Meatless Fridays: Not Just for Lent Anymore


meatless fridays not just for lent anymore

When the Meatless Friday recipe features started running here on, it was not Lent. That’s the season that people traditionally associate with Catholics giving up meat each Friday.

Did you know that Catholics are supposed to sacrifice something each Friday, the whole year through? It’s spelled out clearly in Canon Law. Canon 1250 states: “The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.”

The bishops in the USA encourage all Catholics to make a sacrifice each Friday, beginning in 1966 when they stated, “Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.”

For some people, that sacrifice is made by continuing the Meatless Friday tradition throughout the year. Others choose to observe this penance in different ways.

At the beginning of this month, the Solemnity of All Souls fell on a Friday—so that day was a feast day, not a fast day. When’s own Sarah Reinhard made a statement to that effect on Facebook, it led to a discussion about Friday sacrifices. Sarah observed,

I try to keep quiet about it (that whole “when you fast…don’t be all pouty” injunction)…. The idea is that you’re uniting yourself with the Passion of Christ and also the poor of the world. I can go on, but don’t want to be preachy. For me it was a very personal sort of conviction and it DOES keep me in mind that it’s Friday and what Friday’s ABOUT. Which is…counter-cultural within my own heart. It’s been a good thing. And I stumble, fail, and all the usual. And if it’s not meat, we are called, invited, “supposed” to do SOMETHING on Fridays that prayerfully unites us with Christ on the Cross (and, I’m told, with the poor of the world).

If your meatless meal involves seafood—which can be pricey—or some kind of family favorite, it’s hard to think of that as a “sacrifice.” But the discipline of the meatless meal is part of the sacrifice. You are sacrificing all the other options you might have had to choose from for your meals that day and submitting to the discipline. That’s not incidental to the whole process. Truth be told, it’s the discipline of Meatless Fridays that can be the biggest stumbling block.

In my household, meat is not served on Fridays. I can’t stop anyone from cooking it for themselves, or ordering it if we happen to eat out. But I don’t cook it, and I don’t eat it. It’s not something I make a big deal about at home, though I’m thinking maybe I should. I mean, will the kids just pick this up by osmosis? Probably not.

Does your family observe Meatless Fridays all year long? If not, think about giving it a try for the penitential season of Advent, which begins this Sunday.

Tell us about your household’s Friday customs! Do you abstain from meat on Fridays all year or only during Lent? And do you feel called to make some other type of Friday sacrifice?

Copyright 2013 Barb Szyszkiewicz

Image copyright 2013, Barb Szyszkiewicz


About Author

Barb Szyszkiewicz is a wife, mom of 3 young adults, and a Secular Franciscan. She is editor at Barb enjoys writing, cooking, and reading, and is a music minister at her parish and an avid Notre Dame football and basketball fan. Find her blog at FranciscanMom and her family’s favorite recipes with nutrition information for diabetics at Cook and Count.


  1. Thank you for this. I observe meatless Fridays and have since my conversion six years ago. Sometimes it’s diffcult, so substitutions have to be made on very rare occasions. However, observing meatless Friday forces one to call to mind the reason for the observation. That, for me, is the best part.

  2. My daughter’s (catholic) university followed this practice in their dining hall as did my own (protestant!) college some 30 years ago. My wife maintains this discipline for our household and except for the complaining when we have to eat the leftover pork chops from 3 days ago (that’s an appropriate measure, in my opinion–it’s not technically Lent), it’s been some years we have kept this practice.

    But also take time for more prayers, perhaps. Now we try to remember the suffering (especially of Christians) in areas of war, of natural disasters and say extra prayers for them. We pray for those who will die soon, as they prepare themselves.

  3. Great article, Barb. We observe meatless Fridays most of the year but I’m starting to think that we should be more disciplined in our observance. Like you, I’m wondering if I should be making a bigger deal about it because most of my kids eat meat on Fridays if they are going out with friends. Tonight for dinner we’re having cinnamon French toast. While it’s definitely not a hardship meal, it’s the discipline of remaining meatless that’s important.

  4. Barb, I loved this piece (and not just because I’m quoted!). This is such a misunderstood Catholic practice and teaching, and it needs to be out there more. Thanks for taking the time to craft this piece and for doing it in such a down-to-earth way.

    And that picture? Why yes, I WOULD like to come on over and eat that meal with you… 🙂

  5. Barb, thanks for writing this! What an important tradition in our faith that I wish everyone else practiced year-round. For my husband and I, it’s a matter of submitting to the discipline, as you mentioned. On the flip side, we make sure to eat something special on Feast Days. Today being the Feast of St. Andrew, we’re cooking a roast and having wine. 🙂 Taking the time to make these sorts of choices within our little ‘domestic church’ keeps us in tune with the rhythm of the wider, universal Church. As a result, I never feel like I’m “alone” in my Christian walk; I always am conscious of being part of a bigger family who is striving just as I am.

