ASK FATHER: Abstinence from meat difficult when living in parents’ home

florentine steakFrom a reader…


I would like to abstain from meat all Fridays of the year but I live with my non-Catholic parents and can’t easily get my own food every Friday, what should I do? During Lent I have been making a substantial effort not to have meat on Fridays and thanks to fortunate circumstances I have managed thus far!

Our interlocutor could be writing from Sweden. I haven’t seen that the Swedish bishops rescinded the obligation to abstain in favor of another penitential practice. I plead ignorance on that score.

That said, …

Prior to Canon Law being codified in 1917, the Church’s law was contained in a series of collections. In one of the greatest of these collections, the Liber Sextus of Pope Boniface VIII, we find 88 axioms that are known as the Regulae Iuris, The Rules of Law. These axioms provide good insight into how the Church’s law should be interpreted and applied.

Rule 6 states: Nemo potest ad impossibile obligari. No one is bound to do the impossible.

If you are young, and living with parents who provide bed and board for you, abstaining from meat (while still eating sufficiently to stay healthy) can be difficult. Whether it’s an impossibility is difficult to say from a distance. I don’t know your circumstances, the dynamics of the home.

I recommend talking about the issue with your pastor or a trusted priest. Your pastor has the authority to commute the obligation to abstain to some other pious work, if it is truly a serious difficulty. One must, of course, be respectful of one’s parents and careful not unnecessarily to waste food. At the same time, honor the Church’s law to keep Fridays a days of penance – in some way – in memory of Our Lord’s Sacrifice.

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  1. Nicholas says:

    I am 17 and my mother and stepfather are not Catholic. (I received my faith from my father.) They are both respectful of my decision to not eat meat on Fridays because it matters to me.

    I doubt that they would mind having steak on Thursday and salmon on Friday rather than salmon on Thursday and steak on Friday.

    Just ask, they should be respectful of your choice.

    If they do not know you are Catholic, well, I don’t have any advice there.

  2. I would think if the parents were made aware of the desire to abstain from meat for a limited (Fridays) short period of time (Lent) that the parents would understand and simply not cook the additional portion. That seems reasonable to me anyway of civilized humans living in a tolerant society willing to accommodate their own child’s practices of self-discipline.

    That said, if their parents presented that photographed meat dish to me every Friday, I would be saying to myself “That dish looks really, really good” and be trying all kinds of ways to rationalize meat on Friday to myself.

  3. Norah says:

    Good grief, we are talking about one day a week here! Just ask mum to give you the vegetable portion of the meal. I can guarantee that you will not become malnourished giving up the meat portion of a meal once a week.

    Most parents go out of their way to accommodate children who become vegetarian 365 days a week.. You could tell your mother that you are vegetarian every Friday.

    When my son became vegetarian whilst living at home he bought a cookbook and cooked his meals for the week on the weekend. He was a university student studying for his Masters degree at the time and yet he managed to fit cooking into his timetable.

  4. While this may be a difficult situation, and this may sound like a simplistic answer, I will offer that not eating at all for a day is quite possible for someone in reasonably good health. I personally would choose that over eating meat on a Lenten Friday. An adult can also arrange not to be present for meals that include meat so as not to be sitting at a dinner table and not eating anything– perhaps Stations of the Cross is offered around dinner time? Work could run a little late on Friday too, or maybe the local parish is having a soup supper on Friday night and they need an extra volunteer to help prepare or serve it. Unless one’s parents are ruthless, authoritarian dictators, one can maneuver around this sort of problem with a little creativity and a bit of penance (no one said not eating at all is pleasant– just doable).

  5. APX says:

    What if the person in question offered to give the cook a night off and make a meatless supper for the whole family??

  6. Maltese says:

    I have a 19 year old daughter, and 17 year old son–try telling those guys not to eat meat when they are out with their friends!

    I think that in these matters, rather than being a hard-ass, it’s better to just lead by example.

  7. Peggy R says:

    I don’t have a sense of the age of the person, but it does not seem unreasonable to let mom know politely that he is foregoing meat on Fridays and ask graciously whether she can accommodate him. If this person is a bit over 13, he should be able to make his own dinner if mom doesn’t mind him in her kitchen. Even if it’s just a PBJ–er, Nutella. A salad. Cheese and bread. Open a can of veggie soup. Pasta with non-meat sauce. It’s not that hard. Clean up the kitchen. Moms do not appreciate kids leaving a mess even if they are helping themselves. If this person is an adult, he can even go out for dinner. Is mom going to be offended? Is it really going to be that bad?

    If the reader is concealing his Catholicism, then it may be time to come clean.

