Abstinence On Fridays: Why Not Give It A Try?

I can think of worse penances

Once upon a time, Fridays were days of abstinence, that is: days on which no meat could be eaten. The practice has now been largely restricted to the Fridays of Lent, but a conservative Catholic – as you, dear reader, hopefully are or are slowly becoming – could do no wrong in thinking of reintroducing these time-honoured practices for himself even in the absence of an obligation.
In the end, many of us want – to put it bluntly and without fake gentleness – the Church to come back to what it was before Vatican II. Then we can, a bit at a time, also try to let it be so in our own private existence. If the Catholics in the pew start to walk the walk, in time the vatican will decide that at this point it is better to talk the talk…..

You can read here the longish take of the Catholic Encyclopedia on abstinence and fasting. Abstinence is not really difficult and not really a sacrifice. I have found that for me (a single, and very forgetful since I can remember) the biggest challenge is to remember that it is Friday before I eat my lunch. “How can you forget what day it is?” You may ask. Well I can do it very well and I can’t even count the times I have been answered “tomorrow is Saturday” at work…. :(. Apart from that, it is not really difficult, mainly requiring (probably, only for singles) nothing more than a minimum of planning in your fridge administration (after Friday comes the weekend, where you might eat out rather often; therefore a Tuesday or Wednesday meat purchase should be weighted against the probability of eating it within Thursday or it might stay in your fridge for a while, which is sub-optimal to say the least). As in almost everything, if we persevere until we have acquired a habit, the habit will take care of us.

We are called to deny ourselves, take up the cross, and follow Christ. Abstinence is a small, rather easy, but frequent way to do this. It is another little brick with which we build the edifice of our salvation. It will greatly contribute to keep us away from gluttony (ah! Gluttony!! When was last time you heard this word mentioned?! Nowadays it must be McDonald’s fault, isn’t it?), help us to better remember our Lord’s sacrifice and, as a bonus, will probably keep us in better shape.

I have frequently noticed that one of the biggest differences between Catholicism (properly understood) and Protestant ecclesial communities is that whilst the latter may tend to some sort of easy “emotionalism”, the (traditional) Catholic path gives a great importance to habits, to the small little things one does regularly. These little practices may not seem such a big deal taken individually, but when considered in their entirety they become a solid railway upon which we base our journey to salvation. From the litanies to crossing oneself when walking past a church, from praying the Rosary (very important, this!) to the devotions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus or of the Immaculate Heart of Mary; from the novenas to the use of holy water, all these seemingly not life-changing small activities contribute to the building of our spiritual edifice.
Gutta cavat lapidem. Even a small gesture, repeated faithfuly again and again, can go a long way to keep us away from serious trouble and will, on that fateful day of the redde rationem, have a great weight on the right side of the scale.

If you are not doing it already, you may want to seriously consider to reintroduce Friday abstinence in your life. Perhaps you might want to give it a try tomorrow?

If we had asked Padre Pio about the opportunity of abolishing the abstinence on Fridays, I wonder whether he would have remained calm. If we had told him that all these things are meaningless relics of the past, as in reality only our oh so emotionally charged relationship with Jesus is all that count, I think he most certainly wouldn’t have.

It might be good to give it a try for a while. It was good enough for Pius XII’s Church. Really, it can’t be bad for Benedict XVI’s one.


Posted on November 4, 2010, in Catholicism and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Old habits die hard, don’t they?

    During the long years when I was a “lapsed” Catholic, I still adhered, in a luke-warm way, to not eating meat on Fridays – and on Good Friday none of my family were allowed meat at all. We didn’t go to Church, but we didn’t eat meat, so that was alright then!

    Since returning to the Faith, I am strict with myself about the Friday abstinence and the Good Friday fast. The only difficulty arises when one is invited to dinner at somebody’s house and the hostess, who has probably been slaving over a hot stove all afternoon, produces cheese wrapped in chicken and bacon or some other meaty delicacy! Can you say “sorry, it looks delicious but I’m afraid I don’t eat meat on Friday”? Of course you can’t! You just have to eat it – and enjoy it. At least it’s no longer a mortal sin to do so!

    • Misericordia,

      your assertion that there are people who don’t go to church and still adhere to Friday abstinence shows in my eyes how powerful Catholicism is. If our Bishops would start hammering some orthodoxy in the mind of the people, we’ll soon see results Of course this requires the Bishops to be orthodox themselves, which is a problem.

      You may want to talk to your confessor (a good one; not one who tells you that you are not obliged to follow the rule anymore as this doesn’t answer the question) to get some better guidance, but I remember St. Paul writing that one doesn’t have to give unnecessary scandal or discomfort. I personally thik that even if Friday abstinence were in place, this would not be a sin at all if you would be causing discomfort or embarrassment to those who have invited you. I might be wrong.

      For “mortal sin” you mean “objective mortal sin” I suppose. In order for it to be an actual mortal sin (in the sense of: a sin able to send one to Hell) much more than the eating meat is required as the aversio a deo must be total. Basically one must have the full deliberate intent of eating meat to offend Christianity, to separate himself from Christ completely. You would think that this is difficult to achieve, but every militant atheist would do that without thinking twice.

      One day I might write something about actual and objective mortal sin, as I think that the issue causes unnecessary scruples in many a faithful but not thoroughly informed Catholic.


    • I have lived the same situation you describe in my family. My parents are no churchgoers, but have great respect for religious faith and therefore I was never encouraged to continue going to church when I lapsed, but always associated every church with the sacred, went on occasions to pray there, treated the place with much more respect and reverence than many progressives churchgoers of today.

      It may seem a contradiction, particularly once one has come back to the full sacramental life and finds it difficult to believe how he could ever think that it was perfectly all right not to go to mass and pray every day (as I did and my mother does), but the fact is that many people end up thinking that they are separating themselves from churchmen whilst still continuing to love God and not even perceiving what they lose when losing contact with the sacraments.
      In this, they are certainly not helped by the Churchmen themselves. If even priests make excuses for those who don’t go to Mass, how can we ask them not to do it for themselves?


  2. Mundabor

    Thank you for your comments. I frequently find you advice on the practice of one’s Faith extremely helpful and enlightening.

    I should be very pleased were you to write an article on mortal sin, as I am not always clear as to the conditions that make a sin “mortal”.

  3. Irenaeus of New York

    [“Abstinence On Fridays: Why Not Give It A Try?”]

    Thanks for asking. I think I will.

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