(WSJ House of Worship) Francis Rocca–The Return of Meatless Friday

Every year during the 40 days of Lent, millions of Catholics honor Jesus’s crucifixion by foregoing meat in their Friday meals. But starting this September, if the bishops of England and Wales have their way, Catholics there will abstain from meat every Friday, year-round. This change marks the revival of a practice that the church abandoned a half-century ago””and it’s the latest of several in recent years.

Catholic tradition calls for acts of penance every Friday, the day of Jesus’s death, but observance of that tradition has changed dramatically since the modernizing reforms that followed the Second Vatican Council (1962-65). Bishops in most countries eliminated abstinence from meat or limited it to Lent alone, and each Catholic became free to choose his own form of Friday penance: skipping television, perhaps, or taking the stairs instead of the elevator. This effectively meant the disappearance of Friday penance altogether. In my 11 years of Catholic schooling, I don’t recall hearing it mentioned once.

That’s why the announcement by the bishops of England and Wales is so significant….

Read it all.


Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, * Religion News & Commentary, Dieting/Food/Nutrition, England / UK, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

29 comments on “(WSJ House of Worship) Francis Rocca–The Return of Meatless Friday

  1. Sick & Tired of Nuance says:

    Grace that must be earned isn’t grace. Either Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was sufficient or it was not. Penance does what compared to the Son of the Living God sacrificing Himself for all my sins and the sins of the world? How little do people think this sacrifice is worth if it can be added to by abstaining from eating meat on Fridays!

  2. Katherine says:

    #1, I didn’t see anything in the article to suggest that Catholics think they are “earning grace” by abstaining from meat on Fridays. What’s wrong with symbolic actions, involving not only the mind but the body, to remember the reality of the sacrifice which Christ made on the cross?

  3. deaconjohn25 says:

    Three Cheers for the corageous English and Welsh bishops (What happened to the Scotch?)
    I’m barely old enough to remember a certain unappreciated esprit de corps that came from such a communal religious practice as not eating meat on Fridays.
    Unfortunately #1 is apparently locked up in some of the rigidly narrow understandings of Scripture evangelicals have that shut people off from some of the great spiritual depths and experiences the Holy Spirit has breathed into Scripture to bring light and joy to our lives.
    He should read: St. Paul Col. 1:24. “Now I REJOICE in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the Church” And what is lacking is uniting our suffering to Jesus’ Passion. This grace transforms us into Christ and then flows through us. Thus doing penance, voluntarily suffering–including fasting or abstaining from meats, etc.– has, since the very earliest Christian days, been part of Christianity.
    #1 should Google “St. Paul–Suffering for Christ” and there he will find much longer and deeper explanations than I can give in a combox.

  4. Cennydd13 says:

    Meaningless to someone who wasn’t raised Catholic.

  5. deaconjohn25 says:

    #4 That is why there are such things as Bible study, religion courses, and sermons–so people can learn the meaning, then live and experience it. Many have done so and Rejoiced with St. Paul to the point of ecstasy beyond human understanding.
    One of the problems with today is that people are so academic oriented that they do not realize that Christianity is not merely Religion 101, but far more is a way of life that can only be understood and ” known ” in its beauty and wisdom by at least attempting to live it to the utmost without reservation.

  6. libraryjim says:

    Deaconjohn25 wrote: [i]Three Cheers for the corageous English and Welsh bishops (What happened to the Scotch?)[/i]

    The English and Welsh bishops probably drank the Scotch. The SCOTS, however, probably sold it to them at a good profit.

    Beannacht De leat!
    Jim Elliott <><

  7. Sick & Tired of Nuance says:

    Paul’s suffering for Christ was real suffering caused by events during his evangelism…not self imposed artificial suffering. He was shipwrecked, beaten with iron rods, stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, and eventually executed…all during his evangelism. He went hungry and thirsty…not by some act of religious obligation, but because he was carrying the good news to people that had not heard it and that desperately needed it. Eating this food or that food or abstaining from eating this food or that food is all about the body, not about the Kingdom of Heaven.

    For those lecturing me to attend a bible study…look to yourselves!

    It is written:

    If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. ~ Col. 2:20-23

    In point of fact, you should do a study of the entire chapter and then get back to me about oh how holy it is to follow such and such a tradition and how ignorant those evangelicals are. You have lots of religion…the “appearance of wisdom”…but do you really know the Scriptures? Do you really know the words of God…do you follow in the thoughts of God and adhere to Scripture’s teachings…or do you follow after the traditions of men?

    Feeling pretty smug and superior up in the tower casting stones down on those poor benighted evangelicals? A little pride there? Show me where it is written in Scripture and I will follow the words, the very words of my Lord. Other than that, what do you have to add to God’s Holy Word? What tradition do you offer that is an “improvement” on what God has given us through his Holy Word? What can you add to the all sufficient sacrifice of Christ Jesus…the once and for all sacrifice? Jesus is our righteousness. Jesus is our justification. Jesus is our sanctification. We are washed by the Word of God…not traditions of men.

