Via Ed Peters:
Cardinal Tim Dolan just delivered an excellent address to the USCCB. It needs to be read, and even listened to, in its entirety. Here I’ll underscore just one of his points: “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” (my emphasis).
For what it’s worth, I unequivocally endorse the re-institution of Friday abstinence in the US. This decision lies quite within the authority of the USCCB (see 1983 CIC 455, and 1249-1253) and, among other things, would render moot, once and for all, nagging questions about whether the episcopal conference ever really got around to substituting “other forms of penance” for abstinence from meat back in 1966, or 1983/1984, or whenever.
Still I can hear it now: “Okay, Peters, if you’re so gung-ho in Friday abstinence, do you abstain from meat on Fridays now, and even if you do, why should it be made a law for everybody?” Fair enough.
First, I don’t abstain on most Fridays now. Most times I simply forget; moreover, I’m pretty good at talking myself out of inconvenient observances if they are largely personal. I need the directives toward goods (like penance) and away from evils (like presumption) that law by its very nature offers. Second, abstaining from meat on Fridays would not be to introduce a new rule, but rather, to eliminate a variance on or exception to the common (and ancient*) rule of abstinence that is already set out in canon law, above. Third, the corporate example of all Catholics engaging in some sort of common religious exercise outside of Sunday morning is, I think, desperately needed in a world that wants to relegate religious observances to a six-hour window once a week.
Ex labiis Cardinalis Dolan ad aures episcoporum nostrorum!
If the bishops of the England and Wales could reinstate Friday Abstinence than we certainly can. Maybe we could have a piety war with England and see which country could out piety the other.
On the personal side to answer the same question Mr. Peter’s answered, my selected Friday penance is to fast by only eating one meal on Friday’s. I would gladly (if forced) mix that with mandatory abstinence and for me eating fish is a bit of a penance.
The previous action of the predecessor of the USCCB not to specify a form of penances has meant that hardly anybody choose to perform any penance at all. I think this was a serious mistake and followed up by another mistake. It is one thing not to specify the penance, it is quite another to put no effort into educating Catholics that they “must perform an alternative penance.” Ask a Catholic what form of penance they are performing on Fridays and it is almost guaranteed that you will get a blank stare instead of an answer.
I know fasting on Friday’s really helps me to focus more on Good Friday and the reasons I need a savior in the first place. I must admit though that I really like the “Solemnity Loophole” where when a Solemnity occurs on Friday you should not be doing any penance. People have learned the “Solemnity Loophole” when the Feast of St. Joseph occurs on Fridays during Lent and this gives you something to look forward to throughout the year. Food tastes extra good on Solemnities. Some people might take on an extra penance of eating a Fish Filet sandwich at McDonalds.
So I guess I will be ironically fasting and praying for a return of Friday Abstinence.