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Origin of eating fish during lent
Question from Randall Pristello on 3/28/2005:

Dear Mr. Bunson,

My Niece's Fiance (not Catholic) tells me that the reason Catholics began eating fish during lent was because the Vatican ordered it during the 16th century to support a sagging fishing industry. I know that fasting has its origins in the first century, but I have know idea if there is any legitimacy to his assertion. Can you Please enlighten me?

Thanks,

Randy

Answer by Matthew Bunson on 5/3/2005:

No, there was no such action from the popes. That is merely one of the illogical accusations made against the Church. In truth, such an idea would have been impractical for much of history given the limited diets of people in Europe. Catholics abstain from eating meat during Lent and also on Fridays because those periods are considered penitential. The Code of Canon Law (can. 1250) describes the season of Lent (and Fridays) as penitential days and times in the universal Church. Such practices in Lent are intended to dispose the faithful to celebrate the paschal mystery. Canon 1251 also declares that abstinence from meat and other foods is to be observed on every Friday (save for Fridays that fall on days listed as a solemnity) according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops. Abstaining from the eating of meat on Fridays is considered a positive discipline – that is, it assists in uniting the believer through self-sacrifice to the sacrificial love of Christ and to assist in the perfection of charity and deepening prayer. The eating of fish – in those areas where seafood has traditionally been easily obtained – began as a satisfactory alternative to eating meat. As it provides a suitable replacement, fish (and seafood in general) became a virtual staple in many areas. There are different opinions as to whether active symbolism is involved, but in general the popularity of fish is merely as an appropriate form of abstinence.

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