By FATHER KENNETH DOYLE
Q. What do persons who don’t normally eat meat do about the church’s rules on abstinence, such as on the Fridays during Lent? Nowadays, many Catholics are mainly fish eaters anyway, or they are vegans or vegetarians. What can they do to participate in the discipline of the church? (New Middletown, Indiana)
A. Your question prompts a question in my own mind: What’s the difference between a vegan and a vegetarian? On the off chance that any of our readers -- like myself -- might not have known this, here it is: Vegans eat no animal products at all, while vegetarians don’t eat animals but may eat products that come from them such as dairy and eggs.
And yes, there are many of each: I’ve read that, at some point in their lives, more than 10% of Americans are vegans or vegetarians. So your question does have relevance, and the answer is simple: Pick your own penance.
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" (No. 20).
Vegans and vegetarians should choose their own sacrifice on the Fridays of Lent. How about refraining from your favorite meatless meal? And it doesn’t even have to be food-related: Since Fridays are set aside for grateful remembrance of the sacrifice of Jesus, how about taking an extra five minutes of prayer on Lenten Fridays to thank Jesus for dying on the cross?
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Questions may be sent to Father Kenneth Doyle at email@example.com and 30 Columbia Circle Dr., Albany, New York 12203.