Fish on Fridays
Nothing symbolizes the supposed arbitrariness of religion to those predisposed towards skepticism towards religious belief than does the Catholic practice of eating fish on Fridays during the season of Lent. I’ll admit to having asked myself, especially on Good Friday, what connection there is between fish and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. And then there is the philosophical paradox. If my soul is lost after I’ve eaten meat on a Lenten Friday, does that mean I’m free to commit worse sins without making my situation worse? But if the rule doesn’t really matter, then why follow it? And on and on and on and on…
Here’s what I do know. With the choice of fish options available to a 21st century American, eating fish on Fridays is about as small a “sacrifice” in a material sense as can be asked for. But honoring the fasting rules does require me to make some conscious choices that run contrary to what the surrounding culture tells me is cool and sensible. And if I am unable to make this little tiny sacrifice, because I find it too inconvenient, or because I’m afraid to explain myself to others who don’t share my belief or who might think that I’m being just plain silly, then on what basis do I believe myself to be capable of taking a stand in more serious situations, when the choices might be a little harder and the stakes a little bit higher?
A couple of points:
First, with regard to meat vs. fish, we’re not talking about a “fast.” The rule is that Catholics must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays in Lent. This is supposed to be a type of sacrifice. If you happen to love fish and look forward to Fridays in Lent so that you can eat fish then, you probably are not with the program and you might consider also abstaining from fish as well as meat in order to make a true sacrifice.
Next, the “fast” rules apply on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Catholics may eat one full meal and two smaller meals that, together, do not equal the full meal. No eating between meals. Again, this is meant as a sacrifice.
Really, there are three things that we are supposed to do during Lent in an effort to get our spiritual lives properly oriented; prayer, fasting and almsgiving.
By the way, if you really want to get with the program (so to speak) I strongly encourage you to participate fully in the Good Friday service and Easter Vigil in your parish. These events (together with the Mass of the Lord’s Supper which took place last night) represent the very heart of Christian belief.