  8. Teatime2 says:

    Even when I was Catholic, I felt a bit guilty on “meatless Fridays.” I actually looked forward to them — we were assured of seafood, baked mac and cheese, tuna casserole and other foods I love but don’t have often enough. This provided a good excuse.

    I know — not the spirit in which it’s meant but that’s kind of the intrinsic problem. Giving up meat on Fridays isn’t a sacrifice for many. People should adopt their own, more meaningful ways of reflecting on Christ’s sacrifice for us. And why restrict it to Fridays? That one Good Friday’s effects are every day and eternal — it doesn’t make all Fridays somehow magical.

  9. Ad Orientem says:

    I can not but see this as a hopeful sign. The abandonment of any meaningful fasting discipline in the Western Church has I think in some ways been a symptom of the liberal malaise of the last half century or so.

  10. nwlayman says:

    Could an actual pre-communion fast (that is, longer than 60 minutes before receiving communion) soon return?? It’s as meaningless as anything could be; virtually impossible to “break”.

  11. Katherine says:

    For what it’s worth, my Anglican, most definitely not Anglo-papist, rector observes the Friday fast from meat. As #9 says, the abandonment of meaningful disciplines has been a symptom of decline.

  12. Dan Crawford says:

    Another instruction on spiritual discipline – from the Wall Street Journal no less. Perhaps they ought to focus more on corporate fiscal discipline.

  13. Sick & Tired of Nuance says:

    In response to #2:

    The article specifically used the word “penance”: “Catholic tradition calls for acts of penance every Friday…”.

    Penance is a Catholic sacrament. The Catholic Encyclopeia Online has quit a lot to say about the sacrament.

    “[b]penance[/b] is not a mere human invention devised by the Church to secure power over consciences or to relieve the emotional strain of troubled souls; [b]it is the ordinary means appointed by Christ for the remission of sin.[/b] Man indeed is free to obey or disobey, but once he has sinned, he must seek pardon not on conditions of his own choosing but on those which God has determined, and these for the Christian are embodied in the Sacrament of Penance.” (emphasis added)


    “It is not true that for the Catholic the mere “telling of one’s sins” suffices to obtain their forgiveness. Without sincere sorrow and purpose of amendment, confession avails nothing, the pronouncement of absolution is of no effect, and the guilt of the sinner is greater than before.”

    “The Council of Trent (1551) declares:

    As a means of regaining grace and justice, penance was at all times necessary for those who had defiled their souls with any mortal sin.”

    So, the teaching on penance does imply “earning” (they use the word “regaining”) grace and they do say that they believe it to be a “means appointed by Christ for the remission of sin”. I refute both of these assertions on the basis of Scripture. Grace earned is not grace and man can add nothing to the sacrifice of Christ for the remission of sin. His sacrifice alone, His blood alone, enacts the covenant found in Jerimiah 31:31-34 and Hebrews 8:7-13 & 10:16-18

    The words of God are:

    “17 Then he adds:

    “Their sins and lawless acts
    I will remember no more.”

    18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”

    Do you see any “penance” in that covenant? I do not.

    It is either works or grace. It cannot be both.

  14. Anne Trewitt says:


    What if works flow inevitably from grace? If works don’t follow from grace, something is wrong. In other words, there have developed in the Catholic tradition certain indications (giving alms, fasting in a spirit of connecting ourselves to the suffering of Christ, etc.) that God’s grace is having its way in our lives. True, some Catholics will inevitably regard these indications as a checklist of legalistic brownie points. But the abuse and misunderstanding of the practice doesn’t mean it should be discarded.

    Concerning the word “obligation,” perhaps it should be regarded not as a legal requirement but as a statement of the inevitability of love’s impulse. Analagously to the love a Christian has for God is that of a parent for his children. His love produces a natural obligation to care for his children. Our love for God produces a supernatural obligation to show our gratitude for his economy of grace by doing all we can to be open to it and its fruits.

    Food for thought on the statement, “It is either works or grace. It cannot be both”: Catholicism tends to be “both . . . and . . .” (fully proclaiming that God is both transcendant and immanent thanks to the Incarnation, that Christ is both divine and human, that the Mother of God was a human who gave birth to a divine son, that she is both virgin and mother, that the Church is both the divine Body of Christ and a messy collection of sinners, that original sin both damns humanity and presents the “happy fault” whereby humanity can be raised even higher by God’s grace conferred because of the cross and resurrection to cooperate with the Creator in authentically proclaiming the Gospel, that salvation is both a free gift of grace and that _mirabile dictu_ humanity is called to take part in it, etc.); Protestantism tends to be “either . . . or . . .” and seems not to be comfortable with paradoxes. Isn’t Scripture chock full of paradoxes?

