Ash Wednesday begins the period of Lent during which we are called to prayer and penance as we prepare for the celebration of Easter.

On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday the Church asks us to observe both abstinence from meat and fasting. For Christians fasting is one of the ways of expressing penance. The other ways are prayer, self-denial and works of charity. The practice of fasting is given to us by the Church to help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart (Catechism #2043). All who are 18 and not yet 60 (i.e. aged 18 to 59) are bound to fast. All who are over 14 (i.e. aged 15+) are bound to abstain.

The tradition of eating fish on Good Friday is a response to the call for all Catholics between the age of 15 and 59 to do Penance. This includes abstaining from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This does not mean one has to eat fish, there are a variety of other options available when choosing to abstain from meat. In today's society, a popular commercialisation of "not eating meat" has in many places evolved into having a "fish feast". The idea of any "feast" on Good Friday is not in keeping with the spirit/intent of Penance that we are called to as we remember the passion and death of Jesus on the Cross.

There is nothing wrong with meat and there is nothing particularly sacred about fish. With regards to fish there are some Christian symbolic references that may be called to mind when fish is prepared and consumed. In Chapter 21 of the Gospel of John the risen Lord feeds the apostles with some freshly cooked fish and bread. There are also other stories involving fish in the Gospels related to large catches of fish and feeding 5000 with loaves and fishes. An early Christian symbol was also the fish from the Greek word for fish ICTHUS (ΙΧΘΥΣ) made from the Greek first letters of the statement Jesus Christ Son of God Saviour.

Acknowledgements
Photo by F Wilkinson

Reviewed
14 October 2019

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