Ask a Priest

What is the reason why we don’t eat meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and Fridays in Lent?

Mar 01, 2017


I have been asked so many times today about why we abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and all Fridays in Lent? Are there biblical references or any church documents that could prove this practice?

Asked at 07:31 pm on March 01st 2017

Hi Romell, the basic background to Lent is the 40 years the People of God in the Old Testament were wandering in the desert on their way to the Holy Land, and the 40 days Moses had to wait at Sinai before he received the word of God in the Ten Commandments. Then Jesus took up that symbolism with his own 40 days in the desert (Mt 4:2), which the Church asks us all to participate in during Lent.

We have evidence of this in the early Church, where, for example, St. Irenaeus (d. 203) wrote to Pope St. Victor I, commenting on the celebration of Easter and the differences between practices in the East and the West: ‘The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their ‘day’ last 40 hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers.’ Lent became more regularized once Christianity was legalized in 313 ad. The Council of Nicea in 325 laid down two provincial synods to be held each year, ‘one before the 40 days of Lent…’ St Athanasius, who died in 373 asked his congregation to make a 40-day fast before the more intense Holy Week fasting, with St Cyril of Jerusalem (d. 386), and St Cyril of Alexandria (d. 444), writing of the 40-day fast requirement. Pope St Leo (d. 461) preached that the faithful must ‘fulfil their fasts with the Apostolic institution of the 40 days’ – so he regarded Lent as having apostolic origins.

Avoidance of meat is a spiritual practice that goes back to the earliest days of the Church, a tradition that dates back hundreds of years.

In an article from Mark Hart (LifeTeen), he says:

“Some say it was because the church was trying to support the fishing industry when times were tough. There is some historical evidence of that, dating all the way back to the second century.

Some say it was safer to eat fish than meat. Everyone knew the specific time frame in which it was safe to eat fish, while people tended to test that time frame with beef. There’s some historical evidence to that too, dating back to about the seventh century.

Some point out that hundreds of years ago only the very wealthy could afford meat. Fish (in comparison) was the poor man’s meal. It was cheap, humble food that you had to catch yourself.

Some say that not eating meat helped folks to focus on the humility of Christ, who lived a simple man’s life.”

In the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 10:9-16), St. Peter has a vision in which God reveals that Christians can eat any food. So, when we abstain, it’s not because the food is impure; we’re voluntarily giving up something good, for our spiritual benefit.

Very best, Fr Brendan

Replied at 11:29 pm on March 08th 2017