Different cultures and religions sometimes have specific diet or meal restrictions that they must adhere to. This can be a lifelong commitment, or this may be periodic fasting, such as during Lent. There is a lot of confusion tied to what Catholics are allowed to eat, and what they must avoid, during this period. Meat is off limits, but where does that leave eggs?
Can Catholics eat eggs during Lent? During Lent, Catholics are required to abstain from meat, but not the byproducts of the meat producing animals. This means that Catholics can eat eggs and dairy products, as well as products that are animal derived but do not have meat taste such as gelatin.
There are times when Catholics are required to abstain from meat with few acceptations. This is on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all of the Fridays during the 40 days of Lent. These rules do vary somewhat based on your location in the world, and some may impose stricter rules on themselves based on prior mandates or family tradition.
What Foods are Abstained from During Fasting Periods?
During the predetermined days, Catholics are mandated to avoid eating “flesh meat”. These items basically include red meat such as beef, pork and poultry. Soups, stews or sauces made from meat are also prohibited.
There have been multiple changes throughout the years, each relaxing the rules a little more than the one before it. This ruling has gone from fasting on all Fridays, to only fasting on the Fridays during Lent.
At one time, Catholics were required to fast from not only meat, but meat Byproducts as well. This restriction lasted throughout the 40 days of Lent, which led to a tradition called Fat Tuesday. This was the day before Lent began on Ash Wednesday.
On this day, Catholics worked to clean out their pantries and use the items for a special meal on that Tuesday. Pancakes were normally made in great numbers to use up milk, eggs, and butter. There are now Pancake races on Fat Tuesday in England as remembrance of this custom.
What Foods Are Allowed
This is a simple answer- as there are numerous foods that are allowed. Basically, anything that is not considered “flesh meat” is free game. That includes animal by products as well. This means that Catholics can eat eggs, fish, and other seafood on days where meat is not allowed. Both salt and freshwater fish are allowed, as well as amphibians, reptiles and shellfish.
One thing that the church reminds us is that, in order to stay within the spirit of the meat-free days, is that meals during these periods should be modest. That means that Friday’s should not include over the top meals- such as a Seafood Feast or Crab boil.
Simple Friday meals may include a vegetarian offering, a simple fish course, or other meatless dinners. Some families look at Fridays as “easy night” offering items like Soup and salad, tuna fish sandwiches, cheese pizza, or breakfast for dinner- such as eggs and toast or pancakes. Meal simplicity keeps within the spirit of abstaining.
Of course, young children do not understand the reasoning- and keeping it positive is important so as they grow, they will be able to understand the sacrifice- but not have it tied to unhappy memories. Allowing children to help plan meals on these “meatless” days when they are younger can avoid negativity. Once they begin to grow closer to the age where fasting is a requirement, it is important to teach them why we fast, and help them to grow in their own spirituality.
There is not Biblical reference to include as this type of fasting is not included within the Bible. There is, however, mandates from the Church level that requires Catholics to follow these guidelines. The law of abstinence requires this of Catholics 14yrs old and above.
It is important to note that there are those who are excused from fasting outside of the age limits. This includes those who are physically or mentally ill, those suffering from chronic illnesses, as well as pregnant or nursing women. Common sense should prevail as the Lord would not expect us to jeopardize our health by fasting. Those with illnesses such as diabetes should maintain their healthy eating schedule to ensure that they are able to stay healthy and continue to live a Godly life.
St. Basil gives the following exhortation regarding fasting:
“Let us fast an acceptable and very pleasing fast to the Lord. True fast is the estrangement from evil, temperance of tongue, abstinence from anger, separation from desires, slander, falsehood and perjury. Privation of these is true fasting.”
Abstaining from meat on Fridays honors the sacrifice made by Christ on Good Friday. By abstaining from “flesh meat” we are honoring the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh on that day. These animals are sacrificing their flesh for us, as Christ sacrificed His flesh. Therefore, we do not spill the blood of red meat to honor the blood that He spilt for our sins.
It is important to notate that the requirement of abstaining from meat byproducts is not a requirement for Latin-rite Catholics. However, this is still mandatory for Eastern churches in union with Rome.
Catholics feel that the act of fasting can improve a believer’s spirituality. When we face physical hunger, and even pain, we begin to realize that our spirituality is more important than our physical discomfort. By removing something as pleasurable as a good meal or the feeling of a full belly, we draw closer to God. Even embracing the actual feeling of hunger can remind us of the pain faced by Jesus.
Fasting allows us to humble ourselves before the Lord. Denying ourselves the physical comfort from food allows us to submit to the will of God, showing our dependence on Him. For, without the Lord, we would not have the food that fills our bodies- the nourishment that keeps us healthy. Fasting is a reminder that without His love and grace, we would have nothing.
“Then I proclaimed a fast . . . that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a straight way for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21).
One of the most important passages for Catholics in relation to diet is in the book of Genesis. After creating humans, God addresses them in chapter 1, verses 29–30 as follows:
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so.
When questioning the allowable diet during fasting periods, it is important to remember the purpose behind the fasting as well as the allowable foods. Eggs are allowable, as they are considered animal by-products, as are dairy items. This makes fasting a little more palatable for some. Above all, keeping the meals simple and staying within the spirit of the fast should hold more importance to Catholics than trying to find loopholes in an already lenient set of rules.
Fasting is a way for us to draw closer to God through our own sacrifice both physically and mentally. By abstaining from items that we enjoy, as well as prayer and reflection, we are brought closer to Him and reminded of all that He has done for us. Being a good Catholic means following the mandates set forth by the church but, more importantly, remembering why the mandates are in place and why we should follow them.
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