Can You Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent?

The Reasons for Abstinence (and Fasting)

Steaks on the grill
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Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter Sunday. Can you eat meat on Ash Wednesday?

Can Catholics Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday?

Under the current rules for fasting and abstinence found in the Code of Canon Law (the governing rules for the Roman Catholic Church), Ash Wednesday is a day of abstinence from all meat and all foods made with meat for all Catholics over the age of 14.

In addition, Ash Wednesday is a day of strict fasting for all Catholics from age 18 to age 59. Since 1966, strict fasting has been defined as only one full meal per day, along with two small snacks that don't add up to a full meal.  (Those who cannot fast or abstain for health reasons are automatically dispensed from the obligation to do so.)

Can Catholics Eat Meat on the Fridays of Lent?

While Ash Wednesday is a day of fasting and abstinence (as is Good Friday), every Friday during Lent is a day of abstinence (though not of fasting). The same rules for abstinence apply: All Catholics over the age of 14 must abstain from eating meat and all foods made with meat on all Fridays of Lent, unless they have health reasons that prevent them from doing so.

Why Don't Catholics Eat Meat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent?

Our fasting and abstinence on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and our abstinence from meat on all of the Fridays of Lent, remind us that Lent is a penitential season, in which we express sorrow for our sins and try to bring our physical bodies under the control of our souls.

We don't avoid meat on days of abstinence, or restrict our intake of all food on days of fasting, because meat (or food in general) is bad. In fact, it's quite the opposite: We give up meat on those days precisely because it is good. Abstaining from meat (or fasting from food in general) is a form of sacrifice, which both reminds us of, and unites us to, the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the Cross on Good Friday.

Can We Substitute Another Form of Penance in Place of Abstinence?

In the past, Catholics abstained from meat on every Friday of the year, but in most countries today, the Fridays in Lent remain the only Fridays on which Catholics are required to abstain from meat. If we choose to eat meat on a non-Lenten Friday, however, we are still required to perform some other act of penance in place of abstinence. But the requirement to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and the other Fridays of Lent cannot be replaced with another form of penance.

What Can You Eat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent?

Still confused about what you can and can't eat on Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent? You'll find the answers to the most common questions people have in Is Chicken Meat? And Other Surprising FAQs About Lent. And if you need ideas for recipes for Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent, you can find an extensive collection from around the world in Lenten Recipes: Meatless Recipes for Lent and Throughout the Year.

Further Information on Fasting, Abstinence, Ash Wednesday, and Good Friday

For more details about fasting and abstinence during Lent, see What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church?

 For the date of Ash Wednesday in this and future years, see When Is Ash Wednesday?, and for the date of Good Friday, see When Is Good Friday?