Is it okay to eat meat on Saturday Holy Week?

Many Christians observe Holy Week, the week leading up to Easter, as a time of fasting and reflection. Holy Week commemorates the events leading up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Some Christians abstain from eating meat during Holy Week, especially on Good Friday. But what about Holy Saturday, the day between Good Friday and Easter Sunday? Is it okay to eat meat on Holy Saturday?

What is Holy Saturday?

Holy Saturday falls during Holy Week, the last week of Lent leading up to Easter. It comes after Good Friday, when Christians commemorate Jesus’ crucifixion, and before Easter Sunday, when His resurrection is celebrated. Holy Saturday commemorates the day Jesus’ body lay in the tomb after His death. It represents the limbo state between His crucifixion and resurrection.

While less prominent than Good Friday or Easter Sunday, Holy Saturday is still an important day in Holy Week for many Christians. Some see it as a day of deep mourning and grief as Jesus’ followers awaited His resurrection. Others consider it a day of hopeful anticipation and preparation before Easter Sunday.

Common Holy Saturday Traditions

There are a few traditions commonly associated with Holy Saturday:

  • Visiting churches to pray and reflect at the altar of repose, a symbolic tomb holding a crucifix to represent Jesus’ burial
  • Lighting the new Paschal candle which will be used in Easter vigil services
  • Waiting and praying in anticipation of Easter Sunday
  • Decorating churches with white lilies and other Easter flowers
  • Preparing eggs, meats, cheeses, and other foods that were forbidden during Lent for Easter baskets and meals

In some Catholic and Orthodox churches, Holy Saturday is associated with the Harrowing of Hell, the belief that Jesus descended into Hell between His death and resurrection to liberate righteous souls. Holy Saturday services in these faiths often reflect this theology.

Fasting and Abstinence on Holy Saturday

Many Christians continue fasting during Holy Saturday as the final day of Lent before Easter. However, the strictness of the fast varies between denominations and individual observances:

  • Catholicism – Traditionally, Catholics abstain from eating meat on Holy Saturday, carrying over the Good Friday prohibition. Many also continue fasting, limiting themselves to one full meal and two smaller meals during the day.
  • Orthodox – Orthodox Christians strictly fast on Holy Saturday, abstaining from all food and drink until the Easter Vigil service that evening.
  • Protestant – Fasting is less formal in Protestantism. Some Protestants fast or give up certain foods, but this varies individually.

Ultimately, fasting and abstinence on Holy Saturday are not doctrinally mandated like on Good Friday. The day instead represents a gradual transition from the sorrow of Jesus’ death to the joy of His resurrection. Any fasting is meant to reflect the solemnity of Holy Week while anticipating the coming Easter feast.

Is Eating Meat Permitted on Holy Saturday?

Whether or not eating meat is permitted on Holy Saturday depends on individual observance and church rules:

  • Catholic – Catholics traditionally abstain from meat on Holy Saturday as the final day of Lent. Many still follow this practice today.
  • Orthodox – Strict fasting is observed so no meat is consumed.
  • Protestant – There are no prohibitions against meat, but some may abstain as part of their Lenten observance.

Some Catholics view Holy Saturday as a “break” from Lenten fasting and allow meat at one meal. Others treat it as a full fast day. But traditionally, eating meat has been discouraged by the Catholic church.

For Orthodox Christians, the strict fast with no food or drink continues throughout Holy Saturday until it is broken at the Easter Vigil mass that evening. So meat and other foods are prohibited.

Most Protestants do not have any official rules for Holy Saturday. Those who choose to fast may abstain from meat, while others may not. The practice varies from person to person.

Pastoral Guidelines on Eating Meat

In recent years, some church leaders have encouraged flexibility around Holy Saturday meat restrictions. For example:

  • Former Pope Benedict XVI declared that episcopal conferences can permit meat where abstinence would cause hardship.
  • Some bishops now transfer the no meat rule to another Friday during Lent instead of Holy Saturday.
  • Many emphasize spiritual preparation over specific dietary rules.

This reflects an evolving attitude toward Holy Week fasting guidelines. While traditional customs are still recommended, pastoral discretion allows accommodating individual circumstances.

