Though many devout Catholics maintain the tradition of meatless Fridays, it’s slowly disappearing from main-stream culture. It’s a solid memory of my childhood. It was another opportunity to ‘spot the Catholic’ during Friday lunches or around the dinner table. Many restaurants ensured that fish and chips and tuna sandwiches were on their Friday menu. It was smart marketing, but also acknowledged Catholics as a significant population group in society.
We remember the passion of Jesus on Fridays. Giving up flesh-meat is symbolic of Christ’s giving up of his own flesh. It is meant to be a fast, a penance, a sacrifice. For many children, giving up meat was easy. As a child, my husband looked forward to pancakes on Friday. Our own Friday dinner was usually pierogies – my all-time favourite comfort food. If this is suffering, bring it on! A few years ago I attended a Fish-Fry Friday during Lent. It was hosted by an obviously well to do parish. The fish menu rivaled that of some finer sea-food restaurants. Again, I can handle this kind of sacrifice!
My cynicism of the tradition actually began as a history student. I learned that some church officials in the middle ages tried to introduce meatless Wednesdays in addition to Fridays. Not as an additional act of holiness, but to boost the lagging fish market!
Several bishops ago, our Archbishop made the local news with his pronouncement that you could eat meat on Fridays with one stipulation. You had to replace the act of fasting with a good deed. The positive motive was good, but we all chuckled over which was easier. Hmmm…..I have to be nice to you, or eat fish!
My in-laws still abide by the meatless Friday rule. It’s part of who they are as Catholics, a tangible sign of their faith. For them, keeping the tradition is keeping the faith. You can’t argue with that. Pass the tartar sauce. 🙂