Catholics Forbid Eating Meat On Fridays

The Price of a Hotdog? — Damnation

When I was a kid, a Catholic kid, I helped out with the two festivals that Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church (my parish) held annually on the grounds of the church's elementary school. When I was small, this help usually amounted to hustling soft drinks at the bingo games that ran non-stop during the festival. When I grew older, I manned one or another of the game booths.

Aside from the Bingo tent, the largest operation at these affairs was the big tent under which men of the parish drank beer and cooked bratwurst and hot dogs to feed the hungry masses. Even today, recollections of the enticing aroma of bratwursts sizzling on a charcoal grill make me hungry.

These biannual festivals began on a Friday evening and ran through the day on Saturday and Sunday. In that St. Pete's was situated in the heart of an overwhelmingly Catholic neighborhood, I suspect that the great majority of those who attended the festivities were Catholics. This is significant.

In my Catholic days, long before Vatican II ushered in a "kinder and more gentle" brand of Roman Catholicism, it was forbidden for the Catholic faithful to taste of meat on Fridays, with certain exceptions. In those days, as now, the Second Commandment of the Church obliged us to observe the laws of abstinence and fasting laid down by the Church. The law of abstinence in those days was as stated in one of my old catechisms:

What days does the law of abstinence, as apart from the law of fasting, oblige us to observe?

The law of abstinence, apart from the law of fasting, obliges us to abstain on all Fridays of the year. (Joseph DeHarbe, A Complete Catechism of the Catholic Religion, 6th American Ed., Conformed to the Codex Juris Canonici, Schwarz, Kirwin & Fauss:New York (1924), p.218 – has Nihil Obstat & Imprimitur)

Just how serious was the Catholic Church about her commandments?

How do these Commandments of the Church bind us?

They bind us strictly – that is, under pain of grievous sin. (Joseph DeHarbe, Op. cit., p. 213)

In other words, eat meat on Friday and die, you are going straight to Hell. That is serious. Of course, there were a few details to be considered, such as:

When do we commit mortal sin?

We commit mortal sin when we wilfully violate the Law of God in a matter which we know or believe to be important.

In what does the malice of mortal sin principally consist?

In this: that mortal sin is—

A grievous offence against God, our Supreme Lord, and the most criminal disobedience to His holy will;
The most shameful ingratitude to God, our greatest Benefactor and best Father;
Detestable infidelity to our most amiable Redeemer, and contempt of His graces and merits.
(Joseph DeHarbe, Op. cit., pp. 224-25)

The words in DeHarbe's catechism appear to equate the Commandments of the Church with the Commandments of God, in that willful violation of either is a mortal sin. Given the definition of a mortal sin as a grievous offense against God, one is forced to the conclusion that the Catholic Church considered herself as a peer of God Himself. Wasn't this how Lucifer got into trouble?

Where are we so far? It is a precept, or commandment, of the Catholic Church that the faithful must obey the laws of fast and abstinence; willful failure to do so constitutes a grievous sin against God--or so claims the Catholic Church. We also know of the biannual church festivals of Sts. Peter and Paul Catholic Church at which the bratwurst/hot dog tent was a principle attraction.

In that just about everyone in the parish knew of the obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays – Father Greg mentioned it often enough in his homilies – one must wonder that the sandwich tent was as busy on Friday evenings as it was on the other two days of the festivals. I was aware of no special indulgences granted by the archdiocese for festival Fridays, so I imagine the requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays was always in effect. In that the men of the parish cooked and sold the meat sandwiches and, to my observation, ate plenty of them, with the blessing of the parish, I submit that Father Greg, his assistant pastor, and anyone else involved in the making and sale of meat sandwiches on Fridays was guilty of the sin due to connivance., consent, provocation, partaking and by defense of the ill done.

In how many ways may we become accessory to another person's sin, and be answerable for it?

In these nine ways: 1. By counsel; 2. By command; 3. By consent; 4, By provocation; 5. By praise or flattery; 6. By silence; 7. By connivance; 8. By partaking; 9. By defence of the ill done.

Why are we answerable for the sin which another commits?

Because, in any of the above ways, we are either the cause of his sin or co-operate with him in it, and thus are as guilty before God as if we had committed it ourselves; or, it may be, even more so. (Joseph DeHarbe, Op. cit., pp. 230-31)

Probably this sharing in the guilt of others was seen as no big thing. After all, a quick trip to the confessional could deal with any damaging effect of sin on one's hopes for eternal life. But what of those who might have died after eating a bratwurst on a bun before they were able to get to Saturday evening confession to have their sins erased? Well, according to RCC theology, could be sizzling in Hell just as those Bratwurst once sizzled on the grill.

