Abstinence and fasting have been traditions in the Catholic church for centuries. They are a form of penance and a show of sacrifice.
One of the most common forms of abstinence is avoiding consumption of flesh meat on certain days.
In most Catholic conferences these days include Fridays, Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. But specific abstinence requirements vary from conference to conference.
What’s common everywhere is the definition of the term ‘flesh meat’. It includes meat from poultry as well as mammals such as pork, beef, and mutton.
It excludes animal products like milk and eggs, as well as fish. So what happens if a Catholic eats meat on Friday? Read on…
What You'll Learn Today
Which Days Do Catholics Abstain from Meat?
In the United States up until 1966, Catholics were required to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year.
In 1983, canon 1253 of the revised Code of Canon Law gave regional conferences authority to establish their own fasting and abstinence requirements.
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops established the following abstinence requirements, which are still in effect today.
- All Fridays during lent are days of abstinence. That means Catholics aged 14 and older should abstain from flesh meat.
- Catholics should also abstain from meat on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.
- Catholics can still observe abstinence on all Fridays of the year if they wish. They can choose whatever form of penance they want to perform. However, meat abstinence on lenten Fridays, Good Friday, and Ash Wednesday are mandatory.
In England and Wales, since 1985, Catholics had the freedom to choose which form of penance they wished to perform. There was no particular requirement for meat abstinence.
That changed in 2011, when Bishops in England and Wales restored the Friday abstinence tradition. Starting on 16 September 2011, Catholics have to avoid eating flesh meat on all Fridays of the year.
Those who do not consume meat as part of their diet (e.g. vegetarians) should give up a particular food that they regularly eat.
Why Does the Catholic Church Forbid Eating Meat on Fridays?
Abstaining from meat is a form of penance and sacrifice. This tradition falls on a Friday to remember the death and crucifixion of Jesus.
But why meat?
Jesus sacrificed his own flesh when he was crucified, so it’s symbolically appropriate to also sacrifice flesh meat in our own diets.
Also, meat is a beloved part of most people’s diet. And since abstinence is about giving up something we love, abstaining from meat makes sense.
What Happens if You Eat Meat on a Friday During Lent?
Many Bishops and Catholic authorities consider it a sin to eat meat on days of abstinence. In the US, that’s Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays during Lent.
If you knew that you shouldn’t eat meat but went ahead and did it anyway, that’s a mortal sin. You’ll need to go to confession.
If you ate meat by accident, perhaps because you forgot what day it was, that’s not a mortal sin since you did not willfully disobey the law. It’s a less serious venial sin or what’s called a sin of neglect. You can confess privately to God for forgiveness.