If you grew up Catholic, you probably remember abstaining from eating meat on Fridays. You may have grumbled about having to give up your favorite hamburgers or chicken dishes. As an Evangelical or Charismatic Christian, this Catholic practice may seem strange or unnecessary. However, the tradition of forgoing meat on Fridays has deep biblical roots and spiritual meaning.
In this post, we will explore the origins of “no meat on Fridays,” the scriptural foundation for abstinence, and how this tradition can enrich your spiritual life as a Protestant believer. Let’s dive in!
For centuries, Catholics have refrained from eating meat on Fridays as a form of penance and self-denial. While modern Catholics are no longer required to follow this rule, many still choose to abstain from meat on Fridays as a meaningful spiritual discipline.
As a non-Catholic Christian, you may be wondering:
- Where did this tradition come from?
- Is there any biblical precedent for abstaining from certain foods?
- Could practicing meatless Fridays benefit my spiritual life even though I’m not Catholic?
In this post, we will unpack the history and biblical foundations of abstaining from meat on Fridays. We will also consider how this tradition could deepen your walk with God through self-denial and mindful sacrifice.
- The tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays has ancient roots dating back to the early church.
- There is biblical precedent for spiritual disciplines involving food and abstinence.
- Giving up meat on Fridays can deepen your faith by practicing self-denial and sacrifice.
- This tradition connects Christians today to centuries of faithful believers.
- God may use meatless Fridays to strengthen your spiritual muscles just as exercise strengthens your body.
The Origins of Abstaining from Meat on Fridays
The practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays is an ancient tradition dating back to the early centuries of Christianity.
In the 2nd century AD, a dispute arose in the church over whether Christians should fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. This controversy highlighted the growing interest in abstinence as a form of spiritual discipline even in the early church.
By the 3rd century AD, abstaining from meat and wine on certain days was an established practice linked to fasting and penance. For example, the Council of Nicea in 325 AD spoke of the importance of abstinence for all Christians.
Over time, Friday became established as a weekly day of abstinence from meat in particular. This was based on the understanding that Jesus Christ suffered and died for our sins on the cross on a Friday.
As the Didache, an early Christian text, states regarding the choice of Fridays:
Let not your fasts be with the hypocrites, for they fast on Mondays and Thursdays, but do you fast on Wednesdays and Fridays. (Didache 8:1)
By forgoing meat on Fridays, early believers felt they were uniting themselves spiritually with Christ’s sacrificial death.
During the Middle Ages, the Friday meat abstinence took on even greater significance. In the 11th century AD, Pope Gregory VII made abstaining from meat on Fridays mandatory for all able-bodied Christians. This requirement was later codified in the Canon Law of the Catholic Church.
Over succeeding centuries, abstaining from meat on Fridays remained an integral part of Catholic identity and piety. Though the strict requirement has been relaxed today, the tradition continues to be practiced by many Catholics as a way to honor Christ’s sacrifice.
Biblical Precedent for Food-Based Spiritual Disciplines
While abstaining from meat on Fridays is not explicitly commanded in Scripture, there are various biblical precedents for using food as part of spiritual practice. Examining these can help us understand the value of occasionally abstaining from certain foods for spiritual purposes.
1. Daniel’s Food Test
In Daniel 1, Daniel and his fellow captives underwent a test of eating only vegetables and water for 10 days. Scripture states:
Please test your servants for ten days. Let us be given only vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with the appearance of the young men who eat the royal food, and deal with your servants according to what you observe. (Daniel 1:12-13)
This account displays how abstaining from choice food, meat in particular, and embracing a simple diet of vegetables can have physical and spiritual benefits.
2. Fasts Accompanying Repentance
Throughout the Old Testament, fasts involving food abstinence accompanied seasons of repentance and mourning over sin. As Isaiah 58:6 says:
Is this not the fast which I choose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free?
Here we see fasting linked to undoing injustice and living righteously.
