The canon law requires Catholics to hold every Friday (except certain solemnities) as a abstinence day (e.g. abstaining from meat), but also grants the episcopal conferences the possibility to require the abstinence from other foods or even to substitute other forms of penance. The applicable canons read as follows:

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. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

I've heard that e.g. many US-Catholics do only refrain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent (presumably making use of such an episcopal decision). Since I grew up in Germany this seemed rather odd to me.

Question (bundled together but related):

  1. Which (other) Episcopal Conferences institute such alternatives to abstinence?
  2. Is it rather common or seldom to limit abstinence to such few occurrances?
  3. What other forms of penance are substituted in these cases?

Note: It seems the terminology in this question got a bit mixed up (See AthanasiusOfAlex' comment). In English "fasting" is currently described as eating less than two meals a day (as on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday in the Latin church); "abstinence" simply means no meat. This question is about the latter.

  • Bishop Gregory M. Aymond of New Orleans recently drew headlines for a 2010 letter confirming that “the alligator is considered in the fish family” and thus suitable for consumption during Lent.
    – Ken Graham
    Sep 18, 2016 at 14:37
  • @KenGraham that seems to me as a form of definition of what counts as "meat". Similarly I've heard people laughing about the idea that the church counted beavers as fish and therefore allowed during lent / on fridays. My question is more about the time of fasting (e.g. when to abstine from meat) not the matter of fasting (e.g. what to abstine from). Sep 19, 2016 at 7:19
  • Just a note: fasting is not the practice for Fridays, abstinence (that is, not eating meat) is. (In the Latin Church, fasting—that is, eating less than two meals a day—is prescribed only two says a year: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.) Sep 19, 2016 at 9:23
  • @AthanasiusOfAlex Thanks for your hin. In fact in my mother tongue (German) its the other way round. "Fasten" is what is done during lent ("Fastenzeit" -- fasting time). Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are "strenge Fasten und Abstinenztage" (days of strict fasting and abstinence). I've corrected the question accordingly. Sep 19, 2016 at 13:27
  • A (Friday) dinner blessing, from the Scots: "Some hae meat and canna eat, and some wad eat but lack it, but we hae meat and we can eat, sae let the Lord be thankit".
    – Andrew
    Sep 19, 2016 at 14:41

1 Answer 1


Which Episcopal Conferences set alternatives for abstinence on Fridays?

For starters the Episcopal Conferences of both Canada 🇨🇦 and the United States 🇺🇸 allow it.

For Canada:

In Canada

In accordance with the prescriptions of canon 1253, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops decrees that the days of fast and abstinence in Canada are:

Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Fridays are days of abstinence, but Catholics can substitute special acts of charity or piety on this day"

For the United States:

On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. and Canadian bishops conference, in accordance with Canon 1253, obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. Since this was not stated as binding under pain of sin, not to do so on a single occasion would not in itself be sinful. However, since penance is a divine command, the general refusal to do penance is certainly gravely sinful. For most people the easiest way to consistently fulfil this command is the traditional one, to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year which are not liturgical solemnities. When solemnities, such as the Annunciation, Assumption, All Saints etc. fall on a Friday, we neither abstain or fast.

For France 🇫🇷, the Eldest Daughter of the Church follow similar rules as Canada:

Une semaine après la décision de l’épiscopat canadien de laisser la liberté à ses fidèles de pratiquer la pénitence de leur choix – abrogeant ainsi notamment les règlements sur l’abstinence du vendredi –, l’épiscopat français annonçait le 22 octobre 1966 une décision qui allait dans le même sens. À compter du 1er janvier 1967, les fidèles français seraient autorisés à consommer de la viande les vendredis, en dehors du temps de Carême.

French translation by myself:

A week after the Canadian episcopate’s decision to let the faithful have the freedom to do the practice of penance to themselves - thus abrogating the the rule of abstinence for Fridays -, the French episcopate announced on October 22, 1966 the decision to go in the same sense. As of January 1, 1967 the French faithful will authorized to eat meat on Fridays outside of Lent.

Most National Episcopal Conferences have obtained permission now to follow this type of abstinence alternatives.

The bishops of Great Britain 🇬🇧 and Wales 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁷󠁬󠁳󠁿 have recent altered the alternative as follows:

England and Wales

Abstinence every Friday of the year.

The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this [penance] should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat. Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake. This is to come into effect from Friday 16 September 2011[...]

Many may wish to go beyond this simple act of common witness and mark each Friday with a time of prayer and further self-sacrifice. In all these ways we unite our sacrifices to the sacrifice of Christ, who gave up his very life for our salvation.

For Spain: 🇪🇸


Abstinence of meat on Fridays of Lent. Other Fridays this may be substituted for certain works of penance.

  1. El Miércoles de Ceniza, comienzo de la Cuaresma, y el Viernes Santo, memoria de la Pasión y Muerte de nuestro Señor Jesucristo, son días de ayuno y abstinencia. Los otros viernes de Cuaresma son también días de abstinencia, que consiste en no tomar carne, según antigua práctica del pueblo cristiano. [...]

  2. En los restantes viernes del año, la abstinencia puede ser sustituida, según la libre voluntad de los fieles, por cualquiera de las siguientes prácticas recomendadas por la Iglesia: lectura de la Sagrada Escritura, limosna (en la cuantía que cada uno estime en conciencia), otras obras de caridad (visita de enfermos o atribulados), obras de piedad (participación en la santa misa, rezo del rosario, etc.) y mortificaciones corporales.

  • 1
    Can you translate the French text (even if it’s just a Google Translate and you mark it as such)? Not all members of this site are bilingual. Aug 3, 2019 at 1:01
  • 1
    This is a really great answer to my question. Aug 3, 2019 at 5:39
  • Is fish regarded as a meat, in this matter? Aug 4, 2019 at 1:50
  • @Constantthin No, fish is not considered meat.
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 4, 2019 at 4:21

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