Friday Fish

It’s a “precept of the church” that Catholics are to abstain from meat on Fridays in remembrance of the crucifixion of Christ; since Vatican 2, Catholics have been told they can substitute another penance, but the stipulation remains, even if most Catholics ignore it except in Lent.

It is also traditional among Catholics to eat fish on Friday–not that one has to, as the precept is negative. One could observe the restriction by eating cheese pizza or Fettuccine Alfredo or pancakes or oatmeal or fruit soup. But Catholic tradition has said, “eat fish” (as if fish weren’t meat–i.e., the flesh of a living creature).

As a result of this tradition, fish fries are a staple of Lenten Fridays, hosted by the Knights of Columbus in many cases; in some parts of the country, restaurants have Friday fish specials. Here’s an article about fish fries in Wisconsin.

Now, if Fridays in Lent are really about abstinence and simplicity, it would seem that this tradition could best be kept by a simple vegetarian meal at home. It would seem that any simple meal at home would be more in keeping with the spirit than any purchased meal at a restaurant or church hall. And yet a Catholic could in good conscience have a lobster meal at an expensive restaurant and be in keeping with the church law while one who had a simple bowl of beef consommé at home would be in violation.

6 thoughts on “Friday Fish

  1. as you know, the substitution allowed in Vat II is an attempt by the Church to keep up with the changing times. Whereas in the ancient and middle ages, abstaining from meat was a stronger sign of asceticism, particularly for the rich and middle classes, nowadays, other things could be more meaningful as a show of self-denial, particularly, since as your example shows, luxurious fish meals are readily available.

    Growing up, we observed all Fridays as meatless, and Wednesdays and Fridays during Lent. Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks were a big part of the adventure. We also did a lot of tuna fish salad and occasionally a cheese pizza. All meals were cooked at home (my mom didn’t do pizza from scratch). Interestingly enough, we never observed Mardi Gras- it wasn’t a big deal on the Eastern Seaboard.

    I can understand some who say that the sharp contrast between the excess of Mardi Gras and the self-denial of Lent helps folks feel the self- denial better but I agree that the excess is an unnecessary part and can be misleading about the meaning of a christian life.

    Do Adventists do the ashes?

  2. I agree with all you say. I have often noted that one can indulge in expensive seafood, which rather defeats the purpose.

    I will only note that parish fish frys, at least at our parish, tend to bring us closer to God. The food is far from great, but the fellowship is. And candidates, altar servers, etc, do service serving

  3. Marianne,

    No, Adventists don’t do the ashes (or pay attention to the season).

    Lutherans do observe Ash Wednesday, but most often do not do anything with ashes. More about that tomorrow. 🙂

  4. From the Breviary:

    To Keep a True Lent

    Is this a Fast, to keep
         The larder lean?
                   And clean,
    From fat of veals and sheep?

    Is it to quit the dish
         Of flesh, yet still
                   To fill
    The platter high with fish?

    Is it to fast an hour,
         Or ragg’d to go,
                   Or show
    A down-cast look and sour?

    No; ’tis a Fast to dole
         Thy sheaf of wheat
                   And meat
    Unto the hungry soul.

    It is to fast from strife
         And old debate,
                   And hate;
    To circumcise thy life.

    To show a heart grief-rent;
         To starve thy sin,
                   Not bin;
    And that’s to keep thy Lent.

                   Robert Herrick

Comments are closed.