Mackerel Snappers: How to Eat on Fish Fridays – Nothing Says "Penance" Like Fish-Sticks


There are several slurs that have been used against Catholics in history. Papist. Romish. Jesuitical. My favorite is Papicolist. A lesser known anti-Catholic slur is “Mackerel Snapper” which was popular in the mid 1800s.

In America, Catholics were the minority and they were known by their refusal to eat meat on Fridays in honor of Christ sacrificing his flesh on Friday for our sins. Protestant perceived this as odd and a defining feature of the Catholics they befriended and dined with. Catholics ate fish on Fridays, a popular variety being mackerel (mackerel is rich in omega 3′s, by the way). Hence, we Catholics were called “Mackerel Snappers!”

Well on Fridays in Lent, Catholics are still obligated by canon law to abstain from flesh meats (beef, poultry, pork, etc.) unless their local conference of bishops alters or dispenses of the practice. I’ve discussed the theological reasons for this in another post: Please read “Why is Fish Okay But Not Meat.”


Prior to the Second Vatican Council, all Catholics abstained during all Friday of the year to commemorate the day (Friday) on which Christ sacrificed his FLESH for us. Many bishops are now reconsidering this and have expressed concern that Catholic should return to the meatless Fridays.

As an act of penance and for the conversion of our family and friends, our family began keeping meatless Fridays about three years ago the whole year round. It’s tough the first month or so, but then it becomes second nature. Occasionally, an occasion demands that we eat meat (eg, invited to a dinner on Friday) or somebody in the family forgets. In such a case, we pray an extra Chaplet of Divine Mercy.

Today’s post focuses on the practical aspect. How do you and/or your family keep meatless Fridays? It seems like such a chore. However, with some creativity, it can become an act of penance and a family tradition. And when your conference of bishops restores the custom, you’ll already be accustomed to the laudable and ancient practice. I’ve listed some suggestions below.

Breakfast is easy. Protein shake, eggs, cereal. No sweat.

The difficult meals are lunch and dinner. You don’t have to have endless tuna casseroles. There are some some healthy and tasty (albeit still penitential meals) that can be enjoyed.

Here are some meatless Friday suggestions:

Cheese Quesadillas. In the unforgettable words of Napoleon Dynamite’s grandmother, “Just fix your self a dang QuesaDILLA!” Our family is all about the quesadilla on Friday. Cheap. Easy. Kids love them. Make big ones and use a pizza cutter to cut them up into slices for everybody. Add some sour cream and hot sauce for the parents, maybe some chips and home-made guacamole. You’ve got a great meal.

Nachos. A variation on quesadillas. My wife Joy gets cookie sheets out, covers them with chips and grated cheese and then puts them in the oven. Bring them out and put them in front of the kids and watch them disappear. Super cheap and kids love it. For adults, add sour cream, salsa, chives, guacamole, etc.

Pizza. Cheese pizza for the kiddos. Margherita pizza for the parents. Perfect. Throw in a beer to wash it down.

Grilled Cheese Sandwich and Tomato Soup. This is a nice simple meal and surprisingly our kids love it. You dip the grilled cheese in the soup. Comfort food. For parents, add some pesto to your grilled cheese sandwich. Also, adults like mixing up the cheeses – try different kinds.

Pasta and Marina. Fast. Easy. Children love. It costs next to nothing.

Fettucini Alfredo. Another filling meatless meal that most people like.

Mac and Cheese. A good option for kids – especially when mom and dad are leaving on a date. Meatless. Inexpensive.

Vegetable Lasagne. This may not be a winner with the kids, but adults like it. It’s a lot of work to prepare, though.

Egg Salad Sandwich. My wife and I really like egg salad sandwiches with tomato and lettuce.

Tuna Salad Sandwich. Honestly, this can get old, but you change it up additions like cucumbers, olives, or even curry powder. You can get tuna sandwiches at Subway on Fridays.

Fish and Chips. My go to Friday meal, especially if at a restaurant.

Salmon. When we want a nice Friday meal, we go for salmon. Healthy. Lean. Not hard to prepare. I grill it on a cedar plank. Fantastic.
Cheese Enchiladas and Chips and Salsa. This is the number one Marshall Friday meal. Joy makes it and everybody loves it. Very filling. Not very expensive. The hard part is heating all the corn tortillas in oil. That takes a lot of time, but it’s worth it.

My least favorite Friday option? Well, the McFish Sandwhich and frozen fish-sticks are my least favorite. The children like fish-sticks, but when I discover that they are for dinner, I inwardly grown. Nothing says “penance” like fish-sticks.

If you have other suggestions for meatless Fridays, please leave a comment for us.

ad Jesum per Mariam,
Taylor Marshall, PhD

PS: McDonald’s created their fish sandwich specifically for Catholics on Fridays. In 1962, Cincinnati McDonald’s franchisee Lou Groen invented the sandwich to compensate for plummeting burger sales during Lent.
Wendy's Premium Fish Fillet
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  • isabel kissinger

    Go for Philippine Jollibee!!!

  • isabel kissinger

    Would anyone volunteer to gulp on pure water on fridays?….it’s that simple and easy, no prep is needed…smile