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Why do Catholics abstain from meat every Friday

[ Why do Catholics abstain from meat every Friday ? ]

BEFORE the Second Vatican Council, Catholics were required to abstain from meat on Fridays in remembrance of the Lord’s passion, and as an act of communal penance. But it is encouraged as a free choice, but NOT MANDATORY UNDER PENALTY of sin :

22 ~ FRIDAY itself remains a SPECIAL DAY of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when THOSE WHO SEEK PERFECTION will be MINDFUL of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in UNION WITH Christ Crucified.

23 ~ 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. Our expectation is based on the following considerations :

a) We shall thus freely and OUT OF LOVE FOR CHRIST CRUCIFIED show our solidarity with the generations of believers to whom this practice frequently became, especially in times of persecution and of great poverty, no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church.

b) We shall thus also REMIND OURSELVES that as Christians, although immersed in the world and sharing its life, we must PRESERVE A SAVING AND NECESSARY DIFFERENCE FROM THE SPIRIT OF THE WORLD. Our deliberate, PERSONAL ABSTINENCE from meat, more especially because no longer required by law, will be an OUTWARD SIGN OF INWARD SPIRITUAL VALUES THAT WE CHERISH.(Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence, 1966)

Catholics tend to give up meat on Fridays in Lent and that's it. We are called to GIVE UP MEAT OR SOMETHING ELSE ON EVERY FRIDAY, not just those during Lent. Here's the relevant part of

CANON LAW : Canon 1249 ~ The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do PENANCE each in his or her OWN WAY. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, 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, according to the norm of the following canons.

Canon 1250 ~ The penitential days and times in the universal Church are EVERY FRIDAY OF THE WHOLE YEAR and the season of Lent.

Canon 1251 ~ Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be OBSERVED ON ALL FRIDAYS, UNLESS A SOLEMNITY SHOULD FALL ON A FRIDAY. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Canon 1252 ~ The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth(14) year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year(60). Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

Canon 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.

But there are a few other reasons for the practice, in addition. A great reason in Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory, in which the priest explains the practice like this : "DISCIPLINE IS NECESSARY. Drills may be no good in battle, but they FORM THE CHARACTER." That's a good way of thinking about it. Saint Paul, in Ephesians 6:12, says :

For OUR STRUGGLE IS NOT AGAINST FLESH AND BLOOD, BUT AGAINST THE AUTHORITIES, AGAINST THE POWERS OF THIS DARK WORLD AND AGAINST THE SPIRITUAL FORCES OF EVIL in the heavenly realms. If we take St. Paul seriously, then one of the jobs of the Church is to PREPARE each of us for SPIRITUAL WARFARE against the forces of Hell, as well as to FEND OFF the SPIRITUAL TEMPTATIONS OF THIS WORLD. The Church can't just send us off to fight with good intentions. SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE IS ABSOLUTELY NECESSARY.

But there is a REASON that it is IMPORTANT we specifically DO No-Meat Fridays, and there's a reason that the EARLY CHURCH Fathers, like Tertullian and Clement, TESTIFY to this PRACTICE FROM THE BEGINNING.

What's given up isn't technically "meat" but the Latin "caro," which MEANS "flesh." This is WHY FISH IS ALLOWED : their meat isn't considered "flesh." So why do we give up flesh on Fridays ? Two reasons :

FIRST REASON, "flesh" is often the term the New Testament writers (particularly St. Paul) use to describe our SINFUL APPETITES. So in Romans 8:13, Paul says, "For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die : but if ye THROUGH THE SPIRIT DO MORTIFY THE DEEDS OF THE BODY, ye shall LIVE." We give up "flesh meat" to SYMBOLIZE PUTTING TO DEATH THE DEEDS OF THE FLESH.

SECOND REASON, Christ Redeemed us by OFFERING UP HIS FLESH FOR OUR SALVATION ON GOOD FRIDAY. Saint Paul explains in Colossians 1:19-23 : For it pleased the Father that in Him should all fullness dwell, and having made peace through the blood of His Cross, by Him to reconcile all things unto Himself - by Him, I say, whether they be things on earth or things in heaven.

And you, who were once alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, even now hath He reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblamable and unreprovable in His sight, if ye continue grounded and settled in the faith, and be not moved away from the hope of the Gospel, which ye have heard and which was preached to every creature under heaven, of which I, Paul, am made a minister.

So Christ, by being put to Death in the Flesh, reconciles us to the Father. So our job is done, right ? Christ bore all the bad stuff, so we're home free ? Not quite. Saint Paul says in the very next breath (Colossians 1:24-25) :

I now rejoice in my sufferings FOR YOU, and FILL UP that which is LACKING of the afflictions of Christ IN MY FLESH, for His body's sake, which is the church, of which I am made a minister according to the dispensation of God, which is given to me for you, to fulfill the Word of God even the mystery which hath been hid from ages and from generations, but now is made manifest to His saints.

Christ being put to Death in the Flesh reconciles us to God the Father, but the Passion doesn't mean that we're going to free-ride. Rather, our job is to take up our cross daily, and follow Christ (Luke 9:23). A Cross is a for killing : Christ is saying that we have to DIE TO OURSELVES every day. So it's fitting that we put away the flesh-meat on Friday, the day of week which forever HONORS CHRIST'S PASSION, TO SIGNIFY BOTH OUR LOVE of the ultimate Sacrifice of the Flesh, and to emulate our Savior by mortifying the flesh FOR THE SAKE OF THE SPIRIT.

Notwithstanding from above,  abstinence from meat on Fridays is still  a FREE CHOICE and since Vatican II, we NO LONGER MUST ABSTAIN FROM MEAT EVERY FRIDAY except during Lent. Therefore, individuals who wish to practice spiritual discipline, doing out of honor or love for Crucified Christ may choose their own way of abstinence.

Below are the advises from our local priest Fr. Michael :
I do not know the official policy of the Bishops' conference in Malaysia, but I believe that it is up to the discretion of individuals--the faithful, knowing his or her own circumstances, can decide what is the best form of abstinence, otherwise, it becomes something legalistic and external -- Mark 2:27 "The sabbath was made for man, not man for the sabbath;..." --abstinence from meat is the norm, but if it is no longer an abstinence / penance for the individual, then other forms of penance need to be considered.

* * Those who are EXCUSED FROM FAST OR ABSTINENCE. Besides those outside the age limits, those of unsound mind, the sick, the frail, pregnant or nursing women according to need for meat or nourishment, manual laborers according to need, guests at a meal who cannot excuse themselves without giving great offense or causing enmity and other situations of moral or physical impossibility to observe the penitential discipline. * *

Compiled by Ben Chang

(Excerpted from : catholicdefense & forumscatholic & catholicorg)

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