The definition of fasting meant denial of one coveted food — meat (Acts 15). This is part of the battle we all fight, versus our stomachs. We fast (diet) to tell our stomachs who is boss; hence the custom of meatless Fridays, especially during Lent.
While you’re enjoying that plate of crispy-fried haddock fillet with sides of golden fries and creamy coleslaw, guess what. You’re fasting.
In the modern secular world, fasting means denial of all food. In the early Christian world, the definition of fasting meant denial of one coveted food — meat (Acts 15). This is part of the battle we all fight, versus our stomachs. We fast (diet) to tell our stomachs who is boss; hence the custom of meatless Fridays, especially during Lent.
The denial of meat means we have control over our worldly desires. God, of course, approves of bodily stewardship, and according to Matthew 16, will reward us.
In the Catholic faith, abstaining from eating meat on Fridays is a form of mass penance, an act of devotion, meaning we’re sorry we’ve sinned. What better way to mourn the greatest sin of all, the crucifixion of Christ (on Good Friday)? The Catholic Church is serious about this. In the 17th century, the Trullan Synod inflicted excommunication on all who violated the law, priests excepted.
Why fish? There’s plenty of prophesizing here. Bloody meat was considered inappropriate on the bloodiest day in the Christian faith. Fish has little blood. Then the practice spread to other Fridays.
Some cite the association of Jesus’ dividing of the five loaves and two fish to feed the masses (Matthew 15:32-39). And, oh, yes, the Greek word for fish is an acronym of Christ, which explains the fish bumper stickers on cars.
Fish on Fridays has its detractors. Some believe it was a papal marketing ploy to boost the commerce of fishermen. They find no other material benefit to the denial. (Still, selling fish dinners helps support many churches. It may not be entirely mythical in modern times.)
Giving up meat for Lent begs an argument that scholars have debated for centuries: Can a vegetarian, who eats no meat anyway, gain absolution by not eating it on Friday? The answer is no, but they may be forgiven of their sins by denying another favorite food, such as soyburgers.