From a priest:
Dear Father Zuhlsdorf, thank you for the great apostolic work you do every day. Your blog has been an orientation and a spiritual help for me since my days in seminary. And it is great fun, too!
Today, we had a Friday lunch together with brother priests from the city. We always have it meatless. During lunch, I mentioned that today the Bishops of England and Wales re-instituted the Friday penance of not eating meat.
One of the priests at table, of the middle-aged liberal type, said something like: “I can’t understand why intelligent people keep telling stupid things”. He then began to “explain” that the origin of friday penance is to be found at the French royal court, where everybody was so disgusted with eating lots of meat every day that they decided to have a meatless day each week.
I did not pick up his remarks (nobody did, actually), but later thought that I should have.
Do you have any sure historical details about the catholic practice of not eating meat on Fridays. I know about the Wednesday and Friday fasting in the old Church, but what about the special practise of not eating meat?
Any help would be appreciated.
Abstaining from meat on Friday began at the French court?
It is to laugh.
One might say that Father is all wet.
While Father didn’t say which French court, I think we can assume he didn’t mean Charlemagne’s court.
Doing penance on Friday is an obvious reference to our veneration for Christ’s Sacrifice on Calvary. Abstinence from meat probably comes from the ancient belief that eating meat contributed to other carnal desires. Abstinence from meat was therefore undertaking in part in pursuit of purity.
Think also of the many prohibitions of certain foods in the Old Covenant. Some critters were seen as unclean. The prescriptions were of divine positive law and the purpose of the prescriptions was to aid the Jews in a desire for interior cleanliness. Under the new covenant, these restrictions were removed.
The early Latin theologian Tertullian (+ c. 220) wrote a work on fasting, which mentions prolonging the Friday fast into Saturday. Some Fathers of the Church refer to abstinence from foods. St. Ireneaus of Lyon (+202) wrote about abstaining from meat before Easter. Pope Nicholas I (+867) imposed abstinence from meat on Fridays. Councils had canons about food and fasting. St. Thomas Aquinas (+1274) in the Summa tackles questions about whether certain foods, such as eggs or cheese, were permitted on fast days.
I am sure readers here can add some more instances of abstinence, even Friday abstinence.