By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Question: I grew up Catholic, and we always did meatless Fridays year-round as part of the Catholic practice of abstinence. (We had fish instead.) Now, as a vegan adult, since I’m already skipping meat anyway (fish, too), if I still wanted to do some kind of Friday absti- nence, could I give up things like soda pop, desserts or even beer? (Indiana)
Answer: On the Fridays during Lent, Cath- olics who have reached age 14 are asked to abstain from eating meat as a penitential act to join in the sufferings of Jesus. I have known people who have followed that rule by dining out on an extravagant lobster dinner. That, of course, misses the point; what is asked for is sacrifice.
In 1966, when the U.S. Catholic bishops lifted the rule of mandatory abstinence on Fridays throughout the year, this is what they said: “Since the spirit of penance primarily suggests that we discipline ourselves in that which we enjoy most, to many in our day abstinence from meat no longer implies penance, while renunciation of other things would be more penitential.”
Your question — about what other things you might give up — suggests that you have captured the spirit of that statement. All of your choices — soda, dessert, beer — have merit, because they would require a conscious decision on your part to forgo something that you like.
But the sacrifice you pick need not even be centered on dietary matters. I’ve always thought that a good idea for Christians on Lenten Fridays would be to take five minutes around three o’clock in the afternoon just to be quiet and to thank Jesus for dying on the cross to redeem our sins.
Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at firstname.lastname@example.org and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.