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Catholic Dictionary




Refraining from meat on Friday in commemoration of Christ's passion and death. The custom was prevalent among Christians from the first century. It was extended to Saturday in the West at an early date. Until the apostolic constitution of Paul VI in 1966, all Fridays were obligatory days of abstinence for the whole Church, with the exception of certain territories that were exempt from the obligation. Since 1966, however, obligatory abstinence for the universal Church applies only to Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent. To the law of abstinence are bound all who have completed their fourteenth year of age. The law of abstinence forbids the use of meat, but not of eggs, the products of milk, or condiments made of animal fat. The abolition of Friday abstinence is a common misapprehension. Friday abstinence was not abolished; rather the faithful now have a choice either to abstain from meat or perform some other kind of penance on Fridays. According to the Church's law, the "substantial observance" of Fridays as days of penance, whether by abstinence or in other ways, "is a grave obligation" (Paenitemini, Norm II, 2).