"Wait a minute," might be the shout of a modern day Catholic. The law of abstinence has changed. It is no longer required that Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays, except for Good Friday."

That is true. No longer do Catholics sit down to Friday meals with a Damocles sword of dietary restriction hanging over their heads. But what of all those who, over the centuries, decided to gnaw on a soup bone or haunch of lamb tho' it were Friday? Were they all pardoned or paroled from Hell – assuming that was their only unconfessed grievous sin? Not according to one Catholic theologian/apologist. They're still being barbecued.

Kenneth Ryan, a Catholic priest, in addressing the Friday/meat question, takes advantage of the opportunity to deal with a similar but opposite issue, that of indulgences.

"It was never true that `If you eat meat on Friday, you are automatically consigned to Hell.' Nor was it ever true if someone said the prescribed indulgenced prayers for you you went automatically from Purgatory to Heaven. There are so many conditions attached to one's attaining Heaven or being plunged into Hell that listing them in full would require a review of almost all human knowledge, revealed or unrevealed." (Kenneth Ryan, What More Would You Like to Know About the Church?, Carillon Books/Catholic Digest:St. Paul (1978), p.11 – has Nihil Obstat & Imprimitur)

In that the old way of doing things has been rendered obsolete by today's more politically correct understanding of the commandment, and since Mother Church never errs, some way must be found to "adjust" today's understanding with yesterday's reality. What better way than an appeal to one of the Catholic apologist's favorite tactics: "You don't understand."

When I was Catholic, I was frequently reminded of my obligation to eschew meat and meat products on Fridays. Not once, do I recall, was it ever explained to me that the degree of my sin, should I violate the commandment, would be determined by an examination so detailed that it would "require a review of almost all human knowledge, revealed or unrevealed."

"Just for openers, to go to hell for eating meat on Fridays in the old days, would, according to the catechism, require that the eating be done after "sufficient reflection and full consent of the will." To children "sufficient reflection" usually meant only that the eater had not forgotten it was Friday. To the investigative theologican it brings the need of considering whether the eater was subject to the law, was he Catholic, did his mental state permit him to make responsible decisions, did he live in a place where the law was habitually disregarded, was he well-instructed in his Faith, and so on for pages and pages before a sound, unassailable decision about the sufficiency of the eater's reflection could be honestly made. "Full consent of the will" to the child meant something like deciding to eat the meat "anyway,"the theologian would have to investigate things like the eater's heredity, the extent of his hunger, the possibility of social pressures at a formal dinner, the availability of alternate foods, again so on to the point of seeming absurdity. All this would be a theologian deciding after the fact whether the act of eating meat had been a mortal sin. How many people in history went to all the trouble and THEN ate meat on Friday "anyway" has never been decided. The Church proclaims some persons to be saints in heaven but not even Judas has been formally proclaimed to be in hell." (Kenneth Ryan, Op. cit. pp.11-12)

Don't you find it interesting that, before a Catholic theologian might determine whether an adult has sinned by eating meat on Friday, he must consider whether there were mitigating circumstances, such as social pressures at a formal dinner, the individual's nationality, etc.? It would appear that, in the RCC understanding of mortal sin, or at least the mortal sin of eating meat on Fridays in the days before Vatican II, there are more loopholes than in the U.S. tax code.

Another review: An RCC precept requires Catholic faithful to obey the laws of fasting and abstinence. Catholic men of the St. Pete's parish sold and ate meat on certain Fridays with the parish's blessing. It appears impossible to know with certainty whether any of those who willfully sold and ate meat on those Fridays were guilty of mortal sin, except for kids who may have eaten a hotdog knowing it was Friday. The law of fasting and abstinence no longer prohibits eating meat on Fridays, except for Good Friday.

Perhaps it would help to put things into perspective were we to look at one of God's commandments.

"You shall not murder." (Exodus 20:13)

That seems every bit as clear as "The law of abstinence…obliges us to abstain on all Fridays of the year." (DeHarbe, Op. cit., p. 218). Now, if a man kills another man in order to steal his car, do you wonder whether Christ, the Perfect Judge, would set angelic investigators to determine whether the killer had been properly instructed in the Law concerning murder? Do you think that Christ would be concerned with the murderer's culture or national origin? Or if social pressure had resulted in the murder? Personally, I think not.

More significantly, do you think that God Almighty, Giver of the Law, would have decided to cancel the commandment after it had been in force for hundreds of years? After who knows how many souls had been condemned for violated it?

Assuming that, in all the years that the law of abstinence prohibited the consumption of meat on Fridays at least one person died with that serious sin unconfessed and, after due theological investigation, was condemned to spend eternity in Hell, is he still there now that the law has changed? According to priest Ryan, he is, for his sin involved more than just eating meat.

