Why is Fish not meat?

faith / Friday, March 5th, 2010

Circle the letter of the one that does not belong:

  1. Cow
  2. Chicken
  3. Pig
  4. Lamb
  5. Fish

Every year during Lent, I hear the same question from Catholics and non-Catholics alike in regards to our abstinence from meat on Ash Wednesday the Fridays of Lent: “What about fish, eggs and other animal products?

I’ve never really been able to answer the question so this year I decided I would find out. A few days after I set this goal in my mind, I happened to be perusing through the Holy Bible and my eyes landed on this letter of the apostles from the book of Acts:

“It is the decision of the holy Spirit and of us not to place on you any burden beyond these necessities, /namely, to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage. If you keep free of these, you will be doing what is right. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28, 29)

I don’t recall fish or eggs or milk ever being mentioned as sacrifices offered up to idols. So I suppose this could be the answer. I decided to consult Mr. Google and found some interesting information but nothing with an answer to beat that of the letter from the Apostles. Here are some excerpts of things I found while browsing around:

“First, some areas of the Church abstained from all forms of meat and animal products, while others made exceptions for food like fish. For example, Pope St. Gregory (d. 604), writing to St. Augustine of Canterbury, issued the following rule: “We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese and eggs.”

“Eating fish was allowed, and later eating meat was also allowed through the week except on Ash Wednesday and Friday. Dispensations were given for eating dairy products if a pious work was performed, and eventually this rule was relaxed totally. (However, the abstinence from even dairy products led to the practice of blessing Easter eggs and eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday.)”

“Over the years, modifications have been made to the Lenten observances, making our practices not only simple but also easy. Ash Wednesday still marks the beginning of Lent, which lasts for 40 days, not including Sundays. The present fasting and abstinence laws are very simple: On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, the faithful fast (having only one full meal a day and smaller snacks to keep up one’s strength) and abstain from meat; on the other Fridays of Lent, the faithful abstain from meat. People are still encouraged “to give up something” for Lent as a sacrifice. (An interesting note is that technically on Sundays and solemnities like St. Joseph’s Day (March 19) and the Annunciation…”


Also, here is a good timeline of the evolution of fasting practices during Lent throughout the years.

Although the practices may have evolved over the centuries, the focus remains the same: to repent of sin, to renew our faith and to prepare to celebrate joyfully the mysteries of our salvation.

If anyone else has some answers to this question, I’d love for you to share them!

2 Replies to “Why is Fish not meat?”

  1. This is interesting. Aaron and I talk about this often…like when we were having a can of pork-n-beans with our fish sticks last Friday. Don’t know if that was a whoops, or, like Aaron said, there really isn’t enough meat product in that to “count”. I like to look at this one as more of a “spirit of the law” issue vs. “letter of the law”. I mean, it’s really about the sacrifice, right? About going without, about being a bit more subdued and living on less. Like, how sacrificial is it to eat crab legs and lobster on a Friday of lent? Yeah, you’re following the letter of the law, but I think you’re kind of missing the point. (You in the general sense, not literally, of course). And I think that’s kind of missing the point. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t eat meat on Fridays of lent (except if you count the pork-n-beans last week, but that wasn’t on purpose), but I think it is a really interesting discussion and am glad you posted what you did. Hope this made sense, it’s kind of rambly.

    1. I got you 🙂 Yeah I think it is important to make the Friday meal not only meat-less but simple and still nourishing enough that the kids and I won’t go to bed with rumbly tummies. As long as we remember the point, like you said 🙂

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