Can you eat meat today in the Catholic Church?

Quick Answer

In the Catholic Church, Fridays are traditionally days of abstinence from meat. However, the rules around abstinence have changed over time. Here’s a quick overview:

  • Catholics ages 14 and up are required to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent. This is a requirement.
  • Outside of Lent, in the United States, Catholics can choose to abstain from meat on Fridays or perform some other penance instead. This is optional, not required.
  • Some dioceses and parishes may have more specific rules, so it’s best to check with your local church.
  • There are exceptions for solemnities like St. Joseph’s Day that fall on a Friday – meat can be eaten on those days.
  • The purpose of Friday abstinence is penance and self-denial, which helps Catholics unite with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

So in summary – today, Saturday November 4, 2023, meat can be eaten since it’s not a Friday or during Lent. But Catholics should check if any special feast days create an exception on future Fridays.

History of Friday Abstinence

Abstaining from meat on Fridays is a tradition that dates back centuries in the Catholic Church. Here is a brief history:

  • In the Early Church, fasting was required on Wednesdays and Fridays. This included abstaining from meat, fish, eggs, dairy, oil, and wine.
  • In the 3rd century, the Didache outlined that Christians should not fast on Fridays if it coincided with a feast day.
  • In the 6th century, Pope Saint Gregory I emphasized fasting on Fridays and Lenten season to honor Christ’s crucifixion on Friday.
  • In 1966, Pope Paul VI’s apostolic constitution Paenitemini changed the strict prohibition to abstinence from meat only on Fridays for Catholics 14 and over. This opened up Fridays for other forms of penance.
  • In 1983, the new Code of Canon Law continued the practice of meat abstinence on Lenten Fridays and Ash Wednesday for ages 14 and up.

So while the specific rules have evolved, the tradition of Friday penance, including meat abstinence, remains an important weekly devotion for Catholics today.

Current Rules on Friday Abstinence

The current canonical laws on Friday abstinence for Catholics are:

  • Catholics ages 14 and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent. This includes beef, pork, chicken, etc.
  • In the United States, Catholics can choose to abstain from meat on Fridays outside of Lent, or perform another penitential act instead.
  • To deliberately consume meat on a required abstinence day is considered a mortal sin.
  • There are exceptions for required abstinence if a solemnity like St. Joseph’s Day falls on a Friday.
  • Fasting, limiting food to one full meal and two smaller meals, is required on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

So the Church provides some flexibility for Catholics to choose their own Fridays penance outside of Lent, but Ash Wednesday and Lenten Fridays are still obligatory days of abstinence. Catholics should check if their diocese or parish has any specific rules.

Purpose and Benefits of Friday Abstinence

Abstaining from meat on Fridays has several spiritual purposes and benefits:

  • It is penitential. By sacrificing a basic pleasure, Catholics unite with Christ’s crucifixion on the cross.
  • It reminds Catholics weekly of Christ’s passion and death every Friday, the day he was crucified.
  • It is a form of self-denial that brings Catholics closer to God.
  • Meatless meals recall the simplicity of Eden before the Fall.
  • Abstinence helps Catholics develop the virtues of humility, restraint, and self-discipline.
  • Eating simply on Fridays fosters solidarity with the poor and hungry.
  • Avoiding meat reduces appetite and frees up resources for almsgiving.

In past centuries, abstinence was also seen as a way to guarantee jobs for fishermen who provided fish on Fridays. So Friday abstinence serves both spiritual and practical goals for Catholics.

Exceptions to Friday Abstinence

While Fridays are usually days of abstinence, there are a few exceptions when Catholics can eat meat on a Friday:

  • If a Friday is a solemnity like St. Joseph’s Day, Our Lady of Guadalupe, or other major feast days. These “outrank” the normal Friday abstinence.
  • If a parish has a special celebration like a parish dinner with permission of the pastor.
  • On Fridays outside of Lent, if someone simply opts to perform another act of penance.
  • For required fast and abstinence days, exceptions exist for illness, pregnancy, old age, strenuous jobs, and other circumstances that excuse the obligation.
  • Some Eastern Rite Catholic churches have different rules on fasting and abstinence that may affect Fridays.
  • If bishops’ conferences establish different norms, like allowing meat on St. Patrick’s Day for some dioceses.
  • For those traveling or visiting where it’s difficult to avoid meat or find fish entrées.

