Abstinence from meat on Fridays is done as a sacrifice by many Christians because they believe that on Good Friday, Jesus sacrificed his flesh for humanity. In Orthodox Christianity, in addition to fasting from food until sundown, the faithful are enjoined to abstain from sexual relations on Fridays as well.
It simply meant abstaining from eating the flesh of warm-blooded animals—since the thinking goes, Jesus was a warm-blooded animal. Fish, though, which are cold blooded were considered okay to eat on fasting days. Hence, Fish on Fridays and “Fish Friday” (among many other religious holidays) was born.
Let's start with a quick lesson in theology: According to Christian teaching, Jesus died on a Friday, and his death redeemed a sinful world. People have written of fasting on Friday to commemorate this sacrifice as early as the first century.
In 866 A.D., Pope Nicholas I made Friday abstinence from meat a universal rule of the church. By the 12th century, abstinence and fasting on Friday, for penance as well as in memorial of Christ's Passion, were common practices. Most Catholics were bound by the rules, even children as young as 12.
“Each Friday during Lent is actually referred to as Days of Penance,” the 33-year-old said. “If someone unintentionally eats meat by accident without willfully knowing they've done wrong, it's not a sin. I usually suggest they make sure to sacrifice something else in its place to make up for eating meat.”
The Church asked Catholics to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent in memory of Good Friday, the day the Bible says Jesus died on the cross, Riviere said. Meat was chosen as a sacrifice because it was a celebratory food.
No, neither the Church nor the Bible says that eating meat is a sin. In the book of Acts, St. Peter is instructed by God to slaughter and eat any animal (15:9-15). The Church asks us to abstain from eating meat on the Fridays of Lent as a penance, but that is not because eating meat is inherently sinful.
The Practice Began in the Early Days of the Church
In the early years of Christianity in Europe, the Church instituted the practice of requiring the faithful to abstain from eating meat on Fridays in memory of Christ's death.
According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, abstinence laws say meat is considered something that comes only from animals that live on land, like chicken, cows, sheep or pigs. Fish are considered a different category of animal.
A summary of current practice: On Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays of Lent: Everyone of age 14 and up must abstain from consuming meat. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday: Everyone of age 18 to 59 must fast, unless exempt due to usually a medical reason.
The ashes symbolize both death and repentance. During this period, Christians show repentance and mourning for their sins, because they believe Christ died for them.
Let's summarize: Catholics confess their sins to a priest because that is the method of forgiveness that God established. The Almighty alone has the power to forgive sins, and the Son of God granted that authority to His Apostles.
Also, on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays during Lent, adult Catholics over the age of 14 abstain from eating meat. During these days, it is not acceptable to eat lamb, chicken, beef, pork, ham, deer and most other meats. However, eggs, milk, fish, grains, and fruits and vegetables are all allowed.
Fish prices around the world fell again in the 1960s, when Pope Paul VI loosened the meatless rules in “Vatican II.” His new constitution allowed local bishops' conferences to substitute “other forms of penitence” for people in their territory.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church tells us that when Catholics are baptized “the sign of the cross, on the threshold of the celebration, marks with the imprint of Christ the one who is going to belong to him and signifies the grace of the Redemption Christ won for us by his cross” (CCC 1235).
Abstaining from eating meat reflects the life of Jesus Christ. "Since Jesus sacrificed his flesh for us on Good Friday, we refrain from eating flesh meat in his honor on Fridays," the Archdiocese said.
Here's why: meat was at one point considered an indulgence, so abstaining from meat on certain days is intended as a form of penance and a way for Christians to honor Jesus' sacrifice of his flesh on Good Friday. That means no meat from birds, cows, sheep, or pigs.
The Talmud records a warning against eating meat and fish cooked together since the combination causes health problems and bad breath (Pessahim 76b). As such, the combination becomes forbidden, since Jewish law strictly forbids activities which are directly harmful to one's health (Hilchot Rotzeah 11:5-6).
It moves, it breathes, it has eyes and a mouth, but to Catholics, fish is not considered meat. In the writings of Saint Paul in Corinthians 15:39, “All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds”, this separately classifying fish.
For centuries, Catholics were bound to abstain from meat on Fridays, the day that Christ was crucified and the fifth day of creation when God made the animals. Then, in 1966, the Second Vatican Council relaxed the law to the point where Catholics were virtually freed from the obligation.
The medieval church decreed that the meat of warm-blood animals shouldn't be eaten on Fridays, hence the replacement of fish instead. Other types of Christians believe that eating fish on Good Friday symbolises the day in the Bible that Jesus was killed by the Romans.
Prayer to Mary is a way of being drawn towards Jesus. Just as a Protestant might go to a pastor to say, “pray for me” with the assumption that your pastor will point you to Jesus—so also a Catholic will pray to Mary with the confidence that she will direct us to the Lord Jesus. It is an act of intercession.
According to Leviticus 11:3, animals like cows, sheep, and deer that have divided hooves and chew their cud may be consumed. Pigs should not be eaten because they don't chew their cud. The ban on the consumption of pork is repeated in Deuteronomy 14:8.
Catholic Fasting Rules
Catholics age 14 and older do not eat meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, including Good Friday. Instead of meat many Catholics choose to eat fish - which is why many parishes around the country have fish fries on Fridays during Lent.
There is no direct statement on the subject by Jesus in the New Testament. The story of Jesus feeding fish to people would support the view that Jesus may have been a pescatarian. Paul seems to have been more open to meat eating, but even Paul was open to vegetarianism.