Are you not allowed to eat meat on Good Friday?

Whether or not eating meat is allowed on Good Friday is a question that many Catholics and other Christians have every year leading up to Easter. There are varying opinions and practices regarding abstaining from meat on Good Friday, which can create confusion. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll provide a detailed overview of the history, significance, and current rules regarding eating meat on Good Friday to help clear things up.

Quick Answer

For Catholics, abstaining from meat on Good Friday is still considered obligatory. However, the strictness with which this is observed does vary by individual. Other Christian denominations may encourage abstaining from meat on Good Friday, but it is not considered obligatory. The key is to prayerfully consider the meaning behind abstaining from meat in remembrance of Christ’s sacrifice.

Good Friday History

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday, and commemorates the day Jesus Christ was crucified and died on the cross. It is a solemn day of fasting and penance for Christians as they remember Christ’s suffering and death. Here is a brief overview of the history and significance of Good Friday:

  • Good Friday is the Friday of Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter.
  • It is also the last Friday of Lent, the 40-day period of prayer, fasting, and penance leading up to Easter.
  • On Good Friday, Christians remember the events leading up to Christ’s crucifixion described in the Bible. These include his arrest after the Last Supper, trial, suffering, crucifixion, and death on the cross.
  • Good Friday is called “good” because even through the sorrow and sadness, Christians believe Christ’s death was ultimately good – it brought salvation and eternal life.
  • Good Friday has been observed since the early days of Christianity, before Easter was formally established in 325 AD at the First Council of Nicaea.
  • In the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a day of fasting, abstinence from meat, prayer, repentance, and reflection on Christ’s sacrifice.
  • Many Protestant Christian denominations also observe Good Friday with church services, prayers, fasting, and focus on Christ’s passion and death.

Given the solemnity and significance of Christ’s death on Good Friday, abstaining from meat came to be a traditional way for believers to observe the day with mourning and penance. Let’s take a closer look at the meaning behind this practice.

Significance of Abstaining from Meat on Good Friday

Here are some of the key reasons and symbolism behind abstaining from meat on Good Friday for Catholics and other Christians:

  • Sacrifice and Denial – By giving up meat for a day, Christians sacrifice and deny themselves as an act of devotion just as Christ sacrificed himself on the cross.
  • Repentance – It serves as an expression of repentance and humility before God for sins and transgressions.
  • Solidarity with Christ – Christians unite themselves with Christ’s suffering and death through their own self-denial and fasting.
  • Spiritual Benefits – Abstaining from meat frees up time and resources for prayer, spiritual reflection, and works of charity.
  • Preparation for Easter – By first experiencing sacrifice, the joy of the Easter resurrection is greater.

Additionally, some suggest abstaining from meat on Fridays in general is a way for Catholics to honor Christ’s death every Friday of the year rather than just on Good Friday. Meat was considered a luxury indulgence, so denying it is a small sacrifice.

Current Rules on Abstaining from Meat

The obligation to abstain from meat on religious days like Good Friday and Fridays in Lent is outlined in Canon Law for Catholics. Here are the current specific rules according to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB):

  • Catholics ages 14 and up should abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all the Fridays of Lent.
  • On these days, red meat, poultry, and seafood are not permitted. Dairy products and eggs are allowed.
  • Purposeful violations must be confessed and carry penalties determined by the Church.
  • Those with health conditions or other reasonable circumstances are exempt.
  • Catholics 18-59 should also fast, limiting themselves to one full meal and two smaller meals on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

However, a few key exceptions and changes have occurred in recent decades:

  • The strict prohibition on meat was lifted for most Fridays outside of Lent by Pope Paul VI in 1966, but Good Friday remained obligatory.
  • Some Catholic dioceses now allow Catholics to substitute special acts of charity, piety, or prayer in place of fasting from meat on Fridays.
  • The overall obligation is still in Canon Law, but may not be strongly reinforced by all churches and leaders universally.

For non-Catholic Christians, abstaining from meat on Good Friday may be encouraged, but is not considered a strict obligation. Some Protestant denominations promote fasting, prayer, repentance, and moderation on Good Friday instead of enforced abstinence laws.

