One of the most recognizable markers of Catholic identity used to be the practice of abstaining from meat on Friday. A Protestant colleague of mine speaks admiringly of how in his youth he would hang out, Happy Days style, at a burger joint on Friday night. When the clock struck twelve, the Catholic teens who were there would let loose a cry that echoed through the parking lot: “Ham-burger!”
What those teenagers didn’t know was that they were honoring a discipline probably as old as Christianity itself. Abstaining on Friday from “flesh meat,” the meat of a warm-blooded animal, is potentially older than some books of the New Testament.1 Be it with fasting (having little or no food) or abstaining (refraining from food of a particular kind), the Church has always observed Friday with some sort of restriction on comestibles.
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