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Life is tough. Nuns are tougher.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Meat or No Meat

I have done my share of catechism classes and lectures for adult Catholics. One of the constant questions is some blither about how "if the Church is infallible how come it's okay to eat meat on Friday now and it didn't used to be?"

I used to wonder how people had become so rattle brained and inattentive. But I really don't blame the Church Militant (that would be you, if you are Catholic) for the confusion any longer. Let's get out our theological ironing board and straighten out this mess.

"..if the Church is infallible..."

The Church is infallible. It has always been infallible. The Pope wasn't always infallible. The Pope became infallible at Vatican I in the late 19th century. Then papal infallibility became retroactive. So the Pope has always been infallible.

"how come it's okay to eat meat on Friday now and it didn't used to be?"

The underlying accusation here is the the Church changes Her mind willy nilly and that next we'll have married priests and girl priests and birth control. That doesn't happen.

(Although we do have some married priests who came over from the Anglican Church when the Anglican Church decided to have girl priests. Those priests were ordained as Catholic priests and Mrs. Priest didn't have to go anywhere except home to the rectory. I think there are around 60 of them. )

It's okay to eat meat on Friday's now because eating meat on Friday is a church discipline not a Church dogma. Disciplines can change.
Dogma can not.

I think I know why people got so confused.

Confusing things happen.

For example, everyone thinks that women not longer have to wear hats in church. Obviously, in practice, this is the case. I have yet to see any bare headed women getting the bum's rush by the deacon. But the Church has never said that women no longer have to wear hats in church. That discipline did not change.

What happened? During Vatican II one of the Cardinals came out for a press conference and was peppered with questions, one of which was, "Is it true women no longer have to where hats in church?" Where the reporter came up with this question is unknown. Perhaps he was a reporter from "Hair Stylists Weekly" or "The Anti-Hat Herald". The flustered Cardinal said something to the effect of "we could care less about hats", meaning, "we have such important matters to discuss we don't have hats/no hats on the agenda at all."

The next day the Italian press headlined "Vatican Says, "No More Hats for Women!" The Cardinal came rushing back out and said, "No! NO! NO! We didn't say that!" But the horse was out of the barn. The hats were off. Like Mary Tyler Moore arriving in Minneapolis.

You are still supposed to wear a hat in church, girls. No one seems to care that you don't.

The discipline about fish on Friday did change. Here's how it irons out:

1. Friday is always a day of repentance all year round.

This means you are supposed to do penance every Friday. All these centuries the church took care of that for you by telling you the discipline to not eat meat. Handed it to you on a vegetarinan platter.

2. You get to decide what penance you will do every Friday.

The Church decided you were grown up enough now to decide for yourself how you will unite yourself with Christ's suffering and do penance for the sins of the world every Friday. You can even go all New Age-y and do good works! Skip the macaroni and cheese and fish sticks, but don't skip the penance.

3. You still have to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. (And Ash Wednesday.)

You can have meat if you're really sickly or under age 14. And if St. Patrick's Day lands on a Friday in Lent. But you have to get a special dispensation from the bishop to have your corned beef dinner. But not at your house. At the church fund raiser.

Let's hope we've finally gotten our theology out of the dryer before it becomes a wrinkled mess. That way, maybe we can skip all this ironing.


Suzanne said...

Jimmy Akin from Catholic Answers said on his blog a while back that he loved seeing women wear head coverings during Mass but it was not required anymore. I am confused now, Sister! I love wearing a mantilla, but I do get funny looks at my small Oklahoma parish!

PraiseDivineMercy said...

Good sister, I was wondering if I might share my own reasons for not wearing a head covering and ask your opinion.
I did seriously contemplate getting one of those mantillas, However, I am only 22 and was raised in a parish where people never wore them. There are still only half a dozen who wear them at my current parish, all older ladies. I feel like wearing one now would be an act of showing off how conservative I am, since I don't have a real sense of the piety behind it.

cattiekit said...

I remember a 'funny' story from my long-vanished youth where my girlfriend got a chapel veil from an (older/more conservative) aunt for one of her Christmas presents.

Since we were fashion-concious teens at the time, she was *aghast* that anybody thought she'd wear it.

It was kind of akin to wearing one of those little folding plastic rain hats that had Wonder Bread wrapper dots all over it.

Frankly, nowdays, if I had a nice mantilla I'd wear it.

The *hail* with the funny looks.

It's between you and Heaven Above - no other opinions needed. ;>)

cattiekit said...

And *thank you* for clearing up the meat-on-Friday and during Lenten Fridays thing!

My addled old pate thanks you, too. ;>D

Laura The Crazy Mama said...

I have a funny question about the hats in church issue. What if I am in a hurry and throw on a baseball cap (let's say, for a Tues. eve Mass)? I get dirty looks from people who think it's rude for people to wear hats in church. It is the ultimate rudeness for a GUY to wear a hat, but what if I do? I asked our old priest one time after a festival before a 6pm Mass if it was okay that I wear my bbcap after working in the hot kitchen at the chicken dinner all day and he mistook my question to mean did I HAVE to wear a headcovering to church and he said, "No, you don't HAVE to wear a hat to church." I didn't have the heart to ask again so I just wore it and ignored the dirty looks.

