16 September – England and Wales – Return to meatless Fridays

The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this penance should be fulfilled simply by abstaining from meat and by uniting this to prayer

On 16 September in England and Wales, Catholics are asked by the Catholic bishops to return during the whole year to meatless Fridays.

This is a great initiative for strengthening Catholic identity and for doing penance for the sins members of the Church have committed.   I have written about this here and here.

In a WDTPRS POLL the overwhelming number of votes indicated that in the USA we should return to meatless Fridays.

Download a PDF of Q&A from the Bishops in England and Wales.

Press release – Friday PenanceThe Visit of Pope Benedict XVI evoked for many people the spiritual reality of life and rekindled hope and faith: hope in the goodness that is within people and in our society, and faith in God. Even if it is not easily articulated, a spiritual yearning is to be found within most people. This yearning is found also among Catholics who have lost touch with their faith or whose faith was never deeply rooted in a personal relationship with Christ. Wishing to respond to this yearning but perhaps lacking in confidence in talking about their own spiritual life, many Catholics are asking how they can witness to their faith; what can they do to help introduce their faith in Christ to others in simple and straightforward ways?

The Bishops of England and Wales recognise that simple acts of witness, accompanied by sincere prayer, can be a powerful call to faith. Traditional Catholic devotions such as making the sign of the cross with care and reverence, praying the Angelus, saying a prayer before and after our meals, to name only a few, are straightforward actions which both dedicate certain moments in our daily lives to Almighty God and demonstrate our love and trust in His goodness and providence. If these devotions have been lost or even forgotten, particularly in our homes and schools, we have much to gain from learning and living them again.  [Nicely done.]

The Bishops have looked again at the role of devotions and the practice of penance, both of which can help to weave the Catholic faith into the fabric of everyday life. Our regular worship at Holy Mass on Sunday, [Without a revitalization of our liturgical worship, none of the other efforts of New Evangelization will stick.] the day of the Lord’s resurrection, is the most powerful outward sign and witness of our faith in Jesus Christ to our family, friends and neighbours. Sunday must always remain at the heart of our lives as Catholics.

The Bishops also wish to remind us that every Friday is set aside as a special day of penitence, as it is the day of the suffering and death of the Lord. They believe it is important that all the faithful again be united in a common, identifiable act of Friday penance because they recognise that the virtue of penitence is best acquired as part of a common resolve and common witness.

The law of the Church requires Catholics on Fridays to abstain from meat, or some other form of food, or to observe some other form of penance laid down by the Bishops’ Conference. The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this penance should be fulfilled simply by abstaining from meat and by uniting this to prayer. Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake.

This decision will come into effect from Friday 16 September 2011.

Our friends at Rorate have a great suggestion, by the way.  Post suggestions of meatless recipes for those Fridays in England and Wales!  I am sure they will have some great ideas over there.

If only people were interested in food entries here.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. asperges says:

    It really is quite a bold step by the Bishops of E and W and although many applaud and welcome it (I do too), I have heard a lot of grumbling from quite surprising sources: “why should we?” “I don’t like fish.” “That will be very inconvenient when we go out on Fridays,” etc.
    The obligation of Friday penance has been entirely forgotten here except by a few. We did not even have obligation for abstinence during Fridays of Lent in England and Wales. Their lordships fail to say under what penalty this (new) abstinence rule is to be. In the old days it was “under pain of mortal sin” and everyone knew that, but when they last changed the rules about 30 years ago they specifically said that it was NOT a sin to fail to observe it. The result was that everyone ignored it. I cannot imagine anyone confessing to breaking the Friday fast for many years now.
    I did ask on Sunday after Mass what penalty will apply, but no-one seemed able to give a satisfactory answer.
    Obviously the reason for compliance with the law of the Church should be positive (love of God) not negative (fear of sin), but at this point, things just sort of go quiet… Without some guidance, I fear this latest initiative may fall flat too. That may seem rather sad, but that’s how things have become.

  2. andreat says:

    My family always kept the practice of meatless Fridays and I have continued that into adulthood. With the proliferation of vegetarian cookbooks, and vegetarian options in nearly every restaurant, it isn’t very difficult to do. You can always fall back on simple things like baked beans on toast, omelette, fish and chips, vegetarian or seafood pizzas, spaghetti with a meat free sauce. It takes a little bit of planning to make sure you have appropriate ingredients in the house, and I imagine it will take some time for it to become habit.

    The only times I have had difficulty with it is if invited to dinner at someone’s house, but as I understand it, there is a “law of hospitality” which says you can eat meat in this case. (Please correct me if I are wrong)

  3. pelerin says:

    I mentioned the restoration of abstinence to someone last Friday. She told me I must be mistaken as she had heard no mention of it at her church and she is a life long Catholic.

