Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, is only a month away, so for this week’s “Throwback Thursday” installment I thought it would be appropriate to revisit this post that was originally published back on August 2, 2015 and has been revised.
Back when I was a young tyke growing up in the early-1960s, the Catholic church prohibited eating meat on Fridays throughout the entire calendar year. The obligatory abstinence had something to do with Jesus dying on a Friday and the restriction on eating the meat of warm-blooded animals was supposedly a commemoration of His sacrifice. Disobeying the church and eating meat on Friday was a “mortal” sin that would stain your soul and send you to eternal damnation, no excuses. Even just one bite of a cheeseburger meant an eternity of perpetual torment! We “good” Catholics were scandalized when we heard about a Catholic neighbor who defied the church and barbequed hot dogs on the grill on a Friday. My Dad often picked up a big batch of very tasty fried whitefish and french fries at Karl’s Fish Store at 1314 Culver Road (see photo below) on Fridays so it wasn’t like we felt any kind of deprivation. I actually preferred the store-bought fried fish to Mom’s meat dishes the rest of the week.
However, all of this changed in 1966 (Sorry, Karl!) when pope Paul VI, in his PAENITEMINI document, left it up to the national bishops to determine abstinence policy in their particular country. The U.S. bishops ruled on November 18, 1966 that Catholics were able to eat meat on Fridays except during Lent.
Most Catholics are unaware that the Canon Laws prohibiting meat on Fridays throughout the year are still on the books (see Canons 1250-1252) with the provision that the national bishops are able to “determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety” (Canon 1253).
So the MONUMENTAL question is, What about all the U.S. Catholics who died before 1966 who had disobeyed the church and ate meat on non-Lenten Fridays without ever confessing this “sin?” Are they still in Hell or did the pope give them a “Get Out of Jail Free” card in 1966 in light of the new policy? Skeptical Catholics should definitely smell a rat with this one.
In contrast, the Bible is pretty clear on this abstention-from-meat business:
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.” – 1 Timothy 4:1-5.
So eating meat on Friday is definitely NOT a sin according to the Bible, but the rule to abstain from meat is a man-made commandment subject to whimsical alterations (with *unexplainable complexities) as we saw in 1966. Are we to believe the Bible or the Catholic church?
“But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” – Matthew 15:9
Regrettably, Catholics are taught they must merit their salvation by jumping through legalistic religious hoops such as refraining from meat on Lenten Fridays. Praise the Lord for His Word and for His salvation by the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ ALONE!
*Postscript 1: Let’s suppose that in 1967 an American Catholic traveled to a foreign country where he knew the national Catholic bishops dictated the abstention from meat on non-Lenten Fridays was still in effect. If the American traveler ate a cheeseburger in that country on a non-Lenten Friday did he commit a soul-damning “mortal” sin? Oy vey!!! Just give me Jesus!
Postscript 2: We’ll soon be rolling out our annual posts on the inanities of Lenten dietary restrictions including “Is it OK to eat Chicken in a Biskit crackers on Fridays during Lent?” and “Lent is no match for Super Rodent!” Also, there may be a new post this Lenten season called “Muskrat Love.”