Kasia said...

My thoughts for Praisedivinemercy:

If your reason for buying and wearing the mantilla is to show everyone how conservative you are, or how holy you are, or whatever - then it's a bad idea. The intention matters here.

If your reason for buying and wearing it is out of modesty, or out of a desire to be obedient to Church teaching, etc, and there's NOT a desire to APPEAR holier-than-thou, it's probably fine.

But Sister (or Jimmy Akin) could say better than me...

PraiseDivineMercy said...

That is the problem Kasia. It wouldn't feel like modesty to me because it I wasn't raised that way. I suppose I would do it so to follow church teaching(the reason I considered it in the first place) but then I would also feel pride and deal poorly with the attention (pride is my worst sinful tendancy).

cattiekit said...

Oh, laura. If you're wearing your cap so you can make it to Mass on time after a day of slaving over a hot stove, ignore the looks and go ahead and feel good about being there. :>)

Women have *always* been able to wear hats.

Just because others in your particular parish don't know the details about *how* you wound up wearing the hat does't mean you need to feel awkward. :>)

Your intention is right on target. :>)

cattiekit said...

Right, kasia. :>)

And right too, praisedivinemercy. :>)

Avoiding an opportunity to be prideful is a *good* thing.

If I had a mantilla and wore it, it would be because I wanted to follow the discipline - period.

And anybody who gave me the eyeball would just get a friendly little smile. :>)

PraiseDivineMercy said...

Maybe I can find a some sort of hat. I usually don't wear them, except baseball caps in summer to keep the sun out of my eyes. ^_^

Anonymous said...

Jimmy Akin was mistaken about the requirement for penance on Friday -which might or might not, depending on your choice of penance, mean no meat.

Paul said...

"The Pope wasn't always infallible. The Pope became infallible at Vatican I in the late 19th century."

This isn't actually correct, Sister -- the declaration of dogma merely codified what the Church had always believed; the Pope has always shared, in a special way, in the Church's infallibility, Vatican I merely defined once and for all HOW he is infallible in that regard. Even the bishops who opposed the declaration didn't think the Pope wasn't -- or hadn't been -- infallible, they just didn't like the timing, wording, etc. of the specific document.

"You are still supposed to wear a hat in church, girls. No one seems to care that you don't."

The article of canon law requiring this is no longer in force -- the 1983 Code specifically says that all parts of the 1917 Code are abrogated and done away with. So while VII had nothing to do with it, it is not required to wear a head covering, even though it is an admirable pious custom. If you want to, go ahead -- my fiance does; but it is not a sin to do otherwise.

"2. You get to decide what penance you will do every Friday."

If you look at Canon 1251, abstinence from meat is still the normative penance for Fridays. We are not required to abstain here in the US because the USCCB, acting under authority given to it in Canon 1253, has substituted a very general call for penance.

Anonymous said...

Paul, where is it recorded that "the USCCBsubstituted a very general call for penance?"

I had understood that although they had the authority under Canon Law to substitute some other penance for abstention from meat the US bishops never got around to doing ANYTHING about it.

Can you give the reference?


Bailey Walker said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bailey Walker said...

Sorry, the link to the bishops' statement on penance and abstinence didn't work properly. Here's hoping this does;


The original document was promulgated in 1966. It actually makes for good reading. Oremus pro invicem.

Arkanabar T'verrick Ilarsadin said...

Baily Walker, that link is a bit clunky. Much easier to merely click here.

Saint Maker said...

I just love the internet! I googled "no meat Friday + catholic catechism"... and came upon your site. We've had meatless Fridays for years! I am avoiding cleaning the house and reading your site, but I'd better pack it in and get to task.

I love your site and I'll be back!


Susan said...


Would you feel comfortable wearing a scarf or something? I got a brown scarf, about the colour of my hair, and tie it around my bun (see tznius.com for what I'm talking about). It made me feel less self-conscious when I started veiling, but it turns out that I didn't get any looks. My parish, too, is one where only a few older ladies veil, and no one else. There are also 'whisper veils' which are hardly noticeable, but I can't remember the site I found them on. If I find it, I'll post.

dyno dave said...

How did no meat on Friday's during Lent come about?

Anonymous said...

Hi again, Sister. I sent a previous comment but now I have to add to it... It was about birth control and teens.
My teenage son has admitted to having sex. (He's 17.) I have on several occasions found condoms in his room and have thrown them away. My husband says I'm wrong at this point - even though the Church says it's wrong to use birth control of any type. He says since we KNOW he's already sinning by having sex before marriage, we should be more concerned for his health (i.e. insure he's at least having safe sex). I'm not sure what to do here. I have talked to my son - to no avail - about abstinence. I have prayed. In the meantime, I can't help but worry he'll get some sexually transmitted disease. What advice do you have?