Why do Catholics practice fasting and abstinence from meat on certain days? Does not St. Paul call abstaining from meats a “doctrine of devils”? (1 Tim. 4:1-3).

Catholics give up eating meat – for example, on Good Friday – to commemorate and honor Christ’s Sacrifice on that day, and to follow His instruction to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow Him. (Matt. 16:24; Mk. 8:34; Lk. 9:23). It is a practice that dates back to the earliest days of the Christian Church. Tertullian and Clement of Alexandria both mention it in their writings. It is a practice which is thoroughly Christian, for we note that Christ Himself recommended fasting, saying: “When thou fastest anoint thy head, and wash thy face… and thy Father, who seeth in secret, will repay thee.” (Matt. 6:17-18). In the same vein the Apostle Paul described his own suffering for Christ: “… in hunger and thirst, in fastings often…” (2 Cor. 11:27). Fasting was practiced both by Christ’s followers (Acts 14:22) and by Christ Himself. (Matt. 4:1-2). And Our Lord told His disciples that some devils cannot be cast out “but by prayer and fasting.” (Matt. 17:20). Paul’s denunciation of those who abstain from eating meat applies to those who reject the eating of meat entirely, as though it were evil in itself. His denunciation has nothing to do with the abstinence of Catholics, for on other days Catholics eat as much meat as do other people. Moreover, the abstinence from meat is not binding on all Catholics. Young children, old people, sick people, and all Catholics in countries where meat is the principle diet, are excused.

Author: Paul Whitcomb
Nihil Obstat: Rev. Edmund J. Bradley Censor Deputatus
Imprimatur: Timothy Manning, Auxiliary Bishop of Los Angeles, Vicar General
April 13, 1961