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But you might be thinking, "Hey, Catholics don't have to abstain from meat on Fridays anymore, right?" Well, here's some food for thought from a CTS Catholic Compass article going back to 2011:
From the dawn of Christianity, Friday was kept as a day of abstinence, in memory of Our Lord’s passion and death on that day of the week. The fasting in Paradise consisted of abstaining from certain food — namely of “the fruit of the tree.” For centuries, most Western Christians, in common with their brethren in the Orthodox East, abstained during Lent – and at other times – not only from meat but from animal products, such as eggs, milk, butter and cheese. Today the practice and idea of fasting and abstinence is largely ignored and the meaning of food restriction is less and less familiar to Christians in the West, though it exists in other religious traditions, and even outside them, for example in some therapies or medical treatments.
Tradition is important and it's what directs us in this practice. Honouring the great sacrifice of our dear Saviour is the reason we abstain from meat on Fridays; it also represents a continuity of Catholic culture that stretches back through the centuries. The questions or debates should end there, really, but they don't. Catholic tradition provides us with a strong historic foundation in this regard, but we also have a compelling modern reason in the Code of Cannon Law:
Canon 1250 All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.
With that said, there's some nuance beyond that in Cannon Law, as well:
Canon 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless (nisi) they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Canon 1252 All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.
Canon 1253 It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.
These parts in Canon law find their origins in the mid 20th Century. On Feb. 17, 1966, Pope Paul VI changed the fasting rules with his apostolic constitution Paenitemini. The document placed the guidelines for Friday fasting under the authority of the national bishops' conferences. For example, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has its own regulations outlined in a document called the "Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence," issued on Nov. 18, 1966. I want to outline one section, of particular importance, that speaks to our topic at hand:
Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.
Catholics in the U.S. are no longer bound, under the pain of sin, to fast on Fridays, the way they used to be, but the bishops didn't take them off the hook entirely. In theory, they could sink their teeth into a perfectly cooked slab of prime rib, but there's the expectation that they'll do some other form of penance. I like the explanation as to why penance is so necessary by the National Catholic Register:
Penance is not man’s idea, but God’s. God says we must do penance. What sort of penance and when is not specified by the divine law, but as human beings, members of a community, and heirs to a tradition, it behooves us to have forms of penitential observance that bind us together, linking us to one another and to our common past.
Considering the "behooving" in the above quote, combined with the earlier reference to Canon 1253, it's clear that some form of Friday penance has always been recommended by the Church. The problem, though, is that when the rules were relaxed people just didn't take an inch, they took a mile (and then some). That's one reason why I think observing the Friday-fast is a great evangelization tool for teaching the faith to both Catholics and non-Catholics - it's just a small way we can remind ourselves and others about Calvary.
For some people, maybe they never grew up with this tradition, or maybe they're just uninformed about its significance. Then again, maybe it's as simple as they just don't like fish. It's not that you have to specifically eat fish on Fridays, but it's a very common form of observance. Unfortunately, seafood gets a bad wrap. It's likely a person had a bad experience with some smelly fish, or a dish that wasn't prepared well, and now they're done.
So, to help get you in the mood for a "Fishy Friday," I found this recipe for a French dish that's sure to please. It's from one of my favourite Youtube channels, The French Cooking Academy:
You can find out more about The French Cooking Academy over on my other blog, Victor's Happy Belly. I hope to run Fishy Fridays as a (somewhat) regular feature, mixing together some cooking with a dash of catechesis. Please forgive any missed posts.