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What’s the difference between meat and fish during Lent?

Fish dinner on table

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Philip Kosloski - published on 02/29/24

Why is fish allowed during Fridays of Lent, but not meat, when they seem to be the same thing?

One of the most puzzling Church disciplines is the rule that states no meat can be eaten on Fridays of Lent.

The exception to that rule is fish, which doesn’t seem to make any sense to the average observer.

Why is fish allowed on Fridays during Lent, but not meat?

According to the USCCB, the laws of the Church classify the abstinence from “land animals.”

Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs — all of which live on land.Birds are also considered meat.

Fish, on the other hand, are not in that same classification.

Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.

In Latin the word used to describe what kind of “meat” is not permitted on Fridays is carnis, which specifically relates to “animal flesh,” and never included fish as part of the definition. Additionally, fish in most European cultures was not considered a luxury dish and was more of a penance to eat.

The underlying spiritual theme of this discipline is that it is a sacrifice.

The allowance of fish doesn’t mean that every Friday of Lent should include an expensive lobster meal, as that would be contrary to the spiritual lesson to be learned.

However we observe this Lenten discipline, we should recall the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and let that guide our Friday meal choices.

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