It is now with great pleasure that I can inform those who don’t know already that it has been now decided (for the UK) that Friday penance (actually never abolished, though its existence has been carefully hidden from your sight by the western Catholic clergy) is going to be reintriduced in full style, that is: by making clear that the standard way of making friday penance is by abstaining from meat.
The new rule will get in force starting with the 16th September. This basically means – if the new rules are made known and explained to the faithful – the return to the good old days in just a couple of years.
Also interesting are the motivation the bishops have given for this – semel in anno – very laudable initiative: 1) the recovery of Catholic identity and practice, and 2) the common celebration of friday penance.
As to 1), one thinks that the old sixty-eighter generation must be rather bewildered at the concept of Catholic practices being reintroduced because they are specifically Catholic. This really doesn’t square with the ecu-maniacal soup they have been eating for too many decades. I doubt that even a joint will be enough for them to forget the crude reality of the irresistible return of traditional Catholic practices. I do hope they’ll enjoy the salmon, though.
As to 2), this is interesting in its social relevance. If this practice is made known and the faithful regularly reminded about its observance, in just a few years you’ll have every biggish office, association etc. where Catholics are clearly recognisable. This is a bit like Ash Wednesday, where you see in the underground the people with the ashes on their forefront and you either know, or are curious…. In time, those standing out for this strange behaviour will become more and more, one question will lead to another and, no doubt, many a soul will be saved as a result.
I warmly welcome this development and didn’t want to miss one of the very rare occasions when our bishops act in a decisive, laudable and even slightly uncomfortable way.
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.