How true this story is, I don't really know (but I'll look it up on Wikipedia in a minute and then tell you). But, as my husband and I were driving home tonight we came up with a more religiously meaningful reason for eating no meat on Friday, but still allowing fish to be eaten.
I should preface this by telling you that I have been forgoing meat on the Sabbath with the idea that the animals deserve a day of rest as well as we do, so I shouldn't eat them since that isn't very restful for them.
Back to the story, as we were driving home, my husband was lamenting the fact that we would never have great special meals on Sabbath, since to him MEAT = Good Food. He suggested that I move it to a different day, perhaps I should abstain from eating animals on the day they were created (the 6th day). We pondered this for a minute and then realized that this resulted in not eating meat on Friday! wow .. but, you can eat fish (and birds) because they were created on the 5th day! Remember, Saturday is the seventh day of the week. There were factions of Christians who tried to pretend that the Jews were wrong all along and Sunday was the true seventh day .. they didn't succeed, and Sunday is still considered the first day of the week.
So, now that I've speculated, let's look it up and see what scholars (Wikipedia, the Catholic Encyclopedia and a site about the Second Vatican Counsel) say the reasoning behind this rule is.
According to canon law, all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday and several other days are days of abstinence, though in most countries, the strict requirements of abstinence have been limited by the bishops (in accordance with Canon 1253) to the Fridays of Lent and Ash Wednesday. On other abstinence days, the faithful are invited to perform some other act of penance.
the historian Socrates (Hist. Eccl., V, 22) tells of the practice of the fifth century: "Some abstain from every sort of creature that has life, while others of all the living creatures eat of fish only. Others eat birds as well as fish, because, according to the Mosaic account of the Creation, they too sprang from the water; others abstain from fruit covered by a hard shell and from eggs. Some eat dry bread only, others not even that; others again when they have fasted to the ninth hour (three o'clock) partake of various kinds of food"
Throughout the Latin Church the law of abstinence prohibits all responsible subjects from indulging in meat diet on duly appointed days. Meat diet comprises the flesh, blood, or marrow of such animals and birds as constitute flesh meat according to the appreciation of intelligent and law-abiding Christians. For this reason the use of fish, vegetables, mollusks, crabs, turtles, frogs, and such-like cold-blooded creatures is not at variance with the law of abstinence. Amphibians are relegated to the category whereunto they bear most striking resemblance.
Some think that an ounce of flesh meat suffices to constitute a serious breach of this law, whereas others claim that nothing short of two ounces involves infringement of this obligation. Ordinarily, the actual observance of the law is confined to such circumstances as carry no insupportable burden. This is why the sick, the infirm, mendicants, labourers, and such as find difficulty in procuring fish diet are not bound to observe the law as long as such conditions prevail.
Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified;
The forty days represents, according to the Bible, the time Jesus spent in the desert, enduring the temptation of Satan
Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday be freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ;
Now I see--Friday is the day Jesus was crucified, and (even though it is called Good Friday), it is a day of fasting (in more ancient times only until the 9th hour, supposedly because the moment of the death of Jesus had some mystic significance freeing the rest of humanity from death, but I'm not very well versed in Catholic theology, so I might be missing the obvious). Because all things have their type or symbolic representation, every Friday represents Good Friday, and every Sunday represents Easter. But, the Friday abstinence also represents Lent, which is a remembrance of Jesus' 40 day fast in the wilderness. So, which is it? a piece of Lent or a piece of Good Friday or maybe both at the same time. I think the last option is the most fitting one, since abstaining on the Fridays during Lent is much more weighty than any other Friday (aside from Good Friday itself).
I couldn't find any substantiation for my 'fast strike of the northern barbarians' story .. oh well, I've told that tale to many a listener already! and ... I couldn't find anything actually refuting it either ;-)
A few other people mentioned the correspondence between not eating meat on the day that the animals were created and the Catholic observance.
I also found this fascinating theory:
The Hebrew scriptures also tell of Leviathan, a primordial gigantic enigmatic sea-creature (think Jonah's whale) that represents death. So carving up and eating Leviathan on the day that Christ killed death makes great sense to the biblical imagination. Because of Christ's victory, the great monster death is now nothing more than fish sticks on your plate!
--The Free Library