    • Yes–that’s right! I’m still learning; didn’t find that out until yesterday, and this post was written and scheduled ahead of time to let the editors enjoy the holiday with their families. 🙂

  6. Byzantine-rite Catholics and Orthodox observe not only meatless Fridays, but Wednesdays as well. And just being meatless is considered the easy way out. Properly there is abstinence from fish with backbones, dairy, and eggs as well. There are four fast-free weeks during the year: Christmas through 4 January, 6 January, shortly before Lent, Bright Week (week after Easter), and Pentecost Week.

  7. I’m beginning to observe this practice, which is generally easy for me. The only thing I don’t do is try to remember if some of the vegetarian-ish soups I’ve made and frozen are made with chicken broth (I am supposing that for it to be a correct fast, broth made with meat even thought there’s no actual meat left in it, is out). I’m going to start switching over the vegetable broth for some things which will make that easier.

    I do abstain from fish as well because it is not a sacrifice for me. A nice bit of pan fried walleye is just about the ultimate feast for me.

    I love beans so vegetarian is easy. The hard part is remembering its Friday 🙂

  8. Wish I had such discipline! I do get my weekly text message to my cellphone on Fridays from the U.S.C.C.B. about the Friday fast — see and refer to the box mid-page.

    …I’m not there yet but I want to do better — and eventually add Wednesdays as well. I am also trying hard to reclaim Sundays for myself. While I do not work on Sundays nor do housekeeping nor laundry I want t let go of shopping on Sundays and learn to just enjoy the day…”fasting” from non-necessities.

  9. ” I can’t stop anyone from cooking it for themselves, or ordering it if we happen to eat out” This statement confused me. Are you referring to your dependent children? I would think it’s perfectly within the rights of a parent to forbid kids from eating a certain food for whatever reason (it’s not cruel – there’s plenty of other food available to them, right?). Fourth Commandment and all. They have to obey you. And eating out…who again is picking up the tab? Perfectly reasonable to tell them from what parts of the menu they may order.

    • Marie, I’m referring there to my husband and to my adult child.

      It’s always a struggle. As a parent, you want your kids to do the right thing. You also want them to do the right thing for the right reason.

      • Oh, I see. I understand with adults it is different. And sorry about the tone of my comment. I can see it could come across as advocating something stern and uncompromising and the kind of thing that might make even dependent children resent the discipline. That’s really not what I was picturing. I was picturing my own home growing up (I’m single so don’t have kids of my own yet) where meatless Fridays were the norm for everyone and yes that was set by our parents not us, but no one resented it. In fact we all (seven kids) reminded each other of it. Of course there was flexibility family wide and in individual cases, if circumstances came up, but with the understanding that people would substitute some personal penance (no one checked up on what that was, it was personal). Since I’m coming from a place where the parents setting a “particular norm for our home,” as it were :), worked and worked well, the sentence above surprised me. But I can see that dealing with adults rather than children things would be different – especially when both parents are not on the same page. Thanks for the post – and for taking time to respond to my comment!

  10. This information would be very surprising to many Catholics. So many think that meatless Fridays was dropped along with the hour of fast before Communion. This just proves my argument that the Church is a poor teacher and has been in so many areas.

    • It’s not just up to the Church (the official Church) to teach things like this. It is up to faithful people to uphold the traditions and penances in their own domestic churches. No one group should shoulder the full blame for dropping the ball here. And it’s more productive to do better going forward than to find a scapegoat for the past.

      • Barb, I am not looking for a scapegoat, my heart is in the Church, what I am looking for is the Leadership of the Church to do what they are called to do, teach, and by doing so, helping us to be united in all that the Church is and stands for, thus making the Body of Christ whole and Holy. When we have some Catholics doing some things, others believing and doing other things, some following the moral teachings, others , excusing themselves, it causes the Body of Christ to be broken. I love the Church with all of its wrinkles, I would not go anywhere else, no other Church has the Truth as the Catholic Church does. The latest statistic that I read states that only 8% of Catholics practice the Faith. How sad that is.

  11. I have kept meatless Fridays for a little over a year. I don’t get hung up on broth, especially if I’m using up leftovers on a Friday. If I can’t abstain, I will usuallly dispense myself and substitute extra prayers, like the Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

    Since eating fish or shrimp isn’t exactly a huge penance for me, I try to do one really meatless (vegetarian) Friday a month.