3. John the Baptist’s Ascetic Lifestyle
John the Baptist also lived an ascetic lifestyle in the wilderness, wearing clothes of camel’s hair and eating locusts and wild honey (Matthew 3:4). His simple diet of what the wilderness provided aligned with his mission to turn people’s hearts to repentance.
4. Jesus’ Forty Day Fast
Before starting His public ministry, Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert, abstaining from all food and drink (Matthew 4:2). This time of denying physical appetites prepared Him for spiritual warfare against temptation.
5. Self-Denial as a Spiritual Practice
Jesus called His disciples to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Him (Mark 8:34). By periodically abstaining from pleasurable things like meat, we practice the self-denial and sacrifice that Christ commands of those who follow Him.
As we can see from these examples, abstaining from certain foods for spiritual purposes has a firm scriptural foundation.
How Giving Up Meat on Fridays Can Benefit You Spiritually
If abstaining from meat on Fridays is not just a meaningless ritual but a meaningful spiritual discipline, how could reviving this practice benefit you as an Evangelical or Charismatic Christian? Consider the following potential spiritual benefits:
1. It lets you sacrifice something small out of love for Christ.
On the Friday before Good Friday, also known as Black Friday, Catholics traditionally abstain from meat completely as a sacrifice to honor Christ’s far greater sacrifice for us on the cross. Even if you don’t skip meat altogether, just abstaining from your favorite meat dishes is a small way to sacrifice in remembrance of Christ’s suffering. As Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.”
2. It helps you practice self-control and self-denial.
Exercising your willpower to avoid meat one day a week, especially when eating with others who are not abstaining, takes spiritual discipline. Just as athletes must exercise self-control in training to excel in sports, abstaining from meat strengthens your spiritual self-control muscles. As 2 Peter 1:5-6 exhorts:
For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control.
3. It fosters mindfulness about food choices and moderation.
When you deliberately abstain from meat for spiritual reasons, you become more mindful about planning non-meat meals. You may also find that you do not need meat to feel satisfied. This mindfulness around food choices can lead to greater moderation and self-discipline in eating overall.
4. It unites you with centuries of Christian tradition.
When you choose to not eat meat on Fridays, you participate in a tradition dating back to the early church fathers that continued for over a millennium. You unite yourself with generations of Catholics and other Christians for whom meatless Fridays were a treasured faith practice. There is power in connecting with centuries of historic Christian spirituality.
5. It serves as a witness of faith to others.
When friends, family, or coworkers notice you abstaining from meat and choose to eat fish or vegetarian meals on Fridays, it can prompt discussions about your faith. Your meatless Fridays may cause others to wonder why you are making this sacrifice, allowing you to share about Christ’s sacrifice.
6. It results in health benefits when done in moderation.
Research shows that diets higher in plant-based foods and lower in red meat and processed meats can have health advantages such as reducing heart disease risk. An occasional meatless Friday can contribute to a balanced, fruitful diet. As the Bible reminds us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you?…Honor God with your body.
Of course, care should be taken not to overindulge in other foods that Friday. Moderation is key.
7. It allows God to speak through your sacrifice.
God may want to use your simple sacrifice of a meatless meal to soften your heart to His voice. As Christ said in Matthew 13:16, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” Laying aside meat prepares us to feast on the life-giving words of Scripture.
So in summary, even if you are not Catholic, abstaining from meat one day a week as a spiritual exercise can strengthen your faith muscles just as physical exercise builds bodily muscles. Approach Fridays with a renewed passion, offering the temporary loss of meat as a living sacrifice of praise to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Practical Tips for Meatless Fridays
If you feel led to implement meatless Fridays in your spiritual life, here are some tips to get started:
- Pick your protein. On Fridays, swap meat for alternate protein sources like eggs, beans, lentils, nuts, seeds, fish, or dairy if you eat it. This ensures you stay full and satiated.
- Bulk up on veggies. Fill your plate with plenty of vegetables to add color, nutrients, fiber. Try new meatless recipes heavy on the veggies.
