Chickens at Market, four chickens for sale in the open air market of Hoi An, Vietnam, December 2008, photo © 2008-2009 by ybonesy. All rights reserved.
It just dawned on me that Jim thawed a whole chicken to roast for dinner tonight, which means we’ll being eating meat on Ash Wednesday.
Not that I observe Ash Wednesday. I didn’t go receive ashes today at mass, and I usually don’t give up anything for Lent. Yet, a little voice inside my head did admonish me for not having saved the fresh cod I bought last week so that we might eat fish tacos tonight instead of roasted chicken.
Growing up we always ate fish on Ash Wednesday and other holy days. Usually in our house that meant we ate fish sticks that Mom pulled out of the freezer and cooked on a baking sheet in the oven. We ate our fish sticks with tartar sauce and maybe a salad and potatoes. Being as how fish sticks were one of my favorite foods, I always looked forward to holy days. (I even kind of liked getting the little black cross of ashes on my forehead.)
And why fish but not chicken? Why doesn’t the Catholic Church, or other Chrisitian religions that observe the law of abstinence, interpret the law in the same way that Jim and I interpret our own meat rule?—which is that when we say meat, we really mean red meat.
According to website ZENIT, which is a news agency that covers the Catholic Church,
The law of abstinence prohibits eating the flesh, marrow and blood products of such animals and birds as constitute flesh meat.
In earlier times the law of abstinence also forbade such foods that originated from such animals, such as milk, butter, cheese, eggs, lard and sauces made from animal fat. This restriction is no longer in force in the Roman rite.
Vegetables as well as fish and similar cold-blooded animals (frogs, clams, turtles, etc.) may be eaten. Amphibians are relegated to the category to which they bear most striking resemblance.
This distinction between cold- and warm-blooded animals is probably why chicken may not replace fish on days of abstinence.
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which I understand now is a season of reflection and repentance, although during my childhood it just meant it was a time to give up chocolate or fighting with my brother. Lent is observed for forty days—from Ash Wednesday to Easter, not including Sundays—and the reason we give up so-called bad things (per my layperson’s understanding) is that we try to emulate Jesus and the time He spent in the wilderness for forty days.
In many countries, the last day before Lent (called Mardi Gras, Shrove Tuesday, Carnival, or Fasching) has become a last fling before the sacrifice and solemnity of Lent. For centuries, it was customary to fast by abstaining from meat during Lent, which is why some people call the festival Carnival, which is Latin for farewell to meat.
The tradition of Catholics eating fish originated in the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Church prescribed “no meat” on at least one day a week. Of course, the eating of fish was allowed. Another explanation for the sacredness of fish as opposed to chicken (besides the fact that one is cold-blooded and the other is warm) is that during the Biblical Flood, which some Christians interpret as a punishment to mankind for its sins, fish survived; hence, fish were free of all sin. (Hello00, they also had gills.)
Anyhoo, I’ll probably be the only person in my family who eats chicken tonight. Well, me and my oldest sister, who happens to be married to a Muslim.
Let’s just hope that if this fish thing is really important to God, He will remember that I have strong associations with folks who will be dining with some cold-blooded, sin-free creatures.