Sr. Louise Zdunich

February 20, 2012

QuestionAre we required to abstain from meat on Fridays?

I'm not sure of the latest ruling.


AnswerPresently, all Fridays remain as days of abstinence unless Friday falls on a holy day of obligation, that is, Dec. 25 or Jan. 1. Abstinence rules apply to those older than 14.

In 1966, Pope Paul VI reorganized the Church practice of penance and these became part of canon law in its 1983 revision.

For abstinence from meat, one can now substitute prayer, another act of self-denial, almsgiving or an act of charity. Often these can be more demanding than abstinence, especially since we have an abundance of food that can replace meat.

Good Friday and Ash Wednesday continue to be days of fasting in Canada for those from 18 to 59. Fasting means one full meal a day with some food in the morning and evening. Of course, the degree of fasting would depend on the individual's state of health and other considerations.

As this question comes up often I'd like to reflect a bit on this whole area of penance. Fasting and abstinence are two sides of the same coin of self-discipline whose purpose is to grow closer to Jesus.

Friday fish dinners return.

Experts agree that eating less is good for our physical health. We believe that it is good also for our spiritual health to deprive ourselves of what we like, as well as our all too often excessive consumption. To be hungry puts us in solidarity with those who have no choice but often to go hungry.

Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life." In the Gospels, we see Jesus feasting but also fasting. We feasted during our celebration of the birth of Christ. Now, Lent is the time for fasting and abstinence.


Re-read the Gospels, this time focusing on the suffering Christ was willing to bear from the beginning to the end of his short life as one of us. Christ endured both physical and mental anguish.

Not long after his birth, he fled to Egypt, becoming a refugee, like so many of today's peoples. Before he began his public ministry, he spent 40 days in the desert, a most inhospitable place, in praying and fasting.

His three-year ministry contained its ups and downs but imagine his anguish when those closest to him, his disciples, let him down, especially as he hung on the cross.

The physical torture he was put through in his last days is hard for us to even begin to imagine. If he was willing to bear so much pain for us, can we not try to follow his example. Many obviously do, suffering terribly through cancer or other illnesses with faith in Christ as their support.

Jesus invited us to follow him by carrying our cross (Luke 9.23). Jesus told those who accused him and his followers of not fasting that his disciples would fast once he was gone (Luke 5.33, 35). Matthew says that we are to go hungry and thirsty for the sake of justice (5.6) and that we should pray, fast and give alms without showing off (6.16-17).


In the mid-third century, as life was becoming more affluent and lax, devout and prayerful Christians moved into the desert to live a life of prayer and penance. Known as the desert fathers and mothers, they fashioned churches which still exist within these cavernous mountain-like structures. One can view the dining area in which they ate their communal Sunday meal after an all-night Saturday liturgical celebration.

Throughout the history of Christianity, three elements of prayer, penance and outreach have been essential to our spirituality. In the early Church, some advocated prayer and penance only while believing that outreach to others was not necessary. Quickly, the Church condemned such a concept.


Through Baptism, we become sharers in the priesthood of Christ. By penance, we share with Christ in his work of saving the world as we continue to die with him to sin and selfishness. Each day, we are called to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

From very early times, Friday was chosen as the special day for penance in memory of Jesus' death for us on a Friday. As we carry our cross, each Friday is a promise from God that we will rise again with Christ. Each Sunday is a celebration of Christ's victory, and ours too, over sin and death.

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