In Holy Weekone of the most deeply rooted traditions among Catholics is not to eat meat, especially the so-called red meats, like the cow. So much so that this goes hand in hand with the custom of eating fish, whose consumption tends to increase on these dates. But, Why is meat not eaten at Easter and what are the days when it should not be done?
The custom is based on a regulation of the Catholic Church that has its origin in the practice of fasting as a sign of penance and purification, something common with other religions for millennia. The Bible, a sacred book for Christians, gives an account of this both in the Old and New Testaments, where it is related how figures like Moses or Jesus Christ himself fasted, who spent forty days in the desert without eating according to the Gospel of St. Matthew.
Historically, the Church established abstinence from meat as a precept for two specific days of the year: Ash Wednesday -which begins Lent, a time prior to Holy Week that lasts six weeks- and the Holy Friday, when the death of Jesus Christ is remembered. However, many faithful observe this rite every Friday of the year.
Due to abstinence from meat, many Catholics eat fish at Holy Week.
Punctual abstinence from eating meat seems to be related to since ancient times it was associated with festive banquets, quite the opposite of what is commemorated in Holy Week. These days for Christians are days in which they spiritually unite with the pain that Christ suffered when he was crucified. Fairly the crucifixion and death of Christ form a central part of the liturgy of Good Friday, a day of sorrow and repentance of sins. Only on Easter Sunday is the time to celebrate since the resurrection of Jesus Christ is commemorated.
The ban on eating meat, however, began to relax in 1966, when after the reforms of the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI highlighted in the apostolic constitution Paenitemini that there were other ways of practicing penance, and that abstinence from meat could be replaced by prayer and works of charity. This line was later ratified in the 1983 Canonical Code promulgated by Pope John Paul II.
Pope Francis suggested other types of fasting, such as “turning off the television, disconnecting from the cell phone, and giving up useless criticism.”
The Argentine Episcopal Conference promulgated the following complementary legislation on March 19, 1986: “The traditional penitential practice of Fridays of the year consisting of abstinence from meat is retained; but it can be replaced, according to the free will of the faithful, by any of the following practices: abstinence from alcoholic beverages, or a work of piety, or a work of mercy”.
More recently, Pope Francis insisted in different homilies on emphasizing that the true meaning of fasting did not go through depriving oneself of eating meat. “Fasting is not only external, an external observance, but a fast that comes from the heart,” he said. “You cannot do penance on the one hand and commit injustice on the other,” he added, asking for “coherence.” And in the homily beginning of Lent, last February, he suggested other forms of fasting such as “turning off the television, disconnecting from the cell phone and giving up so much talk, so much useless criticism”.
Beyond the religious sense, many people maintain the habit of including more fish preparations on the menu for these dates, such as the popular vigil empanadas. For Easter Sunday, the strong point is sweets: the traditional thread and chocolate eggs.