"Now, if you admit you have free will, you have to realize that the number of ways you can sin is limited only by your imagination. Even a slight insulting gesture, if you formally give it the meaning of "blasphemy" can be a mortal sin. The old example in the theology manuals was that of a man firing a gun toward the sky at God. I doubt that any sane man ever chose this way of turning away from God, but you can't deny the possibility of such a mortal sin. You see, all mortal sin is something like the sin of Lucifer, later known as Satan. It's all a matter of pride, preferring your will to that of God. The particular means you can choose to express this preference can be murder, adultery, apostasy, firing a gun at God, or just (until the law was changed) eating meat on Friday. Persons conceivably in Hell for having eaten meat on Friday are not being kept there unfairly now that the law has been changed because their act was only one of many they might have chosen to turn away from God. If they are in hell now it is because they chose to turn away from God." (Kenneth Ryan, Op. cit., pp. 12-13)

Now, that is really very esoteric. In order to accept what Ryan is saying, one must believe all the RCC teachings that she is the church that Christ established, that her ruler is Christ's vicar on earth, that her laws have the force of God's laws for they come, as it were, from His prophet, the Magisterium. Believing all that, then deliberately eating a hotdog on Friday in defiance of the law of abstinence would be tantamount to deliberately violating a commandment of God. But could it have been a commandment of God to not eat meat on Fridays?

"And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man." (Matthew 15:16-20, KJV)

From the above words of Jesus, it seems clear that the meat itself is not the source of stain of sin. In that we are not talking here of meat sacrificed to idols, Paul's words in Romans 14 would seem not to be applicable. What is left? Only the Roman Catholic Church could have established the law of abstinence from meat on Fridays. Or, perhaps, eating meat on Fridays never really was considered a mortal sin. That the last is not so may be seen from these words of a noted Catholic journalist and church historian:

"The Gilmary Society's 1913 Catholic Encyclopedia, complete with nihil obstat and imprimatur from John Cardinal Farley of New York, and once the definitive source of Catholic information, was unequivocal on the obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays: `Texts of theology and catechisms of Christian doctrine indicate that the obligation of abstaining forms an element of one of the Commandments of the Church. Satisfaction for sin is an item of primary import in the moral order. Naturally enough, abstinence contributes no small share towards the realization of this end. As a consequence, the law of abstinence embodies a serious obligation whose transgression, objectively considered, ordinarily involves a mortal sin. The unanimous verdict of theologians, the constant practice of the faithful, and the mind of the church place this point beyond cavil. They who would fain minimize the character of this obligation so as to relegate all transgressions, save such as originate in contempt, to the category of venial sin are anathematized by Alexander VII.'" (John Deedy, Retrospect: The Origins of Catholilc Beliefs and Practices, The Thomas More Press:Chicago (1990), pp. 284-85)

My! How things have changed since Vatican II. As I interpret the words of the citation from the Catholic Encyclopedia -- "a serious obligation whose transgression, objectively considered, ordinarily involves a mortal sin," – the determination of whether eating a bit of meat on Friday was a sin was pretty much cut and dried. Nothing at all like the complex theological value judgment call described by priest Ryan.

And so now it is time for conclusions.

1. Did the Roman Catholic Church have the authority to require its membership to abstain from eating meat and certain foods of animal origin on Fridays? Of course it did. Every religious organization appears to need some established rules and procedures for its faithful.

2. Do the laws of the Roman Catholic Church that do not in fact mirror God's laws as included in Scripture have the force of God's law? Absolutely not, for these are the rules and laws of men, and man cannot legislate at the supreme level of God's will. Was it not Lucifer's great sin that he willed to be as the Most High?

"For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High." (Isaiah 14:13-14, KJV)

3. Was anyone ever condemned to eternity in Hell for the sole reason of having transgressed this law of the Roman Catholic Church? I believe that no one is eternally condemned for the sole "sin" of having violated this law of the RCC.

Is the Roman Catholic Church, that hierarchical organization that exists outside her membership, truly equal in authority to the Most High? Does her Extraordinary Magisterium indeed speak and legislate with the same authority as God so that any contravention of her rules constitutes a sin against God Himself? Or does she presume, as did Lucifer, position and authority beyond and above her station? Has she shared in the fate of Lucifer?

Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. (Isaiah 14:9, KJV)

All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? (Isaiah 14:10, KJV)

Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. (Isaiah 14:11, KJV)

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! (Isaiah 14:12, KJV)

Why not do the research yourself? Open your Bible and find out whether God indeed ever prohibited eating of meat on Fridays, or if it was nothing but an excess of piety.

Ye Must Be Born Again