Where did the law about not eating meat on Fridays originate? When was this changed to Ash Wednesday and the Fridays of Lent?
As you know, Saint Anselm College takes seriously its commitment to our Catholic and Benedictine identity. One way in which we do this is through the observance of the traditional Christian practice of Penance (prayer, works of charity/almsgiving, fasting and abstinence) during the season of Lent.
Abstinence from meat is observed on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent excluding feast days in the Church's calendar. We know and respect that not all members of the Saint Anselm College community share the Christian faith; we do believe that sharing our traditions and customs is an invitation to greater understanding and appreciation of who we are and what we are about. It also helps our students discover the richness of the Christian heritage and how sharing customs and traditions can foster a community of mutual respect, friendship and inclusion.
Already in the fourth century, there was a Church law about abstinence (not eating meat on certain days). Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays were once days of abstinence in the Western Church. By the 12th century, this was required only on Ash Wednesday and on Fridays-to remind Christians that Jesus died on this day. (Later, abstinence was added in connection with a few feasts.)
The U.S. bishops decided in 1966 to require fasting and abstinence only on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays of Lent and on Good Friday. Earlier that year, Pope Paul VI allowed conferences of bishops to select days of fast and abstinence,
Why abstain from meat? People like it and notice its absence. Christian fasting regulations once included milk and eggs. Fasting and abstaining show respect for God's creation by using it more sparingly at times.
This Lenten discipline is "an itinerary of more intense spiritual training" traditionally based upon prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Fasting has its roots in Scripture and Christian tradition and "is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it". The Pope explains, "fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God." Jesus fasted in the desert and points us to the deeper meaning of fasting when he says that "man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God."
Pope Benedict XVI tells us that, "the true fast is thus directed to eating the 'true food,' which is to do the Father's will." He continues to say that, a spiritual benefit of fasting is that it can "open our eyes to the situation in which so many of our brothers and sisters live."
Those who fast gain a greater appreciation for those who live constantly in hunger. "By freely embracing an act of self-denial for the sake of another, we make a statement that our brother or sister in need is not a stranger." This then should direct us to action to feed the hungry. Fasting is but one of the spiritual disciplines during the Lenten season.
Additionally, we are called to a greater commitment to prayer, and to giving alms - reaching out to those in need.
Thus, in keeping with our Catholic identity, Saint Anselm College observes this Lenten practice of Fasting by not serving meat on Ash Wednesday or Fridays throughout the this penitential season.
Information gathered from Catholic World News