Friday, February 25, 2011

Eating Fish During Lent

At our RCIA class this week the question about abstaining from meat on Fridays came up. Many of us were curious why we were allowed to eat fish (which is a meat) when the rule is to not eat meat. Many theories were suggested including that it was a tie in with Jesus calling Simon and Peter (fishermen) to follow him. Another was that cold blooded animals don't count and still another was that the rule only counts land animals.

Here's a good summary of our obligations during Lent.

However, the above link does not address the question. It does tell us that amphibians and all sorts of fish are fair game but not why.

St. Thomas Aquainas chimmed in with this explaination:
I answer that, fasting was instituted by the Church in order to bridle the concupiscences of the flesh, which regard pleasures of touch in connection with food and sex. Wherefore the Church forbade those who fast to partake of those foods which both afford most pleasure to the palate, and besides are a very great incentive to lust.

Such are the flesh of animals that take their rest on the earth, and of those that breathe the air and their products, such as milk from those that walk on the earth, and eggs from birds For, since such like animals are more like man in body, they afford greater pleasure as food, and greater nourishment to the human body, so that from their consumption there results a greater surplus available for seminal matter, which when abundant becomes a great incentive to lust. Hence the Church has bidden those who fast to abstain especially from these foods. (Summa theologiae II-II q. 147, a. 8)
St. Thomas was against eggs and milk being part of the abstainence, but that has since been changed by the church.

It's important to note here that Catholics are not required to eat fish during Lent, only that it's permitted. There is also the misunderstanding that allowing fish to be eaten on Firdays during Lent  was some sort of scheme to boost the fishing industry.

The most likely  reasons it's OK to eat fish are outlined here by Jimmy Aikin.

Essentially, red meat and meat of birds was much, much more expensive and less abundant than fish in biblical days.  Red meat or fowl was something most people couldn't afford to have everyday and was more of luxury item than it is today. Since lent is a time of depriving one's self and giving to others, it would be inappropriate to indulge in luxury items like a big steak.

Another issue is that the word "meat" as used in the US doesn't have a good translation to many other languages. Meat to many Americans means flesh of any animal, where as in Latin the closest word with somewhat similar meaning is "carne". Carne, when used in Latin, does not typically refer to fish but warm blooded animals on land.

So, there you have it. Meat is a luxury item and the term does not translate well from Latin to English.


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