    Thanks to Fr Z for linking to the Bishop’s Q & A on this subject where asperges will find the answer to his question.

  4. andreat says:

    I should have added, if it would cause offence to not eat meat when invited out. You could always tell them before hand that you do not eat meat on a Friday, in the same way you would let them know if you were alergic to a particular food, or that you were vegetarian.

  5. pelerin says:

    Exactly andreat and it gives an opportunity to explain why. I used to be curious when at school the French teacher used to be given a fried egg on Fridays instead of the meat dish always served. However we just presumed that it was because she did not like the particular meal on offer – English school meals were not too good!

  6. asperges says:

    @Pelerin: Thanks: I found the answer right at the bottom of the pdf FAQ which I had missed:

    Q11. Are the Bishops placing a greater obligation on Catholics in England and Wales? Apart from the exceptions above, will it be a ‘sin’ to eat meat on a Friday after the Bishops’ decision takes effect in September?

    The obligation on Catholics in England and Wales to do penance on a Friday will be the same after Friday 16 September 2011 as it was before that date. The only change is that the Bishops have determined that the requirement by all the faithful to do penance on a Friday will be fulfilled by abstaining from meat. When asked a similar question to this, the Holy See replied that the ‘gravity’ of the obligation applies to our intention to observe penance as a regular and necessary part of our spiritual lives as a whole. Therefore, the ‘gravity’ of the obligation does not relate to observing the specific act of penance (abstaining from meat) prescribed by the Conference of Bishops. The ‘gravity’ of the obligation applies to the intention to do penance during the prescribed penitential days and seasons of the Church’s yearxv. Failure to abstain from meat on a particular Friday then would not constitute a sin.

    It’s like treading on eggshells. The answer is therefore “yes” and “no.” I could accept the premise of penance, but fail to carry it out.

    Nevertheless it is still a good decision and should be applauded. I hope people will take it seriously, but it will need wholehearted encouragement from the pulpit and that is far from guaranteed universally here.

  7. Supertradmum says:

    On a more mundane level, the Northern Irish, ex-Presbyterian landlady of the pub here, whose dad is a Prebbie minister, asked me yesterday why we were going back to meatless Fridays. She thought it was very interesting. I immediately said “for retaining Catholic identity” and for penance as a whole Church (at least here in England and Wales). She was curious and from where she grew up, identifying with a denomination means bombing and hatred. However, this meatless Friday decision is definitely a witness to the world and a cause for great rejoicing. The New Mass and Meatless Fridays all in one month—wow. Things in the Church can only get better and better for us in the pew.

  8. buffaloknit says:

    This looks great! Thank you for sharing this, Fr. Z.! Although I think I would like more explanation about what this obligation requires and what it doesn’t require.

    @asperges, thank you for that explanation.

    Finally, with this (Friday abstaining) should come a well-thoughtout, regularly occuring, special Sunday meal! [Especially Sunday!]
    Looking forward to recipes!

  9. danphunter1 says:

    When will the US bishops follow suit?

  10. Patti Day says:

    I once asked a friend who later was ordained a Deacon, since it was no longer considerd a ‘mortal sin’ by the church to eat meat on Friday, what about Catholics who didn’t always observe meatless Fridays previously or good Catholics who didn’t for one reason or another confess their sin. He said, “There is no grandfather clause.”

  11. Ed Mechmann says:

    What would be the right penitential menu for a vegetarian?

  12. Well, the bishops over in England and Wales just say “something you eat regularly.” Obviously some people consider meat more of a main dish and others as a sort of small protein add-on, so you have a fairly broad field.

    Fasting practices in the church can be based on aesthetics. What reminds you of Christ and makes you sorry? You could abstain from bread because of “the bread of life”, or abstain from beans out of memory of Esau’s bad choice, or you could abstain from soy if you’re normally some kind of soy fiend. Or nuts. Or sunflower seeds. You could go by color, like not eating red things. You could abstain from dairy and eggs, and thus make it a “black fast”. There’s always the good ol’ bread and water menu, for the really traditional faster. Whatever works — just make sure that you stick to it, after a tryout period. A Friday fast is not so much about being rough on yourself, as being able to be consistent in remembrance every Friday.

  13. Eating only herbs and greens is also quite traditional, of course.

  14. I’m looking for a really, really good recipe for Welsh Rarebit. Can anyone help me?
    [and Fr. Z, if it IS really, really good, that still doesn’t negate its penitential value, does it? ;-) ]

  15. William says:

    Romeo, get yourself a jar of ‘ Paul Newman’ alfredo sauce!

