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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Catholic Church proclaims that it has not changed its teachings, yet what about its teachings on eating meat on Fridays, or cremation, or fasting before communion?

“Love the Lord with all your heart, and with all your soul,
and with all your MIND”--Matt 22:37

Question:  The Catholic Church proclaims that it has not changed its teachings, yet what about its teachings on eating meat on Fridays, or cremation, or fasting before communion?
Yes, it is true that the Catholic Church has not (and cannot) change its teachings.  The Deposit of Faith was revealed, whole and entire, 2000 years ago--its source is Jesus Christ, the Divine Word of God, with Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition as the 2 streams flowing from Him, the One Source of Revelation.

Yes, it is also true that a few decades ago Catholics did not eat meat on Fridays, now we can*.  Decades ago cremation was not allowed, now it is**.  We were supposed to fast after midnight before communion, now it's only an hour fast that's required before receiving the Eucharist***. And these are just a few examples of changes many of us may have seen!

How do we reconcile these 2 seemingly divergent facts?

The answer lies in our understanding of what's a Doctrine, what's a Dogma, and what's a Discipline.
Essentially, doctrine is any teaching on faith and morals that's professed by the Church.  Dogma is doctrine that has been formally defined and declared to be revealed by God.  And discipline is how we live out our faith. 

Thus, while doctrine and dogma cannot change (although our understanding of this deposit of faith can indeed develop) disciplinary practices--such as not eating meat on Fridays, cremation, fasting before communion, can change In other words, disciplines (or customs or traditions****) can change as the Church evaluates these practices in light of the society in which we live.
"The Church’s pastoral practice, its liturgical discipline, and even its understanding of doctrine develop over time. Just as a man looks quite different from the child or the teenager he once was, so the Church today may appear different from what it was decades or centuries before. But just as the man substantially is the same person he was as a child or teenager, so the substance of the Church continues unchanged although different in appearance." source

So the question arises: if it's a discipline, and can change, am I obligated to obey the Church's directives on this? 

The short answer is Yes!  If the Church, in her 2000-year wisdom, has deemed it a necessary practice for the faithful, at this time in history, we would do well to listen to Holy Mother Church.  To not do so is as cheeky as a 7 year old asking his mama, "Do I really have to brush my teeth 2 times a day?  I'm pretty sure the recommendations are going to change in 10 years." 

*While fasting from meat during Fridays is no longer obligatory (Lent excepted, of course), I believe that all Fridays are considered penitential days. Observing Fridays with some sort of act of charity/abstinence/fasting is not mandated, but is strongly encouraged.

**"Early Christians opposed cremation because pagans often cremated their dead as a sign of disdain for the Christians’ belief in the physical resurrection of the body. To protect belief in this doctrine of faith, the Church forbade cremation. That prohibition was lifted in 1963. The Church still recommends that the faithful be buried, but Catholics may be cremated so long as cremation does not demonstrate a denial of belief in the resurrection of the body" (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2301). source

***Current canon law requires a one-hour fast before receiving Communion (canon 919): "One who is to receive the Most Holy Eucharist is to abstain from any food or drink, with the exception only of water and medicine, for at least the period of one hour before Holy Communion." The Eucharistic fast was mitigated by Pope Pius XII from a complete fast after midnight to a fast of three hours (1957); then Pope Paul VI further reduced the requirement to one hour (1964). These changes were intended to encourage Catholics to receive Communion more frequently. source

****Customs or traditions (small "t") ought not be confused with Sacred Tradition (with a capital "T").  Sacred Tradition is considered the Word of God Customs, or traditions, are simply practices. 

For more in-depth study visit these websites:

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect" - 1 Peter 3:15


  1. Love this. Can't believe I have put up with "organized superstition" in general and Catholicism specifically for all these years. Reason and logic have set me free!

  2. we Orthodox Christians would strongly dispute that the Catholic Church has not changed its teachings (history tells us as much). While Holy Orthodoxy has maintained the Faith delivered once and for all, the Faith of the Apostles, Catholicism has innovated throughout the centuries. We pray humbly for the day that we will be reunited in the Orthodox faith.

    1. If you could proffer a teaching that has changed, keeping in mind the nuances of the difference between discipline and doctrine?

    2. The teaching on the filioque. the original teaching of the Catholic Church was that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father. This was in the Nicene Creed which everyone had to believe under pain of anathema. Then, later on the popes of the Roman Church changed their minds and said that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and from the Son. It was only the Holy Orthodox Church which kept the original sacred teaching intact.

    3. Actually, did you know that the Orthodox Church initially accepted the addition of "and the Son"?

      And then you changed your mind for political reasons it would appear.