  15. Katherine says:

    #13, I don’t think that Catholics look at penitential practices such as fasting to be the same as the sacrament of penance. And that one, you know, however much it may have been abused from time to time, has Scriptural warrant.

  16. Sick & Tired of Nuance says:

    #14, What some see as “paradox”, others see as willful defiance of clear Scriptural precepts and guidance.

    #15, Perhaps that is a nuance that is lost on me…when one says “penance”, one doesn’t actually mean “penance”. This post-modern shaping of word meanings is often lost on me.

    Back to #14, The same may be said of obligation being something I want to do as opposed to something I have to do. All this time, I thought Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light. I thought that He was our Sabbath rest, wherein we cease to labor to find favor with God. I suppose there are Marthas and there are Marys. I know which one Jesus said was doing the right thing.

  17. deaconjohn25 says:

    Sorry if what I said about the way some evangelicals interpret Scripture sounded like I was calling them ignorant. My argument is with the fact that so many evangelicals do not realize they are following, not Scripture itself, but a particular way of interpreting Scripture that became popular after the Protestant Reformation.
    It also seems to me that some of the passages in Scripture they so much like are so rigidly interpreted that it cuts them off from much of the other deep beauty and wisdom in Scripture.
    Anne Trewitt had it exactly right in #13. To put it in my words, the Catholic Church is virtually paranoid about losing any of the doctrinal and spiritual riches poured into the Bible by the Holy Spirit.
    Consequently, the “both..and” principle tends to be the Catholic Way of interpretation of Scripture, while the Protestant Way seems to be “either..or.” (which means something inevitably gets chopped away).
    And as for living the Faith–During the very earliest years of Christianity Wed. and Fridays were days of fasting. On those days food and water were abstained from until midafternoon. I guess they didn’t understand the religion so many of them died as martyrs for.
    I also apologize for my misuse of the word “Scotch.”

  18. Sick & Tired of Nuance says:

    Pax. This medium of idea exchange leaves out about 80% of communication…all the non-verbal stuff…and it is easy to offend or be offended. The tone in one’s head as one writes is often not the tone that is received by the reader. There is merit in the practice of spiritual disciplines. The thing that I object to is any notion that one might somehow add to the all sufficient and perfect sacrifice of Christ. It’s as if one is saying that it wasn’t good enough. God be with you.

  19. MichaelA says:

    [blockquote] “And as for living the Faith—During the very earliest years of Christianity Wed. and Fridays were days of fasting. On those days food and water were abstained from until midafternoon. I guess they didn’t understand the religion so many of them died as martyrs for.” [/blockquote]
    Deaconjohn, I think we can be quite confident that no-one died a martyr’s death for the sake of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays!

    Many Anglicans used to stick to fish on Fridays. No scriptural warrant for such a church-wide practice (not even a hint) but harmless enough.

    I believe Macdonalds for many years has seen filet-o-fish sales jump every Friday, so the author of the article shouldn’t be so pessimistic about the practice having died out!

  20. Ad Orientem says:

    Re #17
    Most Wednesdays and Fridays are still fast days. No meat fish wine oil or animal products are allowed, including dairy.

    All of these objections are based on a dangerous and heretical doctrine known as sola scriptura, which is odd, given that it is expressly condemned in scripture (2 Peter: 20-21 & 2 Thessalonians 2:15) and for which there cannot be found any basis in the beliefs or practice of the early Church. The idea is a doctrinal novelty. Even many of the early Reformers were uncomfortable with it.

  21. Sick & Tired of Nuance says:

    Au contraire #20, the heretical and dangerous doctrine is that mere mortal men can do what ever they want and ignore the plain reading of Scripture.

  22. CPKS says:

    Sick & Tired: I’m puzzled why you find it necessary to castigate a practice so obviously a part of the life of the early church (e.g. Acts 14:23, 13:2,3). Why do you think Col. 2:20-23 applies – when the very point seems to be about “human precepts and doctrines” – as it was in Col. 2:8? To assume that church ordinances are “human precepts and doctrines” – is this not begging the question? Does Our Lord’s own example (Mt 4:2), and his natural assumption that his followers would likewise fast (e.g. Mt 6:16, 9:15), not serve as ample justification?

  23. MichaelA says:

    Ad Orientem at #20 wrote,
    [blockquote] “All of these objections are based on a dangerous and heretical doctrine known as sola scriptura, which is odd, given that it is expressly condemned in scripture (2 Peter: 20-21 & 2 Thessalonians 2:15)” [/blockquote]
    The last time you and I discussed “Sola Scriptura”, you didn’t know what it was – so I won’t be terribly worried by your private interpretation that it is “heretical”!