  8. gramma10 says:

    I don’t eat red meat and only eat free range chicken and some fish. I eat organic and have medical issues so am careful.
    Fasting can be done in other ways too.
    It is about denying ourselves of something we like and eat or do regularly that has us somewhat bound to it!
    So my fasting is not exactly one certain way. I know that I am fasting well when I crave the thing I am denying myself of and do not give in to the urge to enjoy it.

  9. Supertradmum says:

    Most parents in this day and age of horribly pagan kids would be thrilled at a religious teen who takes faith seriously. Seems odd to me that a person would have difficulty just eating the veggies and potatoes or whatever in the presence of his parents, unless they are hostile to Catholics.

  10. Mariana2 says:

    If the writer is from Sweden, then there may be no ‘local parish’ or Stations of the Cross he could go to in lieu of Friday dinner with his parents. In this country we have seven Catholic parishes and one bishop for the whole country. And not much understanding from non-catholics. So the writer may in fact have genuine difficulties.

  11. akp1 says:

    It could be a major problem if his/her parents are muslim, Friday being their ‘Sunday’ – that is what occurs to me on reading this. Otherwise most of the previous comments cover it. This being the case, I’d suggest just trying to get your plate filled with the veg&carbs part of the meal as much as possible.

  12. The Masked Chicken says:

    This situation seems a bit strange. Both parents non-Catholic? How did this person become Catholic? They must have been baptized, somewhere. Was it in secret? Now, if their parents are fallen-away Catholics, then that is a different story. They are not non-Catholics. One cannot begin to give reasonable suggestions with so little data. If the person is a cradle Catholic (parents fallen-away Catholics), then, simply tell them that he or she wishes to practice the faith. Parents are not allowed to stop that, no matter what the age of the child. If the parents are atheists or Moslem, or otherwise hostile to the faith, then what can be done depends on the age of the child. In this case, however, my original question would stand: how did they become Catholic? If they have access to a priest, perhaps they should contact him and let him run interference with the parents.

    The Chicken

  13. Belinda says:

    For the record, Friday abstinence is not compulsory in Sweden. (Even on Fridays in Lent another penance may be substituted.)

  14. JesusFreak84 says:

    In college, I started keeping the Lenten fast of 1917’s Code and prior; people in college also busied themselves less about what I ate or did not eat. (That said, my “Catholic” college was infamous for seemingly only serving steak on Fridays of Lent >.> ) Now that I attend an Eastern Rite parish, I’d love to keep Lent as they would, but… Like the asker above, I live with my parents. Yeah, I’m 30, but I literally cannot afford to move out. (College debt, and rent in any are that would actually shorten my commute to work is irrationally high.) So I have to count my blessings that my parents still fake Catholic enough to not serve meat on a Friday of Lent. I feel this asker’s pain X_X

  15. Peregrinator says:

    This situation seems a bit strange. Both parents non-Catholic? How did this person become Catholic? They must have been baptized, somewhere. Was it in secret?

    I’m not sure why it seems strange. Suppose the young person was received into the Church with his (or her) parents’ permission. Or, for that matter, without it (it really isn’t necessary).

    And of course it is very possible that the parents could be anti-Catholic, or at least apathetic (willing to humor Junior in his choice of religious confession as long as it didn’t require any effort on their part).

    Just ask mum to give you the vegetable portion of the meal. I can guarantee that you will not become malnourished giving up the meat portion of a meal once a week.

    I doubt that malnourishment is the problem. My guess is that the parents have taught their child to eat what is put in front of him (or her).

  16. Sonshine135 says:

    This situation is not strange at all. My mother grew up Catholic, but is still today non-practicing. My Father is a non-practicing Episcopal. I never went to church growing up until I started dating a Catholic girl in high school. I started going with her and her family. Though that relationship didn’t last, my relationship with God sure has. It often lead me to practice where my parents failed to do the same. On a brighter note, my Mother saw that I was refusing to eat meat on Fridays during Lent, so she started making fish on Fridays, harkening back to her own Catholic practices. A young person who converts, but whose parents lack the same understanding of Catholicism may not be so accommodating. They may even be resentful or dismissive.

  17. Mariana2 says:

    Loads of us Scandinavian Catholics have (baptised) Lutheran parents who are less than charmed with our decision and make life difficult for us.

  18. little women says:

    As a mother, I make my children eat everything that served, even a 17 year-old. I don’t know the particulars, but it could be a case of obedience being the higher choice.

  19. The Masked Chicken says:

    “My mother grew up Catholic, but is still today non-practicing.”

    Non-practicing != non-Catholic. (!= is the C++ computer language for, “not equal”). The original writer says, “non-Catholic.” A non-practicing Catholic is still a Catholic.

