Why is meat not allowed on Good Friday?

Good Friday is the Friday before Easter Sunday and commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. On this day, Christians around the world observe fasting and abstinence from meat as a form of penance. Here are some quick answers about the tradition of not eating meat on Good Friday:

When did the tradition of not eating meat on Good Friday originate?

The tradition of abstaining from meat on Good Friday dates back many centuries to the early days of Christianity. In the 4th century, the Council of Nicaea prohibited eating meat on Good Friday as a way to honor Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

What is the significance of not eating meat on Good Friday?

Abstaining from meat is a form of penance and self-denial. By giving up meat for a day, Christians sacrifice afood they enjoy as a way of identifying with the suffering of Jesus before his death. It serves as a reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for our sins.

Is abstaining from meat required for all Christians on Good Friday?

In the Catholic church, abstaining from meat on Good Friday is obligatory for all Catholics over the age of 14. Other Christian denominations treat it as optional or recommended rather than compulsory. Many Christians choose to give up meat as a personal sacrifice even if not required to do so by their church.

Are there any exceptions to the no meat rule?

The Catholic church makes exceptions for health reasons. Those who cannot abstain from meat for medical or dietary needs are excused. The rule also does not apply to very young children who have not yet reached the age of reason where they can fully understand sacrifice.

Can fish and other seafood be eaten on Good Friday?

Yes, fish and other seafood like shrimp and clams are permissible on Good Friday. Traditionally, the flesh of warm-blooded land animals was prohibited. Fish was considered exempt from the no meat rule since cold-blooded animals were believed to feel less pain. Today, fish is still allowed while meat from mammals and fowl is avoided.

Are there any recommended non-meat foods for Good Friday?

Traditional foods eaten on Good Friday include fish, vegetables, beans, breads, soups and potatoes. Devout Catholics often opt for a simple meal of fish and vegetables. Fish dishes symbolic of Christ like salmon or trout are popular. Meatless pasta dishes, egg dishes, hummus, falafel, and cheese pizza are other good options.

Are there any special Good Friday church services?

Most churches hold a solemn service on Good Friday that focuses on the crucifixion of Christ and his Seven Last Words on the cross. Some churches decorate a cross with black cloth in mourning. Catholics hold a liturgy called the Celebration of the Passion of the Lord with prayers, veneration of the cross, and communion.

Is Good Friday a public holiday?

Good Friday is a national public holiday in many predominantly Christian countries including Australia, Canada, the UK, and all but 12 U.S. states. Government offices, schools, post offices, and banks are closed. Public transport often runs on a reduced schedule. Stores are closed or have limited opening hours.

Origins of the Good Friday Meat Abstinence

Not eating meat on Fridays and especially on Good Friday has been a tradition in the Catholic church for centuries, with roots tracing back to the early history of Christianity:

  • Some of the earliest references to abstaining from meat are in the writings of Church fathers such as Saint Augustine in the 4th century, who spoke about the Good Friday practice of fasting and not eating meat.
  • There is evidence that in Rome and other places, Christians fasted and avoided meat on Fridays and on the Friday before Easter very early on.
  • The practice was seen both as a way to use denial of pleasure to unite with Christ’s sufferings and as a spiritual preparation for Easter.
  • By the 9th century, prohibitions against eating meat on religious days were well established in the western Church.
  • In 1091 AD, Pope Urban II decreed that abstinence from meat was required on all Fridays and Saturdays.
  • Later, in 1966, Pope Paul VI reduced the requirement for meatless Fridays to just the Fridays of Lent.

While the exact origins are uncertain, avoiding meat on Good Friday developed as an especially devout practice even in Christianity’s earliest days. The tradition reflects the themes of penance and sacrifice that characterize the meaning of Good Friday for believers.

Purpose and Meaning of the Good Friday Fast

For Catholics and other Christians, not eating meat on Good Friday carries deep spiritual significance and meaning:

  • It commemorates Christ’s sacrifice on Good Friday by making a small sacrifice of their own.
  • Going without meat serves as a form of penance for sins.
  • The deprivation of meat represents a time of solemn contemplation and mourning of Christ’s death.
  • It allows Catholics to identify with Christ’s suffering and crucifixion.
  • Making this small sacrifice helps prepare believers for rejoicing in the resurrection on Easter.
  • Fridays in general commemorate the day Christ died, so Good Friday warrants particular devotion.

In their pastoral letter on penance and abstinence, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops explains that the goal is to “make Lent a period of effective self denial, serious prayer and fasting as well as works of charity.”

