ASK FATHER: The Magical Friday Bacon-Fish!

From a reader…


I saw from NOAA today that they discovered a species of moonfish which is “the first fully warm-blooded fish that circulates heated blood throughout its body much like mammals and birds.” HERE
Since in your wonderful post about eating alligators during Lent you cited the Compendii Theologiae Moralis which interprets the prohibition against meat on Fridays as “animalia quae sanguinem habent calidum,” would this be the first example of a fish which is impermissible to eat on Fridays (in Lent, if we must sadly clarify such.)

Open up your handy copy of the Code of Canon Law, and let’s do some digging.

Canon 1251 tells us that “abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference is to be observed on all Fridays…” Canon 17 tells us that

“Ecclesiastical laws are to be understood according to the proper meaning of the words considered in their text and context. If the meaning remains doubtful or obscure, there must be recourse to parallel places, if there be any, to the purpose and circumstances of the law, and to the mind of the legislator.”

Canon 19, a bit further, states that if there is not a specific provision in the law, we can have recourse to the “common and constant opinion of learned authors.”

Well, the proper meaning of the words of canon 1251 exclude the eating of “meat” on Fridays (unless, as in the United States, the bishops have – sadly – allowed the faithful to substitute some other penance on their own determination).

“Meat” is commonly understood to be the flesh of mammals, reptiles and fowl.

“Fish” is commonly not understood to be “meat.”

There has been some controversy over the years about those unusual circumstances of mammals and reptiles who live primarily or exclusively in the water. In many cases, dispensations have been granted to permit their consumption on days of abstinence (capybara in South America, the infamous “muskrat dispensation” in some towns along the Detroit River, which has never been found in written format, but which has been appealed to since time immemorial, granting it at least the status of a legitimate custom (canon 26). Other provisions have been made for including cold-blooded reptiles in the “eatable” category, as with our friend, the tasty alligator!

Here, for the first time, we encounter something novel: a critter which is taxonomically considered a fish, but which is warm-blooded.

We have no real recourse to parallel places, because this seems to be a novelty. What is to be done with this critter, which I suggest ought to be named:

“The Magical Friday Bacon-Fish” ?

Utilizing the principle from the Regulae Iuris 15 – “Odia restringi et favores convenit ampliari,” I think that, until the Holy See makes a determination, we munch on this warm-blooded moonfish with great zest and zeal (and perhaps capers and a soy marinade) every Friday that we possibly can, thanking the Good Lord for His bounty and provision athough mindful of His Sorrowful but Necessary Passion.

Edent pauperes et saturabuntur!

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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

    Is the permission to eat fish on fast days to to an understanding that it is not meat? I don’t move in circles where fish is commonly not understood to be meat. I thought fish is allowed on fast days by concession (northern European dietary needs), rather than by dictionary.

  2. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I was just reading a bit of a book about old French cookbooks and their meatless sections. Although USians today don’t eat whales, they traditionally were not held to violate the Friday fish rule… even though they were mammals. Similarly with porpoises and sea otters. Some of this kinda dropped out of custom, but capybaras and muskrats are probably remnants of it.

  3. Imrahil says:

    Dear Joe in Canada,

    isn’t “neither fish nor meat” and idiom in English too?

    Anyway, for us Catholics – even, in fact, for the lax ones* -, fish is not meat.

    [*Although there is no obligation to eat meat, in fact St. James is highly praised for not doing so, still becoming a vegetarian seems to be just not something Catholics do – which is understandable and I could get going on the reasons, but I’ll stop my digression here. Anyway, what I was going to say: if someone from a traditional Catholic country, say an Italian, tells me he’s become a vegetarian, I wouldn’t risk to bet one euro on him having quit fish too.)

  4. Veritatis Splendor says:

    Joe in Canada: The answer to your question can be found, as most things can, in the Summa Theologica. Take a gander at II-II, Question 147, especially articles 6 and 8. Fasting is proposed to brindle the concupiscence of the flesh, with regard to the pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Fleshmeats are seen as more pleasurable to eat, and as a incentive to lust. Fish do not have the same appeal. Indeed, it happens that there is a protein in fleshmeat that is necessary for the production of testosterone which is not in fish.

  5. gramma10 says:

    Yep Veritas Splendor! I agree.
    I personally do not eat “red meat” or any “meat” other than poultry. I eat fish.

    The purpose in fasting is not to just determine what one can or cannot eat!
    Fasting is depriving the senses of something they crave. To deny oneself once in awhile is holy!

    We all want instant gratification and we all resemble Adam and Eve in the Garden.
    If they had ‘fasted’ from doing what they wanted we might have not been in the situation we are in today! : )
    Self control and self mastery can be learned by fasting! Good for us!

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