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Saturday, March 05, 2016

Why We Eat Fish and Muskrat on Lenten Fridays

On seeing a recent NPR piece concerning Lenten fast rules, an economist of my acquaintance remarked:
I was just chastised for poking fun at the apparently important theological ramifications behind a debate that is also apparently central to the core of Christianity. I was reminded that the importance of Lent is to revisit medieval arguments about the edible appropriatness of land versus aquatic mammals. 
Wanna know why fewer people are going to church?

What gave rise to his mirth? Why, the discovery that the Church classifies animals in a different way than modernity does:
Many Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays in observance of Lent, the season of penance between Ash Wednesday and Easter. The church has made exceptions — at times, in some places — for aquatic mammals such as beavers, muskrats and capybara....  According to Dolly Jørgensen, an environmental historian in Sweden, the medieval theological debate about forbidden foods during Lent didn't distinguish between mammals and fish, but rather, creatures of the land and sea. So, while meat from chicken, cows and sheep was considered off limits, "other animals that spent their time in the water qualified as aquatic and could be eaten at Lent," she wrote.
Although both economics and theology are frequently considered to be non-sciences, both actually ARE formal sciences. And, just as theologians should be careful when they assess what appears to be ludicrous in economics, so economists should be careful when they assess what might seem to be, at first glance, ludicrous in theology.

In Christian theology, water is tightly linked to baptism (Ephesians 5:26). And, again, according to most Christian theologians (some Protestants being the sole exception), baptism is understood to be the means to salvation (1 Peter 3:21). Succinctly put, water = baptism = salvation.

Now, Christ's death in the flesh on Friday, and His burial on Friday is ALSO linked to baptism (Romans 6:4 we are buried with him in baptism so that we might rise to new life). So, since Christ walked the earth, died in the flesh and was buried in the flesh, Christians have historically not eaten the flesh of land animals precisely to commemorate that Christ died in the flesh during Lent - the period when we suffer with Christ and spiritually die to our sins with Him.

However, since Christ died precisely to accomplish our salvation, and water is our salvation, we may eat the flesh of water animals, because that reminds us WHY Christ died in the flesh - to save our sinful flesh through the washing that is baptism.

If you have ever wondered why Catholics eat only fish on Friday, it is precisely because fish - the creatures that swim in baptismal waters - link together Christ's suffering, death, burial and resurrection.

And if you never knew this until now, well, that's the state of Catholic education today.

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