Why do we Catholics give up red meat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent?

I’ve been asked this question, and I just don’t know how to answer them. I mean, I sort of know the jist but my Protestant friends want to know when that started and how it started. Thanks!

When it started in the Catholic Church I can’t say, but the placing of ashes on oneself is a practice that goes all the way back to the ancient jews in the Old Testament. They would, when making penance or having great contrition, cover themselves in sackloth and ashes, so the practice is certainly biblical if that is their question.

The giving up of meat is a discipline meant to remind us of Christ’s suffering and death on the cross for us. It is not an issue of biblical theology, but more of an important observance to help bring about a contrite heart in us. Your protestant friends probably enjoy choir music as a form of worship, or piano and organ playing, but these aren’t “in the Bible” either! Not everything we do for worship MUST appear in the Bible, after all.

Point of information --it isn’t just ‘red meat’ (that is, beef). . .it is ‘white meat’ (chicken, pork) as well.

Christ gave up his flesh (Latin: carne) for us on Good Friday.

Therefore we fast from meat (carne) on Friday and on Ash Wednesday-- the beginning of Lent. Lent used to be a 40 day fast, not just Fridays and Ash Wednesday, taken from the biblical tradition of fasting, and as in today’s Gospel where Jesus fasted 40 days.

We do not abstain from seafood because it is not *carne *(flesh meat), it is pisci.

It helps to have taken Latin or a foreign language descended from Latin.

This is what I’ve learned as well.
Except that I do fast from fish on fridays-all flesh meats.

Abel (the son of Adam) gave up the best of his flock as an offering to god (Genesis 4). Similar offerings occurred until Christ became the last blood offering ( or sacrifice). Since Christ’s offering we no longer give blood offerings yet to honor god we are encouraged to abstain from these offerings on Fridays, all Fridays. The obligation has been reduced to Fridays of lent. The objective of the practice is to install virtues by practicing control over concupiscence. Fasting, abstaining, almsgiving are all examples of practicing control over concupiscence. Another way to say it is fasting, abstaining, and wearing ashes are actions of humility or humbling oneself. These practices oppose the vices of pride, ego, and arrogance.

Hope that helps

Note: the site even says that this is not guaranteed to be historically accurate, but it makes sense to me.


Basically, meat requires money. It’s a luxury. Generally speaking, you have to raise an animal to eat it, but you can just go catch a fish or pick a vegetable. By giving up meat–non-fish meat–you’re giving up luxuries and being simple. Which, in the developed world, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, since fish is as expensive and luxurious as, if not more than, meat. But it’s still a sacrifice.

But this isn’t THE answer. Just AN answer. Possibly.

We don’t give up red meat, we give up meat or at least what is historically called meat (i.e. not sea food). We do so in memorial of good friday.

my husband complains about the ash wednesday fasting part, and also wants an all-meat diet on saturdays. :rolleyes: he should be glad we’re not eastern rite. but seriously, there’s been a package of bacon in the fridge unopened for a few weeks, and I had no craving for it until wed. and then again fri. :rotfl:

basically, as kslat noted, meat was a huge luxury. sure, because you had to own land and have money to feed and water any animals you wanted to raise, but also because that whole area was pretty barren - there really weren’t wild animals available to hunt that also fit the “cloven hoof, chews cud” requirement. fish was easy to catch and abundant, and was probably eaten at nearly every meal - but again, they could only eat fish with both scales and fins. then there’s the symbolism of giving up flesh and fasting, which texas roofer listed.

abstinence from meat is required on ash wed and fridays of lent (those over 14), and fasting on ash wed and good friday to mean one full meal, and any other food taken throughout the day to be less than another full meal (those between 18 and 59), with dispensations for pregnant/nursing women and people with special dietary needs (illness, dietary restrictions, physical laborers, etc).

I had this drilled into my head from when I was little - there was never meat allowed, and before I was 14 I wasn’t required to fast but I wasn’t allowed any food between meals, and certainly nothing in those meals like soda, chips, or candy. it was also made clear that I should be glad we weren’t living “back in the day” when things were stricter.

eventually I looked that stuff up, and learned a bunch more, which of course now makes the “almost two meal” fast seem like nothing at all!

  1. black fasting used to be the norm. One meal after sunset, no meat/dairy/eggs, and bread and water only during holy week.
  2. in the 10th century, the meal was allowed at 3pm, and in the 14th century was moved up to noon. soon after a small bit was allowed in the evening, and by the 19th century a small morning bit in the morning as well.
  3. fasting and abstinence was required on all wednesday and fridays of the year. eventually wednesday was ignored, and friday’s requirement was turned into any act of penance. abstinence also used to be required for lenten saturdays. for 1-2, see newadvent.org/cathen/02590c.htm, 3 was found on several websites with no actual citation. I think the all friday requirement changed with vatican II but I’m not sure about the others.
  4. I also read that the remaining days of lent traditionally only had meat in one meal, but I couldn’t find a citation for that, either.

also, the eastern orthodox currently abstain from meat, eggs, dairy, fish, olive oil, and wine on all weekdays of lent. there are slightly different requirements for other days - see abbamoses.com/fasting.html

all this makes me feel rather wussy, especially because modern western meals are way bigger than they used to be!

My understanding is that the Pope who wrote the rules on this used latin the term “carne” in the document. Most often carne includes “red” or more accurately “bloody” meats. Beef, chicken and pork (bleeding like a stuck pig as the saying goes) are all “bloody” meats. This is one of the reasons some religions consider pork to be unclean, because it is considered the most bloody of the bunch. Fish on the other hand is much, much less bloody. If you’ve every cleaned a fish and a hog you’ll note that fish is proportionately less bloody meat.

Not that we as Catholics think bloody meats are unclean by any means but that’s where the carne and meat get confused. There is not a good translation of carne to english. The nearest word in english is meat which typcially includes all types of meat but the latin form traditionally doesn’t include fish or cold blooded animals.

Why do we abstain from meat? Well, meat is a luxury. My wife and I are big carnivores, we have meat with just about every meal normally. Meat is expensive as well compared to say eating rice instead. So the idea is to give up meat because it’s something most people like and is typically expensive and more of a luxury item.

IMO, Lent isn’t the time to splurge on anything. We probably should avoid buying luxury items in general and just attend to needs as much as possible. Same goes with food, perhaps we shouldn’t go to that fancy diner…ect. There are no rules saying you can’t but it just seems appropriate to me. :blush:


I really like your views on Lent. Additionally I would say that taking seriously, the call to make a personal sacrafice (i.e. “give something up for lent”) presents us with another wonderful oppertunity to grow spiritually when one approches it with a mind intent upon growing closer to the Lord.