A few weeks ago, I conversed online with a friend from Notre Dame, a devout, knowledgeable Catholic (undeniably better than I), who is married and the young mother of two adorable children, whom she and her husband intend to raise, and already raise, in the Faith and traditions of the Holy Mother Church, when she inadvertently tested my knowledge of Catholic Teaching. I forget the particular context, but she made some comment about spoiling herself by consuming meat on Friday, remarking that she’d now have to confess her violation of Friday penitence-by-abstinence. I, who had been voluntarily abstaining from meat on Fridays to offer a minute sacrifice of penitence (I’m a professional sinner.) — and as a nod to old-school Roman Catholicism —, urged her not to be so hard on herself, reminding her that the Church long ago rescinded this Friday requirement outside of Lent. She quickly disabused me of this misbelief, as did Wikipedia —
Specific regulations are passed by individual episcopates. In the US in 1966 the USCCB passed Norms II and IV that bound all persons from age fourteen to be bound to abstinence from meat on Fridays of Lent, and through the year. In September 1983, Canons 1252 and 1253 expressed this same rule, and added that Bishops may permit substitution of other penitential practices on Fridays outside of Lent only, but that some form of penance shall be observed on Friday in commemoration of the day of the week of the Lord’s Crucifixion. —,
which directed me to the USCCB’s “Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics”, from 2000, which reminds us that
If we are serious about embracing the penitential discipline that is rooted in the call to discipleship, then we will identify specific times and places for prayer, penance, and works of charity. Growth in spiritual maturity demands a certain level of specificity, for it shows that we take seriously God’s call to discipline and are willing to hold ourselves accountable. In our Catholic tradition we specify certain days and seasons for special works of penance: Fridays, on which we commemorate the death of the Lord, and Lent, our forty days of preparation for the Easter mysteries.
Recalling our Lord’s Passion and death on Good Friday, we hold all Fridays to have special significance. Jesus’ self-denial and self-offering invite us to enter freely into his experience by forgoing food, bearing humiliations, and forgiving those who injure us. Through the grace of the Holy Spirit, the principal agent of all spiri-tual transformation, this can be done—and done with a spirit of quiet joy. For Christians, suffering and joy are not incompatible. [My emphasis. – NPO.]
I, a professing, Mass-attending, doing-my-best Catholic had no idea that this very simple, evident, slackened obligation exists. Suffice to say I’ve continued, without lapse, to abstain from meat on Fridays; I suppose that I could proffer some alternate form of penitence (I’m trying to supplement my abstinence with Mass attendance on Fridays, but have yet to turn theory into practice.), but the connection, tenuous as it be, that this creates to the Church’s historical traditions has sufficient meaning for me that I’ll continue to substitute salmon for chicken — unless, you know, someone plops some prime rib on my plate.
I offer this silly little anecdote, and revelation of my own ignorance, not to indict myself, or my parents, but to offer a relatively minor example of a much greater problem: The Church’s hierarchy’s (and lay leadership’s) failure to sustain a rich, vibrant Catholic culture, one imbued with respect for the teachings — and spiritual significance thereof — of the Holy Mother Church; a real, deep appreciation of family and community — both spiritual and social, the latter within and beyond the parish; deep reverence for Christ and His Bride, and the many avenues available to us (e.g., Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament); and active political, civil, and social engagement rooted in and loyal to the Magisterium.
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