- Go ethnic. Try cuisine from cultures with lots of meatless options like Indian, Middle Eastern, and Thai dishes. Expand your palate!
- Make it simple. Don’t feel like you have to cook elaborate meals. Simple meatless sandwiches, salads, and soups get the job done.
- Plan ahead. Look at menus and grocery shop ahead of time to prepare meatless meals for Fridays. This prevents giving in to temptation.
- Change it up. Vary your meatless meals – don’t just default to cheese pizza every Friday! Mix up cuisines, protein sources and recipes to keep it interesting.
- Involve others. If cooking for family, talk about this new tradition and invite their ideas for creative recipes. Make it a shared spiritual experience.
The key is to approach meatless Fridays with purpose and passion, offering your sacrifice of delicious meat to God as an act of devotion. God will honor your sincere heart!
Friday Fish: A Meat Substitute with Spiritual Significance
Many Catholics who abstain from other meats on Fridays still enjoy fish and seafood. In fact, Friday night fish fries are a popular weekly tradition at many Catholic parishes.
Is there spiritual symbolism behind choosing fish rather than other meats on Fridays? Indeed, there is profound meaning attached to fish as a meat substitute.
In the early church, Christians used an image of a fish to represent Jesus Christ. The Greek word for fish, “ichthus,” was used as an acrostic for: Iesous Christos, Theou Uios, Soter, meaning “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” This discreet symbol identified believers to each other when Christianity was still an underground movement.
Later, as meatless Fridays became established, this Christological connection gave fish special significance as an appropriate food for Fridays. Additionally, fish was plentiful and easy to obtain in coastal Catholic regions, making it a practical meat substitute.
So the tradition of eating fish on Friday has deep roots in early church history and theology. Beyond the convenience and taste, fish holds spiritual meaning as a symbol of Christ Himself.
As an Evangelical Christian, you may not personally attach sacred meaning to fish over other meats. Feel free to explore other creative protein options for meatless Fridays while also respecting the venerable place fish holds in Catholic piety.
Should Christians Abstain from Meat Today? Two Views
The tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays raises an important question: Do Christians today need to avoid meat as part of faithful living? There are differing perspectives on this issue which we will briefly survey.
1. Yes, Christians should regular abstain from meat. Some Christians argue that because Christ called His followers to self-denial and sacrifice, periodically abstaining from meat should remain part of Christian discipleship today. They point to the spiritual benefits of meatless days practiced for centuries, from increased self-discipline to solidarity with the poor who rarely ate meat. This view sees value in preserving this ancient spiritual discipline.
2. No, abstaining from meat is unnecessary today. Other Christians contend that while abstaining from meat had value in historical contexts of scarcity, it is less relevant in modern societies where meat is abundant. They highlight Bible verses that allow freedom in eating: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 14:17). This view sees abstinence as meaningful when chosen voluntarily but not obligatory.
As an Evangelical weighing these perspectives, prayerfully consider whether reviving meatless Fridays could benefit your spiritual life without becoming legalistic. Seek the guidance of the Holy Spirit in exercising wisdom and freedom on this issue.
The Road Ahead: How Will You Observe Fridays?
If after reading this, you feel drawn to incorporate occasional meatless Fridays into your spiritual life, approach this tradition in a spirit of joyful devotion – not dreary obligation. Offer your sacrifice of delicious meats to God as an act of praise, knowing the spiritual fruits it will cultivate in your life.
But if abstaining from meat does not resonate with you, use Fridays to practice other forms of self-denial and charity. Our loving God is pleased when we freely choose disciplines that strengthen our faith and increase our love. As Colossians 2:16 says:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day.
How you observe Fridays matters far less than why you observe them – out of loving obedience to Christ. Let the Master guide your decisions as you walk the road ahead.
This Friday, may your choices around food bring you closer to the One who declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19) yet also called us to spiritual sacrifice. Allow this day to turn your heart heavenward in praise of the King who gave everything to offer us eternal feasting at His table.