So there are situations where meat on a Friday is permitted, either due to a special occasion or an individual’s exempt circumstances. But the normal requirement is to avoid meat on Fridays as a penitential practice.

Practicing Abstinence on Fridays

Here are some tips for practicing abstinence on Fridays today:

  • If dining out, check restaurant menus ahead of time for meatless options.
  • Try new recipes at home with vegetables, beans and legumes, grains, eggs, seafood, dairy, etc.
  • Go meatless for the whole day, not just the main meal. Avoid meat soups, broths, juices, etc.
  • Look for creative, gourmet vegetarian recipes to avoid feeling deprived.
  • If invited to dinner by friends, explain politely that you don’t eat meat on Fridays for spiritual reasons.
  • For parish dinners, advocate for meatless options to accommodate Friday abstinence.
  • Don’t eat fake meat products; focus on natural vegetarian ingredients.
  • Make it a family affair so everyone can share in the sacrifice.
  • Offer up deprived cravings as a prayer sacrifice.

With some foresight and creativity, Catholics today can honor the tradition of Friday abstinence while still enjoying delicious meatless meals.

Alternatives to Friday Abstinence

For Catholics in the U.S. who choose not to abstain from meat outside of Lent, here are some suggested alternatives for Fridays:

  • Abstain from treats like candy, desserts, soft drinks, alcohol, etc.
  • Fast from entertainment like TV shows, movies, video games.
  • Volunteer time to help the poor, sick, or needy.
  • Donate money to a charity or parish in greater amounts.
  • Make family meals simpler and donate the savings.
  • Spend extra time in prayer, Bible reading, or devotions.
  • Perform an intense spiritual exercise like the Stations of the Cross.
  • Do physical penances like kneeling on rice, sleeping on the floor.
  • Avoid eating out and donate the money saved to the church.

Any sacrifice or good work can qualify as a Friday penance. It could also be something deeply personal offered up by an individual. But it should be a purposeful act, not just giving up something casually.

Q&A on Friday Abstinence

Here are answers to some common questions about Friday abstinence for Catholics:

Is it a mortal sin to accidentally eat meat on a Friday?

No, as long as it was truly an accident or oversight, it is not a mortal sin. Purposefully and knowingly eating meat on a required abstinence day is what breaks canonical law.

What if I have a taste of chicken broth in a soup without thinking?

Small accidentally ingested amounts do not count as deliberately eating meat. Make your best good-faith effort to abstain.

Can you eat meat products like chicken stock?

It is ideal to avoid meat products entirely, including broths, gravies, juices, etc that may contain meat drippings or flavoring.

Do meat alternatives like tofu or veggie burgers count?

No, meat alternatives do not count as meat and are permitted on abstinence days. However, whole foods are better than highly processed mock meats.

Can Catholics eat fish on Fridays?

Yes, fish and other seafood like shrimp are allowed on Friday as alternatives to meat.

Why is chicken classified as meat but not fish?

Abstinence traditions seem to derive from land animals versus water creatures. Fish lives underwater, so likely wasn’t considered meat.

What if you can only get a meat soup at a restaurant on a Friday?

Order the soup without the meat and explain the reason to your server. Broth and vegetables are permitted.

Can you still do the Lent fish fries on Fridays?

Yes, parish fish fries are a popular option for Lenten Fridays! Fried or baked fish is perfect for abstinence.

So those are some common questions about the details of Friday abstinence. Don’t be scrupulous – just make a reasonable good-faith effort to uphold the tradition.


Friday abstinence from meat is an important tradition in the Catholic Church. While the specific rules have changed over time, abstaining on Lenten Fridays and Ash Wednesday is still mandatory for all able Catholics ages 14 and up. Outside of Lent, U.S. Catholics can choose meatless Fridays or another penance.

The main goal is performing an act of weekly penance to unite with Christ’s suffering and grow closer to God. Meatless Fridays help develop virtues of restraint and solidarity with the poor. There are exceptions on solemnities and other occasions, but Catholics should make a sincere effort to maintain Friday as a penitential day centered around Christ’s passion. With some creativity, abstaining from meat one day a week can be simple and spiritually enriching.

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