Friday remains a day of penance

A devotion that has become extremely important to my family over the last few years is abstinence from meat every Friday. Many grew up with this practice and continue it today. For others, if it’s not Lent, it’s not on their radar to consider abstaining from meat.

Eating meat on Friday as a Catholic is a very new concept, dating back only to Vatican II (1962-1965). Members of Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches still abstain from meat on Fridays and Wednesdays, and what they may not eat extends to more than simply flesh meat.

In the Latin Church, this devotion was observed for almost 2,000 years and set Christians apart from other faiths. It was an important part of living their beliefs in everyday life.

Why? Because Friday is a day of penance. It still is!

We recognize the ultimate sacrifice and love of Jesus dying on the cross by sacrificing ourselves this one day of the week. Vatican II did not change the importance of Friday being a day of penance, but it did relieve the obligation of abstaining from meat. However, canon law still states that if the ordinary abstaining from meat isn’t observed, an alternate form a penance should be completed, especially that of giving up a different kind of food:

  • 1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
  • 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
  • 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Sadly, in my experience, this information has been largely forgotten; although it can be a powerful tool for reminding us, each and every week, of the sacredness of Friday and the extreme love of Jesus Christ dying on the cross. It can help us prepare for the mini-Easter of every Sunday.

As the seasons change and we begin to see new wonders outside, as school starts and new activities begin, perhaps it could be a good time to begin something new in our spiritual lives as well. Maybe even try adding this practice with a friend or other family members because there is great benefit and strength in accountability and community. Talking about it with others and even your priest could be helpful as well. And as in all things, peace.