QUAERITUR: Vegetarian wonders about Friday penance

From a reader:

Thank you so much for your tireless ministry!
I apologize if this question seems silly, but it’s been weighing on my mind for a while: I have been a vegetarian since I was about ten years old. When I stopped eating meat, it was partially because my mom is a vegetarian, and partially for “animal rights” issues.
Twelve years later, as I rediscover my faith (as a newly-traditional, cradle-hippy-novus-ordo Catholic, sometimes I feel as though I’m relearning everything!) I’m beginning to reconsider my vegetarianism.
I currently fast from something else (like chocolate) on fasting days, but it’s beginning to seem as though I’m missing out on a huge part of Traditional Catholic culture. Am I failing to use God’s gifts fully and prudently? Or am I just overthinking my hippy-dippy roots?

Yes, you may be “overthinking” this a little.

I don’t see the sense in starting to eat meat so that you can give up eating meat as a Friday penance.

If you are healthy and happy with your diet as it is, fine. You can substitute some other penance for abstinence from meat.   You could also perform corporal works of mercy.  You could, for example, do something that would please St. Leo the Great (+461). Leo preached to his Roman flock that, during fast times, they were to give not just from their excess, but from their necessities, and then give what they would have eaten to the poor.  Perhaps you could donate food or money or time to food shelf.

On the other hand, if you want to start eating meat, fine.

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  1. fvhale says:

    There are wonderful, faithful Catholics who do not eat meat, such as certain religious communities.

    Last year the Catholic Bishops of England and Wales stated the following: “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.

    So, I suppose chocolate would count as “some other food,” but my wife would disagree that it counts as “food”!

  2. Trad Dad says:

    Many years ago a priest advised me ( in confession ) that it is far more beneficial to carry out a penance given to you by you spiritual adviser / confessor than to make one up for yourself . [That would depend a lot on the person’s state in life and the circumstances and exactly what the penance was.]

  3. Sword40 says:

    I am a meat eater. (except on Fridays). I have followed the Fast and Abstinence tradition for many years. I’m in my seventies and a traditional Catholic. In addition I try to do a corporal work of mercy. I’m not always very successful but I keep trying.

  4. TP says:

    If you are vegetarian you can still have dairy and cheese. Perhaps on Friday you could go vegan.

    However, your issue is not an issue. Benedictines are traditionally vegetarian, and this is not an issue for them.

  5. Maltese says:

    I’m not a vegetarian, per se, but I’ve basically given-up eating dead cow, chicken, pig, and camel!

    Leonardo da Vinci was a vegan; so don’t lose heart!

    On the other-hand, I will never stop eating king crab legs dipped in real butter; death will have to take me first!

    When I gave up most meat, I would buy McDonald’s coupons, and give them to homeless people on Fridays. Yeah, maybe they’ll give them to homeless people for booze, or, maybe they’ll have a #1 in the morning, and enjoy the sunshine with a cup of joe and an egg mcmuffin, hash brown, and maybe say a prayer for me!

  6. Maltese says:

    The butter has to mixed lightly with garlic-salt, of course; easiest recipe, and best sea-food on this planet!

  7. Imrahil says:

    I might add that as to my thinking (those how gave me the undeserved honor to read some of my comments might have supposed so), while it is certainly a good idea to substitute some other penance of whatever kind, this can be done without fear of a sin if one fails to do so; this because the reader, as a vegetarian, “automatically” fulfils the traditional standard practice of the Friday fast.

    That said – and while semi-vegetarianism i. e. eating less meat is certainly a good thing in many cases, both as to askesis and as to health – often some thoughts ultimately not really of the most Catholic sort stand behind vegetarianism. “Animal rights issues”? Sounds so…

    Far be it from me to say that as a Catholic you should eat meat. But… I guess some vegetarians actually want to eat meat and some thoughts made them give it up, thoughts they do not agree with anymore after becoming Catholic…

  8. Widukind says:

    Not intending to be obtuse, but for such a person, could EATING meat be the penance?

  9. I like that – eating meat for penance. I often suggest to the “meat is murder” Christian to also become just as active, if not more active, with the local Right to Life group.

  10. . . . that is, Right to Life for defending the unborn from the murder of abortion.

  11. NancyP says:

    Our pastors and associate pastors have always encouraged us to abstain from something else if we normally don’t eat meat; the underlying idea is that we should take the money we did not spend on meat (or whatever else) and give it to the poor, who can’t afford meat, or, perhaps, fresh vegetables/fruit and other healthy food items.

    In other words, the sacrifice isn’t just about denying ourselves, but is also about helping those who are in true need.