    I am also not sure what this has to do with the topic – meatless Fridays aren’t found in scripture, that’s a simple proposition of fact. There is no need to be so defensive about it!

    But let me compliment you on your choice of scripture – 2 Peter 1:20-21 and 2 Thessalonians 2:15 are indeed excellent proofs of the doctrine of Sola Scriptura.
    [blockquote] “…and for which there cannot be found any basis in the beliefs or practice of the early Church.” [/blockquote]
    You seem to be having problems with typos. What you meant to write was ‘Sola Scriptura formed the very foundation of the beliefs and practice of the early Church’!

  24. MichaelA says:

    CPKS wrote,
    [blockquote] “Sick & Tired: I’m puzzled why you find it necessary to castigate a practice so obviously a part of the life of the early church (e.g. Acts 14:23, 13:2,3).” [/blockquote]
    By all means fast – its a worthy practice. Mind you, Jesus said that we should not let others even know we are fasting (Matt 6:16-18), so I am not sure how a church-wide fast on Fridays is supposed to accomplish that!

    I don’t have a problem with someone fasting on a Friday (or a Thursday or a Monday for that matter), but there is no evidence that the Apostles or the Early Church Fathers had a universal practice of fasting on a particular day. Why am I *obliged* to do something that they didn’t see as obligatory?

    The practice of eating no meat on two particular days of the week grew up some hundreds of years after the Apostles and took a long time to become widespread. That’s fine. Tradition can be a good thing, so long as we don’t confuse it with a Divine or Apostolic command. As I wrote above, I don’t have a problem if people want to do it voluntarily. Many Anglicans used to do it, and if it helps us to focus on our devotions then its no bad thing – just make sure it never becomes a substitute for those devotions.

  25. CPKS says:

    [blockquote]Mind you, Jesus said that we should not let others even know we are fasting (Matt 6:16-18), so I am not sure how a church-wide fast on Fridays is supposed to accomplish that![/blockquote]
    I think it is clear from the context that the issue is not so much one of keeping the practice secret, as of not seeking to outdo others. By making the practice equally obligatory on all, rather than leaving it as a private initiative, there is less temptation to imagine oneself superior. Instead of being an individualistic practice, fasting becomes a corporate act of the whole church: it’s not a case of [i]I[/i] fast, but rather [i]we[/i] fast.

  26. MichaelA says:


    Good point. Put that way, it sounds like a useful practice.

  27. Drew Na says:

    Sick & Tired of Nuance,

    Thanks for the careful distinction between types of suffering.

    Anyway, penance is not a Catholic sacrament; but the Sacrament of Penance is a Catholic sacrament.

    Penance is a broader term. Its emphasis in the Latin tradition comes from the way that the Gospels’ injunction to “repent” is translated into Latin: “DO PENANCE!” In Latin, there is no disconnect between an authentic psychological state and the physical actions that flow from that state.

  28. recchip says:

    Before everybody goes off on our Roman brothers, here is a bit from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer (USA) (The same is in the 1662 BCP)

    A TABLE OF FASTS. (e.g. No Food at all, or only a small meatless meal)
    Ash Wednesday Good Friday

    (e.g. NO MEAT)

    I. The Forty Days of Lent.
    II The Ember Days at the Four Seasons, being the W ednesday, Friday. and Saturday after the
    First Sunday in Lent, the Feast of Pentecost, September 14, and December 13.
    [b]II All the Fridays in the Year[/b], except Christmas Day, and The Epiphany, or any Friday which
    may intervene between these Feasts.

    Heck, even the 1979 Book has the following:

    4. Days of Special Devotion

    The following days are observed by special acts of discipline and

    Ash Wednesday and the other weekdays of Lent and of Holy Week,
    except the feast of the Annunciation.

    Good Friday and all other Fridays of the year, in commemoration of the Lord’s crucifixion, except for Fridays in the Christmas and Easter
    seasons, and any Feasts of our Lord which occur on a Friday.

    So, technically, we Anglicans should also be doing the same. I know that it is expected in our parish to do a “meatless lent” (boy did that burger on Easter taste good!! I was sick of TUNA!!)

  29. MichaelA says:

    Recchip, good point. Here is some useful advice from an Apostle:
    [blockquote] “[b]One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind.[/b] Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.

    You, then, why do you judge your brother or sister? Or why do you treat them with contempt? For we will all stand before God’s judgment seat. It is written:

    “‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
    ‘every knee will bow before me;
    every tongue will acknowledge God.’”

    So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.

    Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. [b]I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean.[/b] If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let what you know is good be spoken of as evil. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.” [Romans 14:5-18] [/blockquote]
    [Clarification: The emphasis was put in by me, not by the Apostle Paul or his amanuensis pressing the stylus harder into the wax!]