Here at Walking Crossroads, we make it our mission to clear the misconceptions and most-asked questions about Catholicism. One of the questions that keeps coming up is the old Catholic law of abstaining from meat on Fridays. So does this still apply, and if so, what happens if you break it? Let’s discuss this practice in more depth in this article.
Deliberately and knowingly eating meat on days of penance is a mortal sin. In this case, the individual severs his/her relationship with God and is considered no longer in His graces. It may even condemn one to eternal damnation. That said, it can be forgiven through the sacrament of Reconciliation.
Such a sin, however, is not because eating meat is bad. Rather, it’s a sin because it is done in total disobedience and disrespect for God and the Church’s teachings. So why is this so and when exactly are the days of penance? Does this include every Friday? Continue reading to learn all the answers to these questions.
Is It a Sin to Eat Meat on Friday – Catholic?
Eating meat on Fridays is not a sin for Catholics. Good Fridays, however, are a different story. See, long ago, Catholics were indeed prohibited from having meat on Fridays. This can be found in the Code of Canon Law, paragraphs 1249-1250, which states:
“Penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence… The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.”
Then in 1966, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops decided to end the obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays. They announced this in their statement on penance and abstinence, which says: “Changing circumstances, including economic, dietary, and social elements, have made some of our people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance. Meat was once an exceptional form of food; now it is commonplace.
Accordingly, since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we disciple ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential.”
They further pointed out, “Our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except… for Lent.”
The National Conference of Catholic Bishops was able to enforce such a discipline because the Code of Canon Law paragraph 1253 says: “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.”
More importantly, Jesus gave his apostles and their successors the authority and power to “bind and loose” (Matthew 16:19 and Matthew 18:18). In the Catholic Church, we believe that these successors are the Bishops and the Pope. Thus, they have the same authority to create and enforce laws in the Church.
What Happens If I Accidentally Eat Meat on Friday?
Eating meat on Fridays isn’t a sin. However, those who deliberately and knowingly choose to eat meat on Good Friday while being aware that it’s wrong are committing a mortal sin. Take note, however, that the sin isn’t in the eating of meat. Rather, it’s a mortal sin because it’s a direct disobedience to God and the Church.
Abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday is a discipline imposed by the Catholic Church, which entails penance and sacrifice. The Church, which has shown on various occasions, can change it depending on the circumstances and needs of the particular time and place. Sometimes, it would lift the obligation to abstain from meat and require another form of penance. When this happens, there is no sin committed, granted that you perform another act of penance.
That said, what happens if you accidentally eat meat on Good Friday? For example, you’re aware that as a Catholic, you must abstain from meat and fully plan on obeying it. But as you are checking your phone, you realize that you’ve completely missed it. Good Friday was yesterday – the day you decided to drown yourself in cheeseburgers. So is this a sin? Well, yes, but a very small one. Such is a sin of neglect and isn’t as serious as disobeying God and the Church.
Now, for instance, a waiter confused your veggie burger for a good ol’ cheeseburger. Then, you end up having meat even though you knew it was a day of penance and you were determined to abstain from it. Does this mean you’re sinning? Well, no. Since you didn’t intend to eat meat and disobey God and the Church, then it’s not a sin.
Why Should You Avoid Meat on Lent?
If you’re wondering why you shouldn’t eat meat on Lent, particularly on Good Friday, then here’s what the Archdiocese of Saint Paul and Minneapolis said: “Since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for us on Good Friday, we refrain from eating flesh meat in his honor on Fridays. Flesh meat includes the meat of mammals and poultry, and the main foods that come under this heading are beef and pork, chicken and turkey.”
Additionally, meat used to be so expensive and eaten only on special occasions, which is why it’s associated with rejoicing and feasting. It was seen as a luxury, so avoiding it was seen as a big sacrifice. But again, this was before. This does not apply today since meat has become too common. Thus, Catholics are no longer required to avoid it on Fridays, except for Lent. Paragraph 1252 of the Code of Canon Law specifically says, “Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.” This applies to “those who have completed their fourteenth year” (Code of Canon Law 1252).