Fasting on Fish 13

Fr Jason Smith

Fasting means going on a disciplined diet. And like all real diets it should be hard.

The purpose is to find out who is in charge: You or your stomach. The battle between the two tempers the will, heightens spiritual sensitivity, and leads us to find strength in God through prayer.

The first Christians fasted as a spiritual discipline and as a way of accompanying our Lord in his suffering. They fasted on Wednesday because Judas conspired to betray Christ on a Wednesday; they fasted on a Friday since that is the day of Christ’s crucifixion and death.

Their fast consisted mostly in avoiding meat since meat was mostly for the wealthy. Fish and vegetables were much more easily obtained. This is why the tradition of the most common form of fasting (or abstinence if you prefer) is to omit meat and eat fish.

Fasting has taken a hit in our western culture; we give up meat, but we enjoy a sea food platter in its place. Perhaps this is because they’ve missed the point on fasting: It should hurt, as it is a means of participating in the Lord’s suffering.



  1. Thank you for the primer and background on why fish is used and the reminder about not gorging myself on fish on Friday. My KofC council puts on a huge fish fry during Lent and I’m going to try to remember to pare it back a bit when I go through the line this year. 🙂

    • Thanks for the tip, Carl. I will check it out. I’m late on the response, because I was on a retreat all weekend. Getting caught up now. God bless!

  2. I eat very little meat in any case, so exchanging it for fish on Fridays, which I love, is absolutely no “sacrifice” at all. I have to search for other penances… like giving up sugar in my tea or coffee. Now, for me with my sweet tooth, THAT is tough! 😉

    • Fish is very healthy! And so is sacrifice, in and of itself, of course, but for some reason, most of the sacrifices we choose also have healthy benefits. When we exercise our spiritual muscles, God has this way of giving us a little bonus. That brings two things to mind: God will never be outdone in generosity (so be as generous as you can!); and as the saying goes, mens sana in corpore sano. In other words, the ascetic life is good all around, even in small doses.

      Thanks for your comment, Kathleen. God bless!

  3. Good night Fr.Jason.
    I´m very happy for contact you and are here in this web site.
    I agree with you.To me like like the fish so that no is a problem eat fish.
    Is a health meal of sea.
    Thanks. You is a great priest and I go to pray for you ever.
    Ana Cecilia.

  4. I enjoyed the post. I usually go vegetarian for Fridays in Lent–and simple. Like a pb&j for dinner. A vegetarian lasagna, for example, is just too yummy good to regard as abstaining or sacrifice.
    It’s interesting about the fish as a sustenance of the poor in the past: it has become so expensive per pound that meat, especially chicken and turkey, are a fraction of the cost. Seafood is now more a food of the wealthy than of the poor, at least around here. Perhaps we may one day give up fish for Lent on Fridays, and have a pork chop instead.

    • Hi Reinkat. just getting back into the real world now after a weekend retreat. Hence, just now getting to the some comments from last week.

      I know what you mean by too good to be a sacrifice. I’m a carnivore, so abstaining from meat is always a tough one for me.

      I also agree that seafood is just too expensive. And the price seems to go up in seafood markets for some reason (tourism, probably). Fish is also very healthy and high in protein. You may have a point about giving up fish on Friday, because of the poverty aspect. The point of the sacrifice is not to avoid healthy food, but to unite ourselves with the suffering lord, and there are many ways in which we can do that. The one thing I like about abstaining form meat, is just that it is a “universal” sacrifice. We have this one way (though there could be others) in which we unite ourself with the whole Church in mind and body. That’s the biggest reason why I participate with joy. It has to be meaningful or it is not a real sacrifice, although even when we don’t know the meaning, there is still meaning to it, because it always involves an act of faith.

      • The idea of a “universal” sacrifice, put this way and about Lenten fasting, is something I have not heard before. It gives me much to think about. Also to make the sacrifice even without understanding it, still has meaning. Not as sure about that, but maybe.
        Yes, much to ponder.

      • The part about making the sacrifice without understanding it was not explained well, and probably not worth explaining more. I think of it like this: little children who do what they are told without knowing why they are doing it are good for doing that. This is not ideal, and of course, the good parent will try to educate the child according to their level of understanding. But even before they are at a place where they can get the gist of why they should do exactly what they are told, their obedience is still meritorious and always preferred to disregarding what they are told to do. I don’t know if that makes more sense…

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