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Charles V. Bernard wrote:

Hi, guys —

Has the Vatican ever stated or pronounced that if you ate meat on a Friday it [is/was] a mortal sin and that Heaven would not be possible?


  { Has the Vatican ever stated that eating meat on Friday is a mortal sin barring one from Heaven? }

Mike replied:

Hi, Charles —

Thanks for the question.

The Church does teach that during all Friday's of Lent we are required to abstain from meat.
As the Body of Christ, the members of the Church offer a mini-sacrifice during this penitential season.

Our Blessed Lord, through the Church, has always taught that there are three criteria necessary for a mortal sin:

  1. It must be a grave matter (according to the Church)
  2. done with full knowledge (they knew it was wrong but willingly did it any way), and
  3. it was done with deliberate consent. (It was no accident.)

    CCC 1857 — 1860

If one of those criteria is missing, a mortal sin has not been committed.

Unintentional ignorance can diminish or even remove the imputably of a grave offense. But no one is deemed to be ignorant of the principles of the moral law, which are written in the conscience of every man. The prompting's of feelings and passions can also diminish the voluntary and free character of the offense, as can external pressures or pathological disorders. Sin committed through malice, by deliberate choice of evil, is the gravest. (CCC 1860)

If someone has met all three criteria above, and still eats meat on a Friday of Lent, they would have to go to Confession to remove the [deadly/mortal] sin from their soul.

A person who dies with mortal sin on their soul cannot be saved, meaning go to Heaven.

I hope this answers your question.


John replied:

Hi, Charles —

I think Mike's answer needs a bit of clarification.

If one were to purposely eat meat on a day of fasting or abstinence from meat, one is committing an act of rebellion. And therein lies the sin. There is nothing particularly holy or unholy about eating certain foods on certain days.

This is a matter of discipline and obedience to the Church's legitimate authority to impose disciplines. That said, there are all kinds of reasonable exceptions. There are those who, for health reasons, can't fast, or those who may have no choice in what they eat.

If all you have left in the refrigerator is a hamburger and you don't have enough money to buy anything else to eat, God is not going to send you to Hell for eating meat on a day of abstinence. That's a pretty far-fetched example, but it serves to illustrate my point. The sin of rebellion is what constitutes grave matter. In fact, the Bible compares rebellion to witchcraft or sorcery.


Eric replied:

Hi guys,

The question was has the Vatican ever stated or pronounced anything on this issue and the fact is, while it is not in force anymore, there was a time when abstinence from flesh meat was binding under pain of mortal sin on every Friday (except those within octaves, which are the eight days after certain major feasts like Christmas and Easter).

Binding under pain of mortal sin means if you do it knowingly and deliberately, you are deprived of saving grace and if you die in this state (without repentance), you will go to Hell. This changed in the 60's. Thus you have the tradition of fish on Friday and so forth. As John points out, this was a discipline, and the sin was in disobeying the authority (binding and loosing power) of the Church to lay down this rule, not in eating the meat per se.

Some people, pointing to the change in discipline, mock it saying,

  • What happens now to all the people who went to Hell because they ate meat on Friday?

Well, the question is irrelevant.

If you are 15 years old and your parents tell you to be in by eleven, and you come in at 11:30, and you are punished; then when you are 17, they said, be in by midnight,

  • Did you all of a sudden cease to have broken their rules when you were 15?

No, of course not, because you broke the rule as they were at the time.

  • If they legalize marijuana, will they let all those guilty in the past of possession and trafficking out of jail instantly?

No, because rescinding a law is not retroactive. The Church is free to change her disciplines from time to time and we need only obey the ones currently in force.


Mary Ann replied:

Charles —

The Church did bind Catholics not to eat meat on Friday under pain of serious sin. The Church would never say someone would go to Hell for eating meat on Friday. What the Church taught was that, if a Catholic knowingly, purposely, and without good reason, broke a Church law that he knew bound him under pain of mortal sin, then that person would not be in God's grace. If the person did not turn to God's mercy before or at the moment of death, his salvation would be at risk.

No one can say that anyone has gone to Hell and Church laws may be broken without guilt for good reason:

  • health
  • age
  • charitable obligations, etc.

Even the obligation to attend Mass does not hold if one, for instance, must stop to rescue someone on the way to Mass, and misses one's chance to attend. However, one may never do something that is intrinsically evil and break a moral law, for any reason.

A positive law of the Church is different from a moral law.

Mary Ann

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