What are you doing this Friday? I’m asking about your penance, not that it’s my business, but the business of the Church is something I care about. And it seems that Friday penances largely disappeared along with the long lines outside Brown’s Fish and Chips every Friday. That was the fish restaurant in my neighborhood when I was a little girl, just old enough that I remember we could not eat meat on Fridays.
I don’t actually recall a single meatless menu or thinking about our sacrifice. I simply have a flash memory of a line that came out of the door and snaked around the building of Brown’s Fish and Chips because it was Friday. Our family never stood in that line because with six kids and knowing how my mother was, she would have gone with grilled cheese and tomato soup over standing in line for an hour.
And that (the line to get into the restaurant) is probably one of the reasons that our bishops did away with the blanket no meat on Friday penance. There were people going out to dinner, indulging in a fine restaurant meal perhaps complete with a desert and drink, and calling it a penance. There are also people like me who choose fish and chips over a steak every time. It’s my favorite which really complicates a Lenten fish fry for me.
It used to be that in observance of Friday as a day of fast and abstinence, it was a sin for Catholics to eat meat. In 1966, many national bishops’ conferences — including that of the United States — allowed Catholics to replace “no meat” with another form of penance. They issued a “Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence ” but expressed the hope that “the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.”
The current Code of Canon Law (CIC) states that, with the exception of solemnities, “All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.” (CIC 1250) Furthermore, “Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities.” (CIC 1251) Our bishops have declared that it is permissible to substitute some other form of penance, but we are still told to fast from “something” in remembrance of the Lord’s death on the cross.
Week of Prayer and Fasting
We need to turn up the passion for Friday sacrifices. It accesses the power of God to answer prayers, and to renew our Church and family and world. As the body of Christ, we should be in union with one another and with our Church, striving to make everyone holier.
While on the topic of sacrifice, here is a way to join with others to put it into high gear with the annual International Week of Prayer and Fasting is Nov. 2-10 this year.
In response to the many crises our society is facing, an international coalition of Catholic organizations has mobilized for the 27th International Week of Prayer and Fasting from. The Coalition is uniting with The Marians of the Immaculate Conception, Legion of Mary, Priests for Life, Rosary Coast to Coast and many others  to pray and fast for:
- the conversion of all people and nations
- to build a culture of life
- to defend the sanctity of marriage and family life
- for all priests, vocations and holiness for the members of the Church
- for peace and to implore God’s mercy
The opening day will be held on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019, at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C., from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. ET. Registration is FREE online at www.iwopf.org , where you can also register to pledge your prayers and fasting for the week’s goals.
We have become soft. We need penance now more than ever. Just do it!