Can Catholics Eat Meat on Good Friday?

Beef steak fillet
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Good Friday, the day on which Jesus Christ was crucified, is one of the most sacred days in the Christian calendar. Can Catholics eat meat on Good Friday?

Under the current rules for fasting and abstinence in the Catholic Church, Good Friday is a day of abstinence from all meat and foods made with meat for all Catholics age 14 and over. Good Friday is also a day of strict fasting (only one full meal, and two small snacks that don't add up to to a full meal) for Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59.

 (Those who cannot fast or abstain for health reasons are automatically dispensed from the obligation to do so.)

Why Do Catholics Abstain From Meat on Good Friday?

It is important to understand that abstinence, in Catholic practice, is (like fasting) always the avoidance of something that is good in favor of something that is better. In other words, there is nothing inherently wrong with meat, or with foods made with meat; abstinence is different from vegetarianism or veganism, where meat might be avoided for health reasons or out of a moral objection to the killing and eating of animals.

So if it is good to eat meat, why does the Church bind us, under pain of mortal sin, not to do so on Good Friday? The answer lies in the greater good that we honor with our sacrifice. Abstinence from meat on Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, and all the Fridays of Lent is a form of penance in honor of the sacrifice that Christ made for our sake on the Cross.

(The same is true of the requirement to abstain from meat on every other Friday of the year unless some other form of penance is substituted.) Our minor sacrifice—abstaining from meat—is a way of uniting ourselves to the ultimate sacrifice of Christ, when He died to take away our sins.

Can Another Form of Penance Be Substituted?

While, in the United States and many other countries, the bishops' conference allows Catholics to substitute a different form of penance for their normal Friday abstinence throughout the rest of the year, the requirement to abstain from meat on Good Friday, Ash Wednesday, and the other Fridays of Lent cannot be replaced with another form of penance.

What If I Forgot and Ate Meat?

If you ate meat because you truly forgot that it was Good Friday, your culpability—your responsibility for your action—is lessened. Still, because the requirement to abstain from meat on Good Friday is binding under pain of mortal sin, you should make sure to mention eating meat on Good Friday at your next Confession.

For more details about fasting and abstinence during Lent, see What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church? (Wondering what counts as meat? See Is Chicken Meat? And Other Surprising FAQs About Lent.)

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