Alligator is permissible to eat on Fridays of Lent, the archbishop of New Orleans assured a conscientious parishioner, and his approval has been backed by the national bishops’ conference.
“Concerning the question if alligator is acceptable to eat during the Lenten season…yes, the alligator is considered in the fish family,” Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond wrote in a 2010 letter provided to CNA by the New Orleans archdiocese Feb. 15.
The archbishop said he agreed with the parishioner that the alligator is a “magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana” and which is also “considered seafood.”
The Code of Canon Law says, “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday.”
“The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year,” canon law continues.
This rule of abstinence from meat raises questions of what precisely constitutes meat, which explains Archbishop Aymond’s answer about alligators.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops website on “Lent and Lenten Practices” shows the rationale behind Archbishop Aymond’s declaration.
“Abstinence laws consider that meat comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep or pigs – all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat…Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles, (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.”
Since alligators are reptiles and therefore cold-blooded, their flesh does not count as “meat” from which U.S. Catholics must abstain on Fridays in Lent.
Other reptiles that could presumably be consumed on Lenten Fridays include turtles, snakes, and tortoises. The bishops indicate that foods such as chicken broth, meat gravies or sauces, “as well as seasonings or condiments made from animal fat are technically not forbidden.”
In the U.S., abstinence from meat applies on the Fridays of Lent, but during the rest of the year the faithful are free to choose some other Friday penance.
However, the possibility of extending Friday abstinence throughout the year has been recently raised. During the U.S. bishops’ 2012 General Assembly, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan of New York suggested it.
“The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent,” he said Nov. 12.
Although they did not make the practice mandatory, the bishops subsequently released a statement in December encouraging Americans to voluntarily give up meat on Fridays for the intentions of life, marriage and religious liberty in the U.S.
The move to re-institute Friday abstinence all year long has already been made by the bishops of England and Wales. Since Sept. 16, 2011, English and Welsh Catholics have been obliged to abstain from meat every Friday.
“The Bishops wish to re-establish the practice of Friday penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity,” read a statement from the English bishops explaining their decision.
“They recognize that the best habits are those which are acquired as part of a common resolve and common witness. It is important that all the faithful be united in a common celebration of Friday penance.”
Friday penance is a way for Catholics to commemorate the death of Christ and identify with his suffering.
Cardinal Dolan commended the English bishops, writing on his blog that “many welcomed the initiative of the bishops of England as a step in the right direction: restoring a sense of belonging, an exterior sign of membership, to a Church at times adrift.”