Is it a mortal sin to eat meat on Fridays?

Suppose that the U.S. Bishops reinstate the requirement for all Catholics to abstain from eating meat on all Fridays (other than a major liturgical feast day, such as Christmas). Would it be a mortal sin to deliberately and knowingly choose not to abstain? If you deliberately and knowingly choose to eat meat on a Friday, outside of Lent or during Lent, and you do not repent, will God send you to Hell?

The principle of ethics that applies here is simple and clear: a light failure to fulfill a grave obligation is not a mortal sin. A mortal sin is a grave violation of the eternal moral law. A light violation is not a mortal sin.

The eternal moral law binds us to both positive and negative precepts. The negative precepts forbid certain actions: You shall not steal. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. The positive precepts require certain actions: Worship God alone. Keep holy the Sabbath. Honor your parents. But while the negative precepts forbid always and in each case, the positive precepts do not need to be fulfilled continuously. Prudential judgment is used to determine when and in what manner the positive precepts are fulfilled.

The obligation to pray is a grave obligation. But if you become busy and fail to pray on occasion, your failure is light, not grave. And so your sin is not mortal. It is not the type of violation that deserves eternal punishment.

The obligation to practice self-denial, which includes practices like fasting and abstaining from meat, is a grave obligation. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, fasted and practiced self-denial; so must we. He saved us by His sufferings, so we must accept some sufferings; we must do penances of various kinds.

But prudential judgment applies to this type of practice. You can substitute one penance for another. In place of abstaining from meat, you may pray or practice self-denial in some other manner. If you fail on a particular occasion to perform a particular penance, such as fasting or abstaining from meat — even during Lent, you have not necessarily committed a grave sin. The obligation is grave, but your failure was light. This is not the type of violation that deserves eternal punishment.

Related Articles:
Is it a mortal sin not to fast or abstain from meat during Lent?
Is it always a mortal sin to miss Mass?

Do not listen to the Pharisees of today, who turn every rule and ruling into an absolute dogma. They think that if all Catholics follow all the external rules, follow liturgical form exactly, take Communion only on the tongue, perform every external devotion, that the Church on earth will be perfect and they will be great in heaven. But Jesus says that “unless your justice has surpassed that of the scribes and the Pharisees you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 5:20).

The Lord clearly taught that rules can be broken without sin.

[Matthew 12]
{12:1} At that time, Jesus went out through the ripe grain on the Sabbath. And his disciples, being hungry, began to separate the grain and to eat.
{12:2} Then the Pharisees, seeing this, said to him, “Behold, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbaths.”
{12:3} But he said to them: “Have you not read what David did, when he was hungry, and those who were with him:
{12:4} how he entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?
{12:5} Or have you not read in the law, that on the Sabbaths the priests in the temple violate the Sabbath, and they are without guilt?
{12:6} But I say to you, that something greater than the temple is here.
{12:7} And if you knew what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice,’ you would never have condemned the innocent.
{12:8} For the Son of man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

by
Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

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