For some homes, fish is a rarity during mealtimes. If you live in a Catholic home, however, you may find that fish is more of a staple. In fact, Catholics may eat more fish than most other households, especially on Fridays.

Why do Catholics eat fish on Fridays? The simple answer is because Catholics do not eat the flesh of warm-blooded animals on Fridays, during Lent, or on Ash Wednesday. That makes fish an acceptable alternative.

The reasons behind Catholics choosing to eat fish, as opposed to other things on Fridays, may surprise you!

The simple answer is because we cannot eat meat, but there is more to the story, as well as a few conspiracy theories related to the consumption of these cold-blooded creatures that you may find interesting. Who doesn’t enjoy a good conspiracy?

The reasons we do not eat meat

Abstaining from eating meat on Fridays serves as a sacrifice reminiscent of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross. This is the reason we celebrate Good Friday as Jesus died on a Friday, rising 3 days later. Good Friday, therefore, is celebrated on the Friday before Easter Sunday- the day He rose again.

Some people will tell you that the reasoning behind not eating warm blooded animals is that it bears resemblance to the blood of the Lord that was spilled for our sins and these animals, in turn, are spilling their blood for our consumption.

These rules, however, are not specified in biblical teachings. These are mandates set forth by the church, and not written in the word itself. This is one reason that this type of fasting can be confusing to some outside of the faith.

People always look for a loophole               

It is human nature to always look for a loophole, or a way around, rules that we live by. Children are the biggest loop-hole finders on the planet. As parents, how many of us have had to reword the requests we gave our children because they found a way around what we actually asked them to do?

  • When I said go get in the tub, I meant that you needed to actually bathe- with soap and water
  • When I asked you to put the dishes in the dishwasher, I meant cups, silverware and bowls as well
  • when I asked you to bring your laundry downstairs, I meant to the laundry room, not in the middle of the living room
  • When I told you to fold your clothes and put them in your room, I meant in the drawers and not on the floor

What you say can sometimes be different from what you actually mean… SO- when we are faced with not eating meat on Fridays…well, you didn’t say we couldn’t eat fish…. Right? It seems eating the meat of a fish, or any cold-blooded animal, is a loophole that Catholics embraced.

Of course, with all of the vegetarian and vegan options that are available, it would seem that fish dishes would be losing some of their momentum throughout the years. However, this is not the case. How often do we see our local Catholic churches having fish fry’s on Fridays? This just goes back to the idea that the church promotes consumption of this alternative protein source as opposed to vegetarian Friday meals.

Nothing is better than a good ol’ Friday church fish fry!

Conspiracy Theories

Many Catholics grew up hearing rumors and conspiracy theories behind the Fish Friday Phenomenon. Like other urban legends, these are things that the teller has probably heard all of their lives and are just passing along as what they believe to be fact. But how true are these stories?

One varied example passed down through the ages suggests that a pope, during medieval times, had some buddies who were fishermen. His buddies had some money problems, so to help them out, he ordered Catholics to eat fish every Friday of Lent. Forcing church members to always eat fish led to his friends overcoming their financial woes and making frequent “donations” to the pope and the Catholic church for their continued support.  

In another variation, the pope actually owned his OWN fishing fleet and, therefore, benefitted handsomely from this demand, which meant he continued to encourage the consumption of fish on Friday.

Sound Fishy to anyone else?

Of course, in reality. the church mandated abstaining from meat but never mentioned the consumption of fish, though some will swear it was strongly encouraged.

There have actually been investigations into these claims, through the annals of the church and church documents, but no proof has been found proving a papal conspiracy linked to the consumption of fish.

Historians have written this off as a popular rumor with no actual foundation in truth.

Actual History

Though there is no proof of a maritime monopoly being perpetrated by the Pope, fish did play a part in history in a somewhat reverse manner at the beginning of the Reformation period.

Henry VIII was a part of the Catholic church until he fell in love with a woman other than his wife, Catherine. He tried to convince the young woman, Anne Boleyn, to become his mistress. The young woman refused. She did not want to be his mistress; she wanted to be his wife.

As a member of the Roman Catholic Church, even King Henry could not divorce his wife and simply get remarried. He pined away for quite some time without being able to quench his desire for the other woman.

As time went on, Henry became so enamored; he actually left the Catholic church and established the Church of England so that he could divorce his wife and marry Anne Boleyn. That marriage, of course, only lasted around 3 years and ended with Anne losing her head. He went on to be married a total of 6 times.

After this move, eating fish actually became unpopular as it was seen as being associated with Catholicism rather than the Church of England. It was referred to as a “papal meal”.  This loss of popularity created financial issues for all of England’s fisherman. Families who had fished for generations now had to seek other employment or become destitute.

Years later, when Henry’s son Edward VI became king, the people appealed to the monarchy for help. In an effort to boost the economy and help the local fisherman, Edward reinstated fasting and the eating of fish became a popular Friday alternative again – allowing a resurgence in the fishing industry.

In a more modern-day example, in 1962 McDonald’s had issues with hamburger sales dropping drastically on Friday- especially in Catholic heavy areas in Cincinnati, Ohio. The franchise owner, Lou Groen, decided to create a new offering to overcome the losses and appeal to those who could not eat meat on Fridays- and that is how the Filet-o-Fish was born.

So, even though abstaining from meat on Fridays is not outlined within the bible, it has biblical implications and has been taught through the church for many generations.

Additionally, though the eating of fish is not part of the mandates that come from the church, it is one of those things that has been passed down for enough generations that it has become commonplace in Catholic households throughout the world.

If you were to show up to dinner at a practicing Catholic’s home on a Friday, you should bring a wine that pairs well with fish because that is what they will be serving. If fish is not something you enjoy, you may want to decline the invitation.

So, even though eating fish on Fridays has never been mandated or forced upon Catholics- it has become a well-loved alternative for those unable to eat meat.

Learn More

If you are interested in learning about other Religions in the world, then check out this book on World’s Religions on Amazon.