Why do some Christians eat fish on "Good Friday"?


It is a Catholic custom to abstain from eating meat on “Good Friday” and to eat fish instead. Where did this custom originate?

First, let us examine the precise nature of this custom.

We are quoting from an Internet Website:

“Prior to reforms in the [Catholic] Church in the 1960s, Catholics were expected to refrain from consuming meat on all Fridays throughout the year and in advance of certain holy days. However, in 1966, Pope Paul VI limited the number of days that required fasting and abstinence and allowed local bishops to modify certain details. In the U.S. it is still expected that all Fridays are [days] observed with abstinence, but one may be permitted to replace abstaining from meat with another form of penitence or by performing some spiritual act. During Lent [which lasts for forty days, beginning with “Ash Wednesday” and ending with “Holy Saturday,” preceding “Easter Sunday”], which is the most penitential season of the year, the obligation to abstain from meat may not be substituted.

“It is common practice for Catholics to substitute fish for meat in their Friday meals. In Islam and Judaism, as well as Christianity, fish is not regarded as meat, thus the popular custom of fish fries throughout Lent… As a result of this identification of ‘meat’ based upon its behavioral characteristics, all manner of animals, including shellfish, beavers, and alligators, are classified as ‘fish’ for the purposes of dietary laws… Pope Pius XII granted American Catholics a dispensation from abstinence on the Friday after Thanksgiving to allow them to consume the leftovers from the day before.”

Another Website quotes the Catholic Code of Canon Law 1250, 1251, as follows:

“‘The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent. Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday’… The application of this precept varies from country to country. For example, American bishops allow individual Catholics to substitute another penance if they could not abstain from meat.”

The Catholic publication, “The New Question Box,” 1988, states on page 367:

“In most places in the United States today, Catholics over 14 years of age must abstain from meat (and soup or gravy made from meat) on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays of Lent. On two days–Ash Wednesday and Good Friday–those over 18 and under 59 should fast. This means only one full meal, and only liquids like milk and fruit juices between meals.”

The idea of fasting during Lent stems from the concept that Christians would have committed sinful practices during Carnival (ending with “Ash Wednesday”) and needed therefore to repent or give penance during the subsequent time until Easter.

The reason for “fasting” on Good Friday is explained by “The New Question Box” in the sense that “Friday commemorated the day of Jesus’ death.”

However, as we explain in our free booklet, “Jesus Christ–a Great Mystery,” Christ was NOT crucified on Friday. Further, spiritual fasting, according to the Bible, is observed quite differently than how it is taught by the Catholic Church. For more information on that important issue, please read our free booklet, “The Meaning of God’s Fall Holy Days,” Chapter 2–The Day of Atonement, beginning with page 17.

The real origins of Catholic “fasting” during Lent, including on Good Friday, and the custom to eat fish instead, especially on Good Friday, are to be found in antiquity.

Alexander Hislop writes in “The Two Babylons,” on pages 104-106:

“The forty days’ abstinence of Lent was directly borrowed from the worshippers of the Babylonian goddess (Astarte or Ishtar)… Such a Lent of forty days was observed in Egypt… Among the Pagans this Lent seems to have been an indispensable preliminary to the great annual festival in commemoration of the death and resurrection of Tammuz, which was celebrated by alternate weeping and rejoicing [compare Ezekiel 8:13-14]… [T]o conciliate the Pagans to nominal Christianity, Rome, pursuing its usual policy, took measures to get the Christian and Pagan festivals amalgamated… Originally, even in Rome, Lent, with the preceding revelries of the Carnival, was entirely unknown.”

Ralph Woodrow writes in “Babylon, Mystery Religion,” copyright 1981, on pages 142 and 143:

“… each Friday, many Catholics abstain from meat–substituting fish in its place–supposedly in remembrance of the Friday crucifixion. Roman Catholics in the United States are no longer required by their church to abstain from meat on Fridays (as formerly)–except during Lent–nevertheless many still follow the custom of fish on Friday.

“Certainly, the Scriptures never associate fish with Friday. On the other hand, the word ‘Friday’ comes from the name of ‘Freya,’ who was regarded as the goddess of peace, joy, and FERTILITY, the symbol of her fertility being the FISH. From very early times the fish was a symbol of fertility among the Chinese, Assyrians, Phoenicians, the Babylonians, and others. The word ‘fish’ comes from ‘dag’ which implies increase or fertility…

“The goddess of sexual fertility among the Romans was called Venus… Friday was regarded as her sacred day because it was believed that the planet Venus ruled the first hour of Friday and this was called dies Veneris. And… the fish was also regarded as being sacred to her…

“The fish was regarded as sacred to Ashtoreth… In ancient Egypt, Isis was sometimes represented with a fish on her head… Considering that Friday was named after the goddess of sexual fertility, Friday being her sacred day, and the fish her symbol, it seems like more than a mere coincidence that Catholics have been taught that Friday is a day of abstinence from meat, a day to eat fish!”

But there is even more historical evidence for the custom of eating fish on Friday–especially on “Good Friday,” when Christ ALLEGEDLY was killed–according to Roman Catholic tradition, that is.

Woodrow explains, on pages 84 and 85, the following about the fishgod DAGON:

“Dagon was actually but a mystery form of the false Babylonian ‘savior.’ The name Dagon comes from ‘dag’ (a word commonly translated ‘fish’ in the Bible) and means fishgod. Though it originated in the paganism of Babylon, Dagon worship became especially popular among the heathenistic Philistines…

“Layard, in Babylon and Nineveh, explains that ‘the head of the fish [depicted as being worn by the fishgod Dagon on Mesopotamian sculptures] formed a mitre…’ A famous painting by Moretto shows St. Ambrose (in the sixteenth century) wearing a mitre shaped like the head of a fish.”

Woodrow also shows in his book pictures of Pope Paul VI, wearing the fish-shaped mitre.

To summarize, the Catholic custom to eat fish on Good Friday is not Scriptural. It is clearly derived from pagan customs and concepts and is also connected with the wrong teaching that Christ was crucified on a Friday–which He was not.

Of course, it would not be wrong to eat fish on any day of the week–including on a Friday–as long as it is not done with the false idea that eating fish on “Good Friday” honors God or Christ in any way. As Paul explained, we could even eat meat sacrificed to idols–as idols are nothing–as long as we don’t do it “with consciousness of the idol” (1 Corinthians 8:7), thereby giving a wrong impression that we agree with the correctness of those pagan customs, or by defiling the conscience of others (compare verses 10, 12; 1 Corinthians 10:28-29).

Lead Writer: Norbert Link

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