Does It Matter Today? Differing Perspectives

Given the variations in observance, does abstaining from meat on Good Friday still matter for modern Christians? There are differing perspectives:

It is still meaningful to many

  • It serves as an important sacrifice and reminder of Christ’s passion.
  • The Lenten abstinence disciplines spiritual growth, self-control and devotion.
  • It is an act of unity with Catholic/Christian teaching and tradition.
  • Christ’s redemptive sacrifice on Good Friday is no less significant today.

It does not need to be followed strictly

  • The true purpose is sincere repentance, not legalistic rule-following.
  • Personal prayer and reflection may be more meaningful than forced abstinence.
  • It could be considered more of a suggestion now rather than a requirement.
  • Following the general spirit may matter more than the letter of the law.

There are good arguments on both sides. Each person can prayerfully consider with their church leaders what is most appropriate for their spiritual path.

Pastoral Recommendations for Observing Good Friday

Catholic leaders today tend to take a more pastoral approach, allowing some flexibility depending on a person’s circumstances. Here are some typical recommendations from Catholic priests and leaders:

  • If possible, attending a Good Friday service to meditate on Christ’s passion.
  • Fasting, praying, and reflecting more deeply on the meaning of Christ’s sacrifice.
  • Limiting meals and snacking to be mindful of Christ’s suffering.
  • Making a small sacrifice by abstaining from a food or activity, which need not be meat.
  • Performing acts of charity and service to commemorate Christ’s love.
  • Reading the Bible passages about the crucifixion and death of Jesus.
  • If in good health, still striving to avoid meat as a form of sacrifice and penance.
  • Speaking to your priest if you require an exemption for health reasons.

The USCCB also clarifies that on more solemn Holy Days like Good Friday, “the obligation to abstain from unnecessary work and to abstain from meat are especially urged.” So while not enforced harshly today, avoiding meat on Good Friday is still the ideal practice for Catholics if possible.

Options Beyond Fasting from Meat

Here are suggested meaningful alternatives to consider in lieu of abstaining from meat:

  • Fast from a favorite meal or treat – Give up chocolate, desserts, coffee, or other go-to indulgences.
  • Eat simple, small meals – Have plain bread, rice, or soup instead of lavish meals.
  • Donate saved money to charity – Contribute what you would have spent on meat to your church or a good cause.
  • Increase prayer time – Spend extra time reading spiritual reflections and praying.
  • Perform an act of service – Do charitable works and reach out to those in need in your community.

You can get creative and tailor your sacrifice while still honoring the purpose behind abstaining from meat. If substituting an alternative, be mindful that it is still experienced as a sacrifice, not just as convenience.

Should Children / Elderly Abstain from Meat?

Here are some additional considerations regarding children and the elderly abstaining from meat on Good Friday:

  • Children under 14 are not required to abstain in Canon Law, but parents can encourage age-appropriate fasting.
  • Avoid imposing excessive sacrifice on small children; promote prayer and reflection more.
  • Older youth can be encouraged to fast in solidarity with those less fortunate.
  • The elderly, sick, pregnant, or weak may be fully dispensed by their priest.
  • Those with medical needs requiring meat should not feel guilty.
  • Drinking milk, eating eggs and cheese is permitted for sufficient nutrition.
  • Consider preparing fish or vegetable dishes to still observe a form of abstinence.

The responsibility ultimately falls on each individual. Youth and elderly can observe Good Friday devotion in meaningful but moderate ways tailored to their health and situation.


In the end, the full meaning and benefit from abstaining from meat on Good Friday is found by moving beyond rules to reflection on Christ’s sacrifice. Making small sacrifices and denying comforts in mindful remembrance of Christ’s passion can enrich Good Friday observance for Christians today, whether through fasting from meat or other acts of devotion. However, compulsory abstinence laws should not overshadow the truly significant spiritual purpose.

With prayerful discernment, we all can find meaningful ways to observe this solemn, holy day of penance that align with our health needs and personal spiritual paths. For Catholics especially, speaking to your local priest for guidance on how to adapt fasting practices can help ensure you still honor both the spirit and legal letter of Good Friday in today’s modern context.

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