Rules and Exceptions

Here are some key rules and regulations around not eating meat on Good Friday for Catholics:

  • All Catholics ages 14 and up must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays in Lent.
  • Meat includes warm-blooded land animals like beef, pork, and poultry.
  • Fish and shellfish are permitted since they are considered cold-blooded sea creatures.
  • Eggs and milk products like cheese are allowed since they do not require slaughtering an animal.
  • Those with medical conditions or other health needs are excused from the restriction, as are pregnant women or nursing mothers if going without meat would put their health at risk.
  • Younger children who have not reached the age of reason where they can understand sacrifice are not required to abstain from meat.

While complete abstinence from meat on these days is considered a serious obligation for Catholics, the church recognizes that adjustments sometimes need to be made depending on circumstances.

Fasting Rules Compared to Lent Fridays

On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics are also required to fast in addition to abstaining from meat. Here is how these two days differ from Fridays during Lent:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday Fridays During Lent
Meat Allowed? No No
Limit on Number of Meals? Two small meals allowed No meal limit
Limit on Eating Between Meals? One small snack permitted if needed No restrictions on snacks

So while Fridays during Lent prohibit meat, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday add additional fasting requirements of only eating two small meals and one snack. This represents a higher level of sacrifice.

Different Rules Among Christian Denominations

Rules for abstaining from meat on Lent and Good Friday vary across different Christian denominations:

  • Catholicism – Required for Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Fridays of Lent for all Catholics 14 and over.
  • Eastern Orthodox – Traditionally abstains from meat, dairy, fish, wine, and oil for the entirety of Lent and Holy Week leading up to Easter.
  • Lutheran – Usually optional and left up to individual choice and conviction.
  • Methodism – Historically encourages abstaining from meat on Lenten Fridays and requires it on Good Friday.
  • Episcopal/Anglican – Encourages meat abstinence on Fridays but often leaves it optional.
  • Presbyterian – Traditionally viewed abstinence from meat as discouraged in scripture so leaves it as a matter of personal choice.

So for Catholics, prohibitions around meat are mandatory while for other Protestants, it is more of a suggestion or personal decision.

Alternatives to Meat on Good Friday

Those observing Good Friday have an abundance of tasty meatless options for the day. Here are some popular meat alternatives to try:

  • Seafood dishes like baked salmon, fried cod, or tuna casserole
  • Cheese pizza
  • Vegetarian curry or stir fry with tofu
  • Bean burritos or tacos
  • Pasta with marinara or pesto sauce
  • Egg dishes like frittatas, omelets, or quiches
  • Soup and salad combinations
  • Grilled or roasted vegetables
  • Hummus and pita
  • Fried rice without meat

There are endless delicious possibilities for meatless Good Friday meals. It can be a chance to get creative in the kitchen with new Lent-friendly recipes.

Traditional Foods Eaten on Good Friday

While any meatless dish works for Good Friday, there are some traditional foods that are especially common on this day:

  • Hot Cross Buns – Sweet raisin buns marked with a cross on top, originally eaten to end Lenten fasting
  • Pretzels – Originated as a Lenten food that monks could eat during times of fasting
  • Fish – Symbolic of Christ and a traditional Good Friday meal, often cod, haddock, salmon, or tuna
  • Deviled Eggs – Hard boiled eggs were historically eaten by medieval Christians on Good Friday
  • Breads – Breads, rolls, biscuits, etc. made without animal fat substitutes like eggs or milk
  • Vegetables – Fresh vegetables and salads made with oil and vinegar instead of milk and cheese-based dressings
  • Fruits and Nuts – Fresh and dried fruits like dates, figs, raisins, and almonds

Dishes like fish, breads, fruits, and vegetables have been customary Good Friday foods since the early days of Christianity.

Good Friday Traditions Around the World

While not eating meat on Good Friday is a predominantly Catholic practice, many cultures and countries have various traditions around this day:

  • In Italy, chickpea soup is eaten after the Good Friday fast.
  • Braided dinner rolls called Mona de Pascua are eaten in Chile.
  • Fillets of dried haddock and potatoes are traditional in Norway.
  • In Greece, Christians eat lagana bread,683 and spinach and cheese pies are popular.
  • Eggs dyed red are given as gifts and eaten in Poland and Lithuania.
  • In the Philippines, dozens of hard-boiled eggs are decorated and eaten as a festive snack.
  • Hot cross buns are an iconic Good Friday food in the UK, Australia, Canada, and other British imperial nations.

Around the globe, cultures have developed their own regional Good Friday meatless food customs while still abstaining from meat in remembrance of Christ.


Not eating meat on Fridays and especially on Good Friday is an important Catholic and Christian tradition that dates back centuries. By sacrificing meat for a day, believers identify with Christ’s suffering, contemplate his crucifixion, and prepare spiritually for Easter Sunday. While allowances are made for health, overall abstaining from meat remains an important obligatory practice for Catholics that carries deep spiritual meaning and significance.

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