Everybody knows that as Catholics, we eat fish on Fridays during Lent. Many Catholics also keep meatless Fridays throughout the rest of the year. There are countless articles on all the popular Catholic sites that discuss Canon 1250 and the norms for fasting and abstinence promulgated by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. We know this, but if you’ll pardon the expression, we want more meat. We want to know why we should abstain from meat on Fridays. How does this enrich our lives as Christians? Well, you’re in luck! Below are the top five reasons we should always eat fish on Fridays, not just during Lent, but throughout the whole year.
1. Fish on Friday is an ancient Jewish custom
There is an ancient Jewish custom to eat fish on Fridays because God created fish on the fifth day, man on the sixth day, and then rested on the seventh day–the Sabbath. In this, we see a premonition of the Paschal Triduum from the very beginning of time. In this ancient custom, the eyes of the fish staring at us from the table are also a reminder of God’s eternal omniscience. He sees us at all times in every moment of weakness, every hour of need, and every adversity.
2. Jesus and the disciples ate fish—a lot of fish
When the disciples arrive at the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection, they start fishing for some breakfast, just as they were doing when Jesus came into their lives and these humble fishermen were first commissioned as fishers of men. At first their nets come up empty, but then a stranger appears and tells them, “Cast your nets,” and they suddenly find they have more fish than they know what to do with. As they sit to eat, the disciples witness a miniature repetition of miracle of the loaves and fishes and immediately realize that the stranger is Jesus. When we share this simple meal, we should recall that we too owe our sustenance to God’s providence.
3. Fish are not meat
This seems like an obvious statement, but it goes much deeper. God commanded Noah and his family, “Only meat with its lifeblood still in it you shall not eat.” This command continues in the Kosher dietary laws to this very day. However, this law does not apply to fish, because they are cold-blooded. This is important for us as Christians, because with the Resurrection, we are no longer bound to make blood offerings under the old dispensation. Friday is a day of sacrifice and atonement, but the blood of animals is an unnecessary and unworthy sacrifice upon the sacred altar before God’s throne in Heaven. As the Catechism tells us of the Eucharistic sacrifice, “the same Christ who offered himself once in a bloody manner on the altar of the cross is contained and is offered in an unbloody manner.”
4. Fish are a reminder of our Baptism
The image of water and flame reoccurs again and again throughout the Bible. From Noah’s Ark and the flight from Egypt to the ablutions of the priest during every celebration of the Holy Mass, water is a vivid reminder of our death and resurrection in Baptism. Like Jonah and John the Baptist, we go below the water to be cleansed of sin and to prepare the way for Christ. Fishes with their mouths agape are constantly drinking the water they travel in. If they do not drink, they die. Just as ordinary water could not slake the thirst of the woman at the well, it is the living water from Christ’s side which will truly refresh us and finally make us whole.
5. Jesus IS a fish
The fish symbol or “Jesus fish” is one of the earliest Christian symbols. In Greek, the word for fish, “?????” is an acrostic for “Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.” A fourth century A.D. adaptation of ichthys as a wheel contains the letters ????? superimposed such that the result resembles an eight-spoked wheel. Both the fish and the wheel were important because they allowed the early Christians to identify one another in secret in times of persecution. In the same way, by eating fish on Fridays—every Friday, we identify ourselves as Christians.
The depth of symbolism of these creatures of the deep is richer than any gravy. As we sit for our Friday supper, there is so much to contemplate, so much spiritual food to savor that a heavy meal of meat and sauces would be positively gluttonous. If you don’t already, after this Octave of Easter, consider keeping the Friday fast throughout the rest of the year. You’ll be glad you did.