Is Eating Meat a Sin on Holy Saturday?

Traditionally, Roman Catholics have been required to abstain from meat under pain of sin on certain fast days including Fridays in Lent. But on Holy Saturday specifically:

  • There is no defined penalty for eating meat.
  • Church leaders have increasingly encouraged flexibility for pastoral reasons.
  • Personal prayerful reflection on Christ’s Passion is emphasized over dietary rules.

So eating meat on Holy Saturday is not considered a grave sin or mortal transgression. However, knowingly violating abstinence without sufficient reason would be considered a venial sin.

Some additional considerations around sin and Holy Saturday meat consumption:

  • If abstaining greatly burdens health or ability to celebrate Easter, meat may be permitted.
  • Accidentally eating meat would not be a sin.
  • Most churches do not view it as sinful if Holy Saturday meat abstinence is substituted with another Friday.

Overall, while traditional, eating meat on Holy Saturday is not defined as a mortal sin according to current allowances for pastoral discretion.

Reasons Christians Traditionally Abstain from Meat

Abstaining from meat on Holy Saturday originated as a way for Catholics to honor Christ’s sacrifice. The practice has several symbolic meanings:

  • Sacrificing pleasures like meat reflects Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
  • Avoiding meat represents repentance and self-denial.
  • Meatless meals allow focusing on prayer and spirituality.
  • Not eating meat shows unity with Christ’s suffering.

By giving up meat in remembrance of Christ’s Passion, Catholics joined in His sorrow and prepared spiritually for Easter joy. Holy Saturday was seen as a particularly important day for fasting and abstinence.

Modern Allowances for Meat

Although traditional, the Holy Saturday prohibition on meat has been relaxed in recent decades. Several factors contributed to this change:

  • Increased flexibility for pastoral reasons as long as some form of penance is observed.
  • Acknowledgement that complete abstinence can burden the sick or poor.
  • De-emphasis of specific dietary acts compared to interior penitence.
  • Loosening of Friday abstinence rules generally.

The 1917 Code of Canon Law eliminated the complete ban on Holy Saturday meat for the sick. Guidelines increasingly accommodated individual circumstances while recommending following local customs.

By the time Pope Paul VI revised fasting and abstinence rules in 1966, the regulations were significantly relaxed. Abstaining from meat was upheld as an important tradition but not dogmatically enforced.

Regional and Cultural Variations

Acceptance of eating meat on Holy Saturday varies regionally. Some general patterns include:

  • Meat is refused more strictly in heavily Catholic countries like Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and parts of South America.
  • Orthodox communities abstain from all animal products through the Easter fast.
  • Germany, Austria, and Slavic countries maintain Holy Saturday fasting traditions.
  • France, Canada, and the United States are generally more relaxed about abstaining from meat.

Cultural factors also impact Holy Saturday observances. Immigrant communities may preserve traditional practices from their native countries. Converts embracing their new faith more zealously sometimes fast more strictly.

Rural or isolated areas tend to be more conservative about giving up meat for Holy Saturday. Urbanized populations are usually more flexible in diet and rituals.

Statistics on Holy Saturday Meat Consumption

It’s difficult to quantify exactly how many Catholics and Christians continue to avoid meat on Holy Saturday. However, some data indicates declining adherence in recent decades:

  • A 2008 Gallup poll found only about a third of U.S. Catholics abstained from meat on Holy Saturday compared to 74% in the 1970s.
  • Surveys estimate up to two-thirds of U.S. Catholics do not avoid meat on Lenten Fridays at all anymore.
  • Polls in Ireland, Spain, and France show only 10-30% of Catholics now follow Holy Saturday meat restrictions.

This data suggests a significant decrease in avoiding meat compared to several generations ago. However, there is individual variation between denominations, parishes, families, and levels of devotion.

