Monday, March 3, 2008

Meat on Fridays During Lent

Q - Our priest told us that it is not a sin to eat meat on Fridays in Lent. Is fasting and abstinence just a discipline that is highly recommended, similar to the private practice of giving up something, which I know is not required?

A -
Thanks for the question. Is eating meat on Fridays during Lent a sin? Let me tell you that there are two dimensions to this question that we should deal with - the objective and the subjective. I will deal with only the objective part. Because the subjective is for the individual, their confessor and God to deal with, not me. So, what I will deal with is this - is it objectively wrong to eat meat on Fridays during Lent? (For why we abstain from meat - read this.)

Church law says we are to abstain from meat during Fridays of Lent. Previously we were bound to observe this abstinence during every Friday. But, when the new Code of Canon Law was promulgated, it gave the local Episcopal Conferences the option of altering the obligation under the law outside of Lent. The USCCB then decided to allow us to eat meat on Fridays and dispensed all Catholics in the USA from the obligation, but we are still asked to do some penitential act. But, continuing in the same document, the US Bishops say:

Every Catholic Christian understands that the fast and abstinence regulations admit of change, unlike the commandments and precepts of that unchanging divine moral law which the Church must today and always defend as immutable. This said, we emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent.

Notice the exception. We are still obligated to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. But, you might ask, why does the Church have the authority to obligate us to do such things? The simple answer is because Christ gave it to her. "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19 & 18:18). This binding and loosing is an ancient Rabbinical way of establishing the rule of conduct for the community - with authority from God.

So, it isn't that eating a steak is wrong, it is that when we do so (freely, with full knowledge and full consent) we can sin - because we are putting our own authority above the authority of God given to the leaders of the Church, which is the Body of Christ.

An analogy might help. The state of Texas has the power to raise and lower the speed limit. If they decide to lower the speed limit on the highway that I use daily, I am obligated to follow that law. Not because I may or may not think the speed limit is correctly set, but rather because of the authority of the state. If I choose to ignore the law, knowing the consequences of the law, I am ignoring the authority of the state and can justly be penalized according to the law. In the same way, the Church has the authority to choose the rules of penance for the members of the Church.

Now, on a side note, don't use this post as ammunition against your pastor. If you choose to approach him about this, then please make sure that you do so out of humility and prayer - not to prove him wrong. I would suggest asking him something like this - "Fr., I don't quite understand what you mean by saying that eating meat on Fridays isn't a sin, I thought it was still an obligation to follow this Church law. Can you please explain it to me? Thanks."

I hope this helps.


Christine said...

It was explained to me once that we as Christians believe in what Christ revealed to us, and are not obligated to believe anything that happened later (eg Marian apparitions). Since Christ didn't specifically say, "don't eat meat on fridays" how come the humans who are the "authority" over the rest of us can make that rule, and then change it, and then say certain countries only have to follow it during lent? I was taught that if fasting was not reasonable for a person when obligated, you can do something else penitential instead if you choose, but that it isn't a matter of salvation to be picky at dinnertime.

Marcel said...

C - there is a confusion in doctrine and practice here. It isn't that we have to "believe" in fasting, but rather in the Church's authority - which was revealed to us through Christ.

Moses said...

If eating meat isn't a sin can't we at lease agree that it is extremely unethical. See this video:

Jack Attaxi Quaffer said...

I point you in the direction of the following

Marcel said...

Jack - huh?

Moonshadow said...

I don't have a problem with this. The only thing I would share is an experience:

A weekend retreat during Lent with 20's & 30's (back in the day), the indigenous Sisters of Charity served up spaghetti and meatballs Friday night.

The more zealous in our group balked and petitioned our retreat director, a Jesuit from nearby Loyola - where I've made many retreats ... and the Jesuits never served meat on Friday during Lent!

"Eat it. For the sake of Christian hospitality, eat it and thank God for it."

Mary said...

Is it possible to get a dispensation from your priest to allow you to eat meat on a Friday during lent? My son (not Catholic) is getting married and his reception is at a local steakhouse and all that they will be serving is meat. I was told by several people that this could be done and that we would have to give something else up for that day. Is this true?

Marcel said...

Mary - the dispensation would have to come from the Bishop and I doubt he would grant it, because their is no hardship in eating fish.