MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Each Friday during Lent, Catholics are supposed to give up meat, so many turn to fish.

That had Chuck from Clearwater wanting to know: Why is fish not considered meat?

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According to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, abstinence laws say meat is considered something that comes only from animals that live on land, like chicken, cows, sheep or pigs.

Fish are considered a different category of animal.

Charles Reid, a professor of canon law at the University of St. Thomas Law School, says these Friday observations are a form of penance.

“[It’s] a way of remembering and recognizing the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross,” Reid said. “Fridays are particularly associated with the crucifixion. Jesus was crucified on Friday, so we choose a penitential date that happens to be Friday.”

Meat has always been associated with luxury, celebration and feast.

“I love meat,” said University of St. Thomas student Steve Maher. “It is a sacrifice and I think that’s what makes it so powerful.”

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According to Reid, the often-told story about a long-ago pope promoting fish to prop up the fishing industry is just urban legend.

Eating fish on Fridays isn’t required, but has rather become somewhat of a tradition in many Catholic households.

In fact, so many people eat fish on Lenten Fridays that in 1959, a Cincinnati McDonald’s owner decided to introduce the Filet-o-Fish after suffering big losses on Fridays.

It beat out the other proposed option called the “hula burger,” which consisted of pineapple and melted cheese.

“I’m very, very happy that won,” said University of St. Thomas student Charlie Corbett.

Meat juices, liquid foods made from meat – like soups or gravies – and seasonings made from animal fat are not technically forbidden, according to the Conference of Catholic Bishops.

And alligator, a popular food in Louisiana, is also allowed, according to a letter from the Archbishop of News Orleans published by the Catholic New Agency.

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“Alligator is considered in the fish family,” wrote the Archbishop.

Heather Brown