  12. Why don’t the U.S. bishops simply go back to the meatless Friday discipline? Why was it changed in the first place?

  13. I’m a cradle Catholic and didn’t know anything about the required sacrifice on all Fridays till just a few years ago. Once I realized what I was supposed to be doing, my family (hubby and 4 kids) and I began meatless Fridays. It’s became a great tradition and habit, and now even when the kids are with others on Friday, they don’t eat meat.

    • Why don’t the U.S. bishops simply go back to the meatless Friday discipline? Why was it changed in the first place?
      I think the church saw the error of its ways.
      What is your objective in the meatless Friday or some other form of self inflected penance?
      The Pharisees were big into that idea but Jesus kept insisting that was not the way. I think he was teaching that it was by the grace of repentance and faith in the one sent to suffer and die for our sins and who would rise again that we would be righteous before God and
      by no other way. Christ is everything and nothing else matters.
      His teaching was much much more about love, mercy, compassion, kindness forgiveness
      than it ever was about self-control, which I presume is the goal of this penance. I would like
      my kids to seek and submit to Gods will in all things rather than looking for God to bless them for something of the flesh that I or they have chosen to do. Jesus said “take up
      your cross and follow me” (he means the cross handed you) and not one you choose or fashion yourself. I want my kids to know without a drought, a God who offers them everything they will ever need.

      • My understanding of this is that the USCCB determined that most people in the US no longer consider going meatless one day a week to be penitential. The rise in the popularity of vegetarianism alone may have been a factor. Friday abstinence is still commended.

        I see self-denial (or self-control, as you called it) as a necessary precursor to showing love, mercy, compassion, kindness and forgiveness. Before “take up your cross and follow me” comes “deny yourself.” Friday penance is a self-denial we do not choose for ourselves, but which Mother Church assigns us in her wisdom. Submission to the laws of the Church is in God’s will, and God blesses our obedience, so there is no contradiction here with your desire for your kids.

  14. Meatless Friday is impregnated in me since my childhood. Even when I was away from Church for quite long time, I did not eat meet on Fridays. It was something you did not do/eat. My sons, even the one who – like me – abandoned the faith, know it’s Friday, because there is no meet on the dinner table.

  15. This is great! What happened to Wednesdays in the Roman Catholic Church? Byzantine Catholics and Eastern Orthodox abstain from meat (and some even dairy) on Wednesdays and Fridays all year round, based on a text from the early Church (approximately second centruy): “you shall fast on the fourth day and the day of preparation [Wednesday and Friday]” (ὑμεῖς δὲ νηστεύσατε τετράδα καὶ παρασκευήν. Didache, 8).

  16. I do not eat meat on Fridays. This has been an enormous grace that I have undeservedly received from the Lord. I cannot put meat in on a day that is itself an echo of Good Friday, when our Lord hung like meat on the Cross.

  17. My husband and I also observe meatless Fridays. I am so thankful that Christ allows our little sacrifices to be joined with his suffering. Vive’ Jesus! I also would like to ask…how does one become a secular Franciscan? I am most interested in this avenue of devotion…

  18. I am not sorry for saying all this is WAY OVER THE TOP. You can do other things like helping people in the local area. Hub is a lawyer who helps the poor. I am a bit of a veggie person anyhow. I am laughing because it is stupid for me. I eat at a salad bar at LEAST FOUR TIMES A WEEK AND I watch what I eat. I also have a severe budget, so I can help others. I am rolling my eyes because it is way over the top. Come to Florida see how our churches are full and SRO. We are joyful here and don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know God loves us and we don’t have to walk around believing it alll depends on us. It is our surrender that depends on it. We are calm about what we do.
    Trust me, I am veggie queen. O btw, I lost a dress size doing this. I drink no soda and well my arms no longer go wiggle waggle. They never really did. I have a rule when it comes to food. I eat 2 meals a day and no sweets at home, unless it is a birthday or holiday. I eat 2 breads a day and drink water and two coffees a day. I do not medicate my emotions with food like a lot of so called “good Catholics” do. We only eat 7% fat when we eat burgers. Otherwise that grease in those burgers makes me gag. We eat at least one salad a day. Hey, secret of my youth. I am 51.
    But doing this is over the top so everyone can see. I do this for health reasons, so I can serve. Same thing I guess. But outside Lent, there’s more than this superficial stuff. We got rid of our TV when it broke this summer. We more than likely are getting a bigger one this fall, but we’ll wait until the sale. Self control is also not spending when you can get it on sale.

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