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I understand that the Catholic Church forbade people from eating meat on Fridays for many years. It seems that it is no longer every Friday, but just during Lent. Also, it is not all meat, but all meat that isn't fish (from what I understand).

How did this become considered a sin? Why meat? Why Fridays? Why did it end?

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Also, please note that eating meat on Fridays is/was not forbidden because it's an intrinsic sin; instead, it was forbidden as a matter of discipline. It's only sinful because we are bound to obey our bishop on a few matters, including this one. –  Andres Riofrio Jan 31 '13 at 7:24
    
It was of my impression that the Holy See was helping the local fishermen by passing this law. Can't back it up, so it remains just a comment. –  Steve Nov 25 '13 at 0:44

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up vote 7 down vote accepted

From the USSCB:

19. Changing circumstances, including economic, dietary, and social elements, have made some of our people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance. Meat was once an exceptional form of food; now it is commonplace.

20. Accordingly, since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential.

I think the implication here is that meat, with the exception of fish, which was commonplace, was at the time of the Church Fathers an exceptional or "celebratory" form of food. Since we, at least in America, treat meat as more of a staple food, it's no longer so strongly associated with celebrations or feasts. That said, abstaining from it is still a worthy form of penance, is still encouraged, and is still required on Fridays during Lent.

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Jesus was crucified on Friday, so it's natural that Friday became a day of fasting and sorrow, much like Sunday (day of Christ's ressurection) became a day of joy. It's still required for a Catholic to fast/ abstain from certain food (usually all meat or meat except for fish) for all the Fridays except for solemnities and for whole time of Lent. In an answer to related question on another web Canons 1250 - 1252 are cited:

Can. 1250: The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251: 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.

Can. 1252: The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

The difference between situation in Western Catholic Church now and before 2nd Vatican (or in Eastern Church, both Catholic or Orthodox) is that these canons are not enforced so strictly.

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+1 It might be worth noting in your answer that the USSCB actually suggests that other forms of penance are more effective in the western, modern world. See the section entitled Christ Died for Our Salvation on Friday here: cms.usccb.org/prayer-and-worship/liturgical-resources/lent/… –  svidgen Jan 25 '13 at 16:24
    
Thank you. But why meat? –  Narnian Jan 25 '13 at 16:53
    
@Narnian: Svidgen already answered this subquestion in similar way I would (I was ready to answer in comment/edit before I saw his post), but better. –  Pavel Jan 25 '13 at 18:30

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