphere of a restaurant to be a really powerful thing to do, not just for others but especially for us.

  3. As catechesis in schools and RCIA is so poor, and liturgical abuses abound, it could have suggested something that would put its own house in order first, and so led by example, for a change.

    Instead, all this does is increases the ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality many Catholics still have: of ‘them’ lording it over ‘us’, and in such a badly catechised nation, it can only do damage.

    Because the Bishops’ Conference is made up of progressives, and has been teaching Modernism tacitly, yet consistently, for decades, the New Translation and Friday abstinence are seen as ‘moving backward’ by most of the people in the pew, just like they were ‘instructed’ that the priest ‘had his back to them’ during Mass, ‘in the old days’.

    I’d say this ‘change’ is purely a fawning political move by the Bishops, or Nichols himself to hasten the arrival of his Red Hat, rather than anything with our good in mind, considering the lack of concern and disdain they show towards matters far more important in the spiritual order of things.

    In essence, Vatican II has been consistently undermined by our Bishops’, ‘Spirit of Vatican II’, where what shouldn’t have changed, did, and what should have changed, didn’t.

    • Mr. Findlayson, what ever validity your arguments may have they are not helped by personal attacks on the Archbishop. Indeed, they undermine your comments by calling into question you Christian values. Lets not forget who we are, Christians, discussing important issues in a Christian way. Vitriol and wrath have no place here. Michael.

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