Now would be a good time for the U.S. Bishops to restore the holy obligation to abstain from meat every Friday — “a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the Passion of Jesus Christ.” C.C Pecknold @ccpecknold
Certainly when I think about the sex abuse crisis I finally come around to think of “This kind cannot be driven out by anything but prayer and fasting.” (Mark 9:29)
Two years ago, Deacon Steven Greydanus wrote a piece for the National Catholic Register titled Are Meatless Fridays Still a Thing? Does it Matter?. I really loved this piece of writing since it makes necessary caveats while calling us to enter in more fully with the Friday’s penance.
Over the years since becoming Catholic I have become quite annoyed that in the United States that abstinence from meat on Friday’s was replaced by a “do your own thing” penance. Later I realized it was stupid of me to complain about this and not just taking up the practice myself. So originally I started just with having only one meal on Fridays. I found this practice to be conducive to marking Friday as something special and a memorial to our Lord’s death on the cross. Just doing something different on Friday’s specialized the day and occasionally brought to mind the significance of this.
When I started doing intentional fasting and eating just one meal a day for health reasons I found that this made Friday’s lose that significance. So I decided that abstinence from meat on Friday’s is what I needed to do. A more penitential aspect since I much prefer meat to fish. So this restored marking Friday as a special day for me. An additional penitential aspect I found was that since I go out to lunch with my co-workers on Friday’s, this limited where we could go. I was almost embarrassed to admit I was a vegetarian on Fridays as if I was some super uber holy Catholic. I hate doing things that make me stand out – so hey even more penitential. Penitential especially when admiring my co-worker’s meat dishes. Although I was pretty pleased with my co-worker’s acceptance of this.
So I have found the practice of Friday penance something quite useful and a guide towards appreciation of our Lord’s sacrifice. Not that every Friday I reflect on this, just that I am more likely to reflect on this.
Now I can understand the reasons why the Bishop’s decided that a corporate prescribed penance on Friday’s might not be the way to go. For some eating fish on Friday is no penance at all and the same goes for vegetarians of various stripes. So there are certainly some prudential questions regarding why they did this. I would certainly bemoan the fact that this corporate act of penance that stood Catholics apart from others had many good benefits. There are community building aspects to this that build up our identities as Catholics. A practice that caused fast food chains to offer fish sandwiches on Fridays.
There are many pros and cons concerning Friday penance and whether there should be a prescribed penance. What I don’t understand is why the fact that there is a Friday penance is never publicized? It is indeed still a requirement.
In 1966 the USCCB released the statement Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence.
- For these and related reasons, the Catholic bishops of the United States, far from downgrading the traditional penitential observance of Friday, and motivated precisely by the desire to give the spirit of penance greater vitality, especially on Fridays, the day that Jesus died,urge our Catholic people henceforth to be guided by the following norms.
- 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.
- 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 by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.
I can pretty much guarantee if I went around asking Catholics what their act of “self-denial and mortification” was on Friday’s I am sure I would get the deer in the headlights stare back at me. I am in no way mocking their ignorance of this. They simply were never told in the majority of cases. They might know that abstinence from meat was once required, but that’s it. Mostly I would point my fingers at Bishop’s and others who have never made this any sort of catechetical priority. The statement said they were far from downgrading this requirement, but if you never tell anybody about it – this is much worse.
The whole idea of doing penance for our sins has fallen on hard times as is the very idea of sin and our culpability. The idea of Friday penance and going to confession went hand-in-hand as something seemingly outdated. It would be much better for us if we had a firmer grasp of our sinfulness, our need for our Redeemer, and how penance was a way forward for us.
Now I don’t pretend for a single instance to be any model. My thoughts when fasting think more about a positive effect when weighing myself on a scale than reducing or doing reparations for my many sins. Still I would not bail on this for the simple fact that from time-to-time I am reminded why I fast and feel a thankfulness to Jesus regarding this. During Lent I also add Wednesday as a day of fasting which again helps me. Just the annoyance of an intentional penance is felt at some level. Plus there is pure delight when a Solemnity falls on a fast day!
Another point regarding fasting as reparation in regards to the sexual abuse crisis. There are aspect to this that repel me. I want to go full-Pharisee and say “Thank you Lord that I am not like this other person”. And then I remember the following quote:
“But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
It would be an awful ingratitude to God who has forgiven my many and terrible sins that I would be unwilling to offer some form of reparation for others. Too easy to play the starring role in the The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant. So I really need to take my days of fast to a deeper and more intentional level.
- Image courtesy of Pixels – no attribution required.