What days do Catholics not eat meat during Holy Week?

Quick Answer

Catholics traditionally abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, including Fridays during Holy Week. The specific days Catholics abstain from meat during Holy Week are:

  • Good Friday
  • Holy Saturday

In addition, some devout Catholics choose to abstain from meat on Holy Thursday as well. However, this is not required by Church law.

What is Holy Week?

Holy Week is the last week of Lent and the week immediately preceding Easter Sunday. It begins on Palm Sunday, which commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Holy Week culminates in the Paschal Triduum, the three holiest days of the liturgical year:

  • Holy Thursday – commemorates the Last Supper
  • Good Friday – commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus
  • Holy Saturday – commemorates the day Jesus lay in the tomb

Easter Sunday then marks Jesus’ resurrection from the dead.

Why Do Catholics Abstain from Meat During Lent?

The tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays and during Lent dates back many centuries in the Catholic Church. Here are some of the main reasons and origins of this practice:

  • To commemorate the sacrifice of Christ on Good Friday – Catholics abstain from meat in solidarity with Jesus, who gave up his flesh for the salvation of humanity.
  • As a form of penance and self-denial – By giving up meat, Catholics practice sacrifice and self-discipline.
  • To honor Christ’s command to repent – Jesus called his followers to repent and abstain from bodily pleasures.
  • An ancient tradition – Abstaining from meat predated Christianity and was commonly practiced by Jews as a penitential discipline.

Over time, abstaining from meat became a core tradition in the Lenten season as the Church formalized its rituals and disciplines.

Why Do Catholics Continue to Abstain from Meat on Fridays and Lent?

Despite changes in cuisine and food availability over the centuries, the tradition of abstaining from meat during Lent has continued in the Catholic Church. Here are some reasons why:

  • Church law – Canon law dictates days and seasons of penance, including Lenten abstinence from meat on Fridays.
  • Maintains identity/tradition – Abstaining from meat remains a distinctive part of Catholic identity and piety.
  • Spiritual discipline – Giving up meat is valued as a practice in self-denial and spiritual growth.
  • Repentance/sacrifice – Abstinence serves as a tangible reminder of Christ’s sacrifice and the call to repentance.
  • Prepare for Easter – The deprivation experienced in Lent helps intensify the joy of Easter.

While Catholics may choose to abstain from other foods as well, abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays and during Holy Week remains an important tradition.

What Actually Counts as Meat?

Over the centuries, questions have arisen over what actually constitutes “meat” that should be abstained from on penitential days. Here are some guidelines:

  • Flesh meat of warm-blooded animals – This includes beef, pork, chicken, etc.
  • Meat gravy or broth from meat – Broth and meat juices also count as meat.
  • Visible meat bits or grease – Foods fried in animal fat or containing visible pieces of meat.

These animal products definitely count as “meat” and should be abstained from on Fridays and Ash Wednesday. In contrast, the following are generally permissible:

  • Fish and seafood
  • Eggs, dairy products, and cheese
  • Vegetables, grains, pasta, rice
  • Invisible meat flavoring or gelatin

So Catholics can still eat eggs, cheese pizza, fish sticks, tuna sandwiches, and similar meat-free foods on Lenten abstinence days.

Are There Exceptions for Medical or Other Reasons?

The requirement to abstain from meat is for all Catholics ages 14 and up. However, exceptions are made for medical reasons, pregnancy, old age, or grave manual labor. For example:

  • Those with a medical condition requiring meat protein do not have to abstain.
  • Pregnant or nursing women can consume meat if needed for health.
  • The elderly or infirm can eat meat if unable to partake in other foods.
  • Those engaged in hard physical jobs relying on meat for strength.

In these cases, individuals should speak to their priest if uncertain whether abstinence would be medically advisable. The Church offers this allowance so that abstinence does not jeopardize health.

Are All Fridays During Lent Meatless?

Yes, all Fridays during the season of Lent are days of abstinence from meat for Catholics:

  • Ash Wednesday (beginning of Lent)
  • Fridays in the 6 weeks between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday
  • Good Friday (part of Holy Week)

If Catholics inadvertently eat meat on a Lenten Friday, they should substitute another penance and be more mindful on future abstinence days. But the expectation is to avoid meat every Friday during the Lenten season.

What About Holy Thursday and Holy Saturday?

Unlike Good Friday, there is no official requirement from the Catholic Church to abstain from meat on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday. However, some Catholics do choose to abstain from meat on:

  • Holy Thursday – As the beginning of the Paschal Triduum leading to Easter, some view abstaining as appropriate.
  • Holy Saturday – Since this day focuses on Jesus lying dead the tomb, some abstain from meat as a solemn practice.

While not mandated, abstaining from meat on these two Holy Week days can enhance a person’s spiritual experience of Lent. But Catholics who do eat meat on Holy Thursday or Holy Saturday have not committed a sin or violated any Church regulations.

What About Eating Meat During Easter?

Easter Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ, marks the end of Lent and Holy Week. The Easter Triduum fast is broken, and Catholics are no longer expected to abstain from meat on subsequent Sundays.

Some important points regarding meat consumption starting Easter Sunday:

  • Catholics may eat meat freely on Easter Sunday
  • Future Lenten abstinence restrictions no longer apply
  • Catholics still should abstain from meat on all Fridays outside of Lent, unless this obligation is abrogated by local bishops.

So the abundant feasting on foods like lamb, pork, and ham during Easter provides a marked contrast and sense of joy after days of abstinence.

Do Orthodox Christians Have Similar Holy Week Traditions?

Yes, Eastern Orthodox churches also have extensive traditions of fasting and abstaining from meat during Lent and Holy Week, including:

  • Strict fasts on Clean Monday, Great Friday and Great Saturday
  • Abstaining from meat, fish, oil and dairy throughout Holy Week
  • Abstaining from liquors, wine and oil during the Great Fast

For Orthodox Christians, abstinence during Holy Week forms part of intense spiritual preparation as they journey towards celebrating Easter Sunday.

What are the Main Things to Know About Holy Week Meat Restrictions?

To summarize the key information on Catholic practices of abstaining from meat during Holy Week:

  • Catholics must not eat meat on Good Friday and Holy Saturday
  • Some devout Catholics also abstain from meat on Holy Thursday
  • All Fridays during Lent are days for abstaining from meat
  • Easter Sunday marks the end of Lenten abstinence customs
  • Individuals need not abstain from meat if health prevents doing so
  • Fish, eggs, dairy and other meat-free foods are permitted
  • Orthodox Christians have similar but more stringent Holy Week fasting customs

So the days Catholics absolutely refrain from meat during Holy Week specifically are Good Friday and Holy Saturday, with Easter Sunday then ushering in a celebratory period without any applied restrictions.


During the holy and solemn season of Lent leading up to Easter, Catholics practice abstinence from meat on all Fridays including the Fridays of Holy Week. Specifically, the Catholic Church mandates that meat must not be eaten on Good Friday and Holy Saturday, with voluntary abstinence on Holy Thursday also encouraged by some Catholics. This abstinence commemorates Christ’s sacrifice and represents a form of penance as believers prepare their hearts for Easter. While individuals may need to make exceptions for health reasons, the tradition remains an important element of Catholic identity and piety. As the Easter Triduum fast concludes, feasting on meat again during Easter brings a sense of joy and celebration of Christ’s resurrection.

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