    The Chicken

  20. Supertradmum says:

    The Masked Chicken,

    I have many young friends who became Catholic as teens and have parents who are pagan, New Age, Protestant….not that unusual now.

  21. Suburbanbanshee says:

    You’re still eating everything put in front of you if you put it in the fridge and eat it for breakfast the next day.

    And believe me, I come from a family where you eat everything put in front of you.

  22. Imrahil says:

    I’ve heard sometime that “there’s no fasting on a foreign table” and took it (as colloquial language does) as including abstinence.

    That doesn’t solve the problem, though, because, can one’s parents’ table legitimately considered foreign?

    My guess is that the parents have taught their child to eat what is put in front of him.

    Or also that a Catholic in the home of non-Catholics or non-practicing Catholics may quite legitimately (I’d hold but that falls, of course, under self-justifying) be shy about making his religion cause distress to any others. Having one’s lovingly cooked meal refused and having to watch others eating at the same table restrict themselves to the supplements would be a distress to them; a mild one, perhaps, but a distress.

    (For the record, I try not to eat meat through all of this Lent – which was about the easiest Lenten practice I could find – but of course exempted myself for situations like the one described, or also when, like today, I ate in a canteen and there was nothing else left.)

  23. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear mariana2, only seven parishes in your country? Then you must be living in Finland! Sweden is also one diocese (Stockholm), but has about 55 parishes. Since the bishop there, Anders Arborelius OCD, is a very pious carmelite, I think it’s entirely possible that he may rescind the obligation to abstain in favor of another penitential practice – but no alone. The Nordic Bishops Conference would probably do this in all Nordic countries at the same time.

  24. Mariana2 says:

    Dear Vexilla Regis,

    That’s right : )

  25. The Masked Chicken: “This situation seems a bit strange. Both parents non-Catholic?”

    Far from “strange”, this situation is very common in my (Bible-belt) part of the country, where it is a common observation that many of our most engaged Catholics are converts. Indeed, almost the norm, especially in TLM groups, it seems. For instance, a majority of the “liturgical leadership” in our local TLM community–schola director and MC’s, some of our TLM priest-celebrants–as well as all the officers of our associated support organization, consists of Catholics whose parents are/were both non-Catholics.

  26. The Masked Chicken says:

    I think you might be missing my point. If both parents are non-Catholics (not lapsed Catholics), then how did their son (for the sake of discussion) become Catholic? Did he do it in secret? That would be really odd, except in times of persecution. Was he secretly baptized? Did he go through the Easter Rites? That’s pretty public and his parents would have to give permission for someone under-aged, no?

    My point was that his parents could not not know that he is a Catholic. If so, then they are being extremely uncharitable and even, possibly, violating the law, by not allowing him to fulfill his duties.

    The best I can see is that the original writer wrote, non-Catholic, for lapsed Catholic, which would make the story make a whole lot more sense.

    The Chicken

  27. It is not uncommon, especially in non-Catholic areas, for teenage or young adult children of non-Catholic parents (and especially of anti-Catholic parents), to become Catholic either without their parents approval or even without their knowledge. If strongly non-approving parents know or learn of his conversion, his practice of Catholicism in face of parental opposition can certainly be awkward or even very difficult? If there is something about such a situation that is hard to understand, then I am indeed missing the point.

  28. The Masked Chicken says:

    From the paragraph provided, if the person is, for the sake of argument, say a 15 year old male, then either his parents do not know he is Catholic or do not care. If the first case, how did he get to be Catholic without his patents knowing? Would a priest just baptize him without instruction (which would, certainly, take a time commitment and could hardly be done in secret (and unless there were a danger of persecution, wouldn’t be done)). If the second case, then this guy has much more serious problems than fasting on Fridays. Parents who don’t respect their children’s informed religious views comes really close to child abuse. I do not see this as something akin to a 15 year old from a Methodist family in the U. S. flirting with Catholicism in youthful zeal. Why would the parents deny him a meat-free diet if they respected his views? As I have said, from the scant evidence provided, it seems to me that either his parents don’t know or don’t care about his Catholicism. Either way, he has much deeper problems to deal with than meatless Fridays.

    The Chicken

  29. VexillaRegis says:

    Sorry, but where in the question does the writer say that (s)he is a minor? He or she could be round 20 or so.

    My only suggestion for the young person is to ask the parents, if (s)he could cook for them on Fridays. Maybe Fr Z could come up with a nice recipe for fish? (Not alligator!) :-)

  30. Mariana2 says:

    Dear Chicken,

    In Sweden, a Lutheran country, practically everyone is already baptised, no need for the Catholic Priest to baptise when someone enters the Church.

Comments are closed.