    From fresh sweet basil, make and freeze a basic pesto sauce. (Freeze in icecube tray and transfer individual cubes to zip-lock bag.) Just the pesto sauce alone on pasta is good but try heating up some alfredo sauce with a pesto cube and serve over of pasta. Grasshopper green but yummy in the tummy!

  16. lucy says:

    My immediate family started doing meatless Fridays a few years ago after we started attending the traditional Mass. It hasn’t been difficult except when one goes out. My husband will not eat seafood of any kind.

    Our normal Friday dinners consist of a few options that we rotate. Sometimes we have eggs/toast. Or fettuccine alfredo with veggies. Or cheese pizza (a major kid favorite). Or several soups – potato and kale, or French onion, or tortilla soup. I also often make red beans and brown rice. For lunch, the children and I often have egg salad or they make tortillas and cheese.

    I find this practice to be very helpful in working towards holiness.

  17. chloesmom says:

    My husband and I have done meatless Fridays for a few years now. We usually eat at home (tuna casserole, salmon salad, that sort of thing), but when we do eat out, we go for seafood casserole or fish and chips.

  18. Brad says:

    With charity to the hard-hearted souls (I should know since I have not only a hard heart but a foolish one) for whom meatlessness “will be very inconvenient when [we] go out on Fridays”: yes, the Passion was very inconvenient for Him, very much a trial. How much more pleasurable to linger at the Cana table than to be flayed, striped, scourged. If anyone would like a visual on just how extreme in reality the scourging was, e.g. half of his scalp removed, please read Blessed Emmerich. His corpse did not look like Michelangelo’s Pieta, let’s put it like that.

    Haven’t we been told that every Friday is a little Good Friday?

    How about not planning/volunteering to go out to eat at all that day? Reserve your festing and feasting for another day of the frivolous week?

    I do like the Bishops’ recommendation of “making the sign of the cross with care and reverence”. I admit — ok, I admit it — I can’t stand it when school children make the worst ever attempt at crossing themselves, usually while genuflecting. I don’t blame these young souls. I blame the adults in church, school (if religious) and home who should instruct them better. Then I remind myself to stop blaming, silently, fruitlessly, in my mind, about people I don’t even know, and just pray. Sigh. So hard, Lord, sometimes!

  19. Charles E Flynn says:

    @Ed Mechmann ,

    Inexpertly-roasted cauliflower.

  20. Mitchell NY says:

    Without the common unity we have lost the memory of a sacrifice on Fridays here in the US. Unfortunately it is not done and very few remember to give up something else. When we were all united in meatless Fridays it was much easier and more frequent to stike up a conversation on Friday with both Catholics and non-Catholics alike because the sign was visible. Consequently the Faith was on the lips, in the heart and in the minds of people every Friday. Yes we can still observe, but how many do? Anyone living in the US would find it obviously absent. I hope the US Bishops realize what has been lost with the relaxed discipline and follow the lead of England and Wales. It really is a good idea and does alot to bring the Faith back to the surface.

  21. Supertradmum says:


    All Paul Newman products give directly to Planned Parenthood here and abroad and have for years.

  22. Supertradmum says:

    ps I think there was a 2008 remission of this on a pro-life website, but since Newman’s death, I do not think the ban remained. Sadly, one must look into buying products. I make most of my own sauces for spag.

  23. Nan says:

    @Ed Mechmann

    I’m not a vegetarian, but not a big meat eater; for me, not eating meat isn’t penitential, but dealing with accusations of being early for Lent is. I do eat fish and seafood so sometimes have fish on Friday but most frequently eat simple foods such as grilled cheese, omelet or hummus. Cheese and crackers are just fine.

    I don’t live in an area where we’re bound to meatless Fridays, but after Easter a couple of years ago continued not eating meat on Friday. Later I learned that my bishop abstains from meat on Fridays with the intention of fostering vocations and wants us to join his intention and I happily do so. Last year the seminary was full. This year? They’re renting space from a parish nearby for some of the seminarians to live in.


  24. Supertradmum says:

    It pays to evangelize, even softly, softly…The ex-Presbyterian, secular landlady of the pub I spoke with earlier on the meatless Fridays coming up in England and Wales has a large sign outside her pub this morning–“It’s Friday, It’s Fish” Grilled Grey Mullet, Baked Dab, and Battered Mackerel are on the menu today! Never be afraid to engage in conversation about your Catholic identity. She is helping us Catholics do our bit.

  25. AnAmericanMother says:

    That is fabulous! Actions do speak louder than words . . . and the landlady is wisely seizing the opportunity of a new market. Everybody wins!
    Just shows what sort of positive effect outward signs can have.

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