    Your food bank may indeed need help with sorting/bagging food items, which can be a very time-consuming process. The food bank might also need help creating flyers, organizing their office, taking out the trash, etc.

    At any time of year, nursing/retirement homes need help in the form of visitors to cheer up their neglected residents. Sadly, many of our seniors are unable to care for themselves and either have to live far from family due to lack of local options or are just plopped into care facilities and left alone. It’s so very, very sad. If anyone is looking for a place to give one hour a week, look up a local retirement community that accepts Medicaid patients and give them a call.

  12. Angie Mcs says:

    One is my resolutions this year is to stop focusing on myself and to help others. There is a Women’s Center in the city, where brave young women seek help with their unborn and new babies. I am collecting items and will soon deliver what is especially needed. Maybe I’ll even be blessed enough to hold a little one or two!

    In the meantime, we will continue with our meatless Fridays. Nothing as easy as an omelet or ” egg in a hole”!

  13. James Joseph says:

    Dear Hippy Dippy,

    I am a meat-cutter. Please under no circumstances fast from meat on Mondays and Thurdays as the heretics do…. I shall dish you up some fine lamb shanks!

    Jimmy the Butcher.

  14. One could also do the penance of eating something they HATE. If one likes everything, maybe preparing a food without the preferred seasonings would be sufficient.

    Years ago I had a terrible time gaining weight, had a terrible appetite, didn’t really enjoy eating. Eating even less didn’t work very well so I would make an effort to eat something I hated. Back then I despised lentils. ew…and those hard-as-rock lima beans or canned peas. LOL.

  15. catholicmidwest says:

    For me, doing without the meat isn’t half the trouble because I’m not a big meat-eater, and I don’t find explaining it to bystanders hard either. Rather, remembering to do it is the hard part. That’s the real penance for me, and it’s a good one. It keeps my mind on what I’m trying to do by giving it up.

    If I were vegetarian, I’d choose some other action for that day, and only that day, so that I’d have to remember, and it would almost be the same. I mean a certain piece of clothing, a certain set of prayers, a trip to a church at lunchtime or something like that.

  16. catholicmidwest says:

    PS. If you haven’t been eating meat since the age of 10 or 12, I’d suggest going easy on it if you decide to start. There are biochemical reasons why you might have trouble digesting it til you’re used to it again. Easy does it.

  17. Andrew_81 says:

    A few years ago when I was first headed to enter the seminary with a “traditional institute” I sat near a transitional deacon on his way back to his diocesan seminary. Of course, various topics came up, and he confessed a bit of envy for the traditional practices, and seemed like he might take some of those up after away from the seminary (and the trouble he would have to suffer).

    The Friday Abstinence came up, and he made a very good point. He criticized the rationality “Abstinece, or” optional nature of the current law, saying, that the real penance behind Absitinence was conforming your will with the mind of the Church, not the “no meat, but I want meat” part. Hence the problem with the new law is that it gives options, and by that very nature, does not demand one to conform their will to anything, rather they can pick and choose what they like. It was the obedience that was at the core of the penance.

    I thought it a good point that I would never have thought up on my own.

    Looking at that here, it seems like we ought to remind the Vegesaurus among us that they are still doing penance on Friday by abstaining (knowingly and in the spirit of the Church with a supernatural motive), even if they abstain all the time, because they are conforming their mind to that of the Church.

    They should not be scrupulous, but should make an effort on days of abstinence to consciously make their abstinence that day in conformity with the Church’s law and mind, rather than just out of habit. Offering such things up are always a good idea, and could be done every day.

    In reality, after many years of abstaining on the days appointed, even the meat-eaters generally don’t greatly suffer much, if at all, by such abstinence.

    But it seems, with the advice of a good priest (or director if the situation permits), additional penances to make up for the ease with which this basic penance is done (both for the Vegesauruses and the Meatasauruses among us).

  18. pmullane says:

    Andrew_81, thats a good an interesting point. It seems that the new laws seem to cater for those who dont find abstaining to be much of a problem, and yet it seems like such a better and more important lesson for those people if someone would say ‘ok, you find it easy to abstain from meat on a Friday. Praise God for that gift, and still abstain. Perhaps do another harder penance in addition, and offer it up for those who find it really difficult to abstain from Meat. You will have some other vice that you will find difficult to give up. God has made it that you find it easy to abstain from meat, perhaps so that you can concentrate on that vice, so focus on that’.

    It seems that we have bought into that false idea of equality that says ‘everything should be the same for everyone’. Its not. So some people will find some penances more ‘penancy’ than others. Dont worry about how steep the hill that your being asked to walk is, just get on with it and do your best.

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