Holy Saturday Meat Traditions Around the World

Culinary traditions around Holy Saturday vary between countries and cultures:

  • Poland – Many prepare żurek, a meatless sour rye soup, for Wielka Sobota or Holy Saturday.
  • Italy – Seafood dishes including baked cod, shrimp, and pasta with clams are popular for the vigilia di Pasqua fast.
  • Mexico – A meatless vegetable and cheese casserole called romeritos is a Holy Saturday staple.
  • Greece – Magiritsa, a lamb offal and vegetable soup eaten after the midnight Easter mass, breaks the fast.

While traditions differ, Holy Saturday meals tend to involve eggs, dairy, fish, vegetables, breads, and other meatless ingredients. The Easter fast is broken by feasting on foods like lamb, ham, sausages, and meat pies on Easter Sunday.

Holy Saturday Meat Traditions at Churches

Parishes may sponsor symbolic Holy Saturday meals and events:

  • Potluck lunches or dinners featuring meatless dishes.
  • Simple soup suppers in reflection of Christ’s suffering.
  • Blessing of traditional Easter foods like bread, eggs, and lamb.
  • Shared meals after the Easter Vigil service, when fasting ends.

These community gatherings allow congregants to jointly prepare for Easter and honor Holy Week traditions. Those who cannot eat meat for health reasons are usually accommodated.

Holy Saturday Meat Substitutes

Those abstaining from meat on Holy Saturday can choose from many alternate protein options:

  • Seafood and fish like salmon, tuna, shrimp, lobster, halibut, cod
  • Eggs and dairy products like cheese, milk, yogurt, cottage cheese
  • Legumes including beans, lentils, chickpeas, peas, peanuts
  • Meat substitutes like tofu, tempeh, seitan, veggie burgers
  • Mushrooms, especially meaty varieties like portobello

Creative recipes can replicate favorite meaty flavors using plant-based ingredients. Marinating tofu or searing portobellos can impart a satisfying texture.

Is Eating Meat Permitted for Medical Reasons?

In certain medical circumstances, a dispensation from Holy Saturday meat abstinence may be granted:

  • Those unable to fast for health reasons like diabetes or eating disorders.
  • People with sensitivities restricting their diet.
  • Cases where nutrition requires meat in a meal.
  • Mandatory events where meat options are unavoidable.
  • Pregnancy, breastfeeding, or advanced age making fasting overly difficult.

However, a sincere effort should still be made to honor the spirit of abstinence. Replacements like fish or eggs could be considered before meat.

Pastors and parish priests can provide guidance for special medical needs. With prayerful discernment, appropriate exceptions can be made.

Holy Saturday Fish Fry Traditions

One popular communal tradition on Holy Saturday is the fish fry. These are social gatherings featuring fish and other meatless dishes:

  • Parishes and Catholic organizations often sponsor community fish frys.
  • Eateries and restaurants may promote special Holy Saturday menus.
  • Families gather to cook favorite seafood, sides, and desserts.
  • Fried fish, baked fish, shellfish, chowders, shrimp, and more are served.

Fish frys allow Catholics to celebrate Holy Saturday together while strictly abstaining from meat. The informal atmosphere and shared meals build fellowship and anticipation of Easter Sunday.

Holy Saturday Food Blessing Traditions

Some churches have ceremonial blessings for Easter foods on Holy Saturday:

  • Parishioners bring Easter hams, lamb, breads, eggs, cheeses, and desserts to church.
  • The foods are blessed by a priest and sprinkled with holy water.
  • Blessed meals are taken home and enjoyed on Easter Sunday.
  • Items like bread are sometimes distributed to the poor and sick.

This ritually prepares the feast foods after Lenten fasting. Sharing blessings and gifts reflects Holy Week themes of charity and community.


Traditionally, Roman Catholics and some Protestants have abstained from eating meat on Holy Saturday as the final day of Lent before Easter. This sacrifice honors Christ’s death on Good Friday. While still followed by many, allowing meat has become more common due to relaxed church guidelines and cultural shifts. Rather than emphasizing dietary restrictions, most focus Holy Saturday on prayer and spiritual preparation for Easter celebrations.

Individual observances vary by denomination, region, family customs, and personal devotion. Consulting pastors and respecting local parish traditions can provide guidance. With prayerful discernment, Holy Saturday can be observed in a way that both honors tradition and serves individual spiritual needs.

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