Could I suggest a topic you might address at some point. You had mentioned it in one of your recent Mary Vitamins: Penitential Fridays. You provided a link, which I read. I am a cradle Catholic, went to Catholic grade school and high school and I never knew we were suppose to do penance on Fridays throughout the year. I would especially appreciate if you could mention how you deal with Fridays in your house and maybe how you discuss it with your children.
This has been a great question Sharon. Thank you. I don’t think it would have occurred to me to review my practice of Friday abstinence if you hadn’t asked this question. I’ve learned important lessons and I’m very grateful. I feel it has been a charity to me that you asked me about the practice of my Faith. I hope you (and others) will continue to ask questions.
To prepare to answer this question I read through the bishops' letter on fasting.
The Bishops state:
“Catholic peoples from time immemorial have set apart Friday for special penitential observance by which they gladly suffer with Christ that they may one day be glorified with Him. This is the heart of the tradition of abstinence from meat on Friday…”
The two points which I learned that I needed to emphasize were:
The rest of the points can be quickly summarized here:
• Requirement to offer some sacrifice on Fridays
• Meat has been the traditional Catholic sacrifice
• We remember the sacrifice of the First Good Friday
• In that light it should be more than just a vegetarian Friday – it should include a lifting of the heart and mind to God.
In the letter, the bishops explain why they are allowing a choice of sacrifice on Fridays:
*It is more meritorious to perform an action freely.
*For some, it is not a penance to refrain from meat on Fridays.
*Encourage the performance of charitable acts as well as fasting.
*Move away from dry, legal observance and renew the practice with a spiritual component.
~The bishops warn against passing judgment against those who do not practice abstaining from meat.
I realized after reading this letter that I needed to put a little more “heart” into our Friday abstinence. For the past couple of Fridays, in addition to giving up meat, we’ve also been trying to give up complaining. The two sacrifices have worked well together. The body is trained with the change in diet while the spirit is exercised by the control of the tongue.
As an aside, the giving up of complaining worked much better when we began the day with an inspirational thought or idea. Mother Cabrini helped us one week. (A Mary Vitamin resulted: Cease Complaining) On another week we were encouraged by a reading from the Acts of the Apostles. We heard about the courage of the disciples who accepted punishment yet still were able to maintain their joy:
And they indeed went from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were accounted worthy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus. And every day they ceased not in the temple, and from house to house, to teach and preach Christ Jesus.Acts 5:41-42
Getting back to Friday abstinence, … on Fridays, it’s not surprising to find a child or two hovering around the kitchen. It just isn’t easy to feel full when we have mac and cheese for lunch. After reading the words of the Bishops and praying over this blog post, I realized that this minor hunger was a wonderful opportunity for drawing the children’s minds to Sunday and the reception of Holy Communion. I’ve been able to tell them (while fixing a snack) that when we feel a little hungry on Fridays this helps us to remember and long for the food of our souls. The heavenly food we will receive on Sunday. I saw little eyes light up in expectation and understanding.
The Franciscans of the Immaculate (and I’m sure other orders) prepare for Marian feast days by practicing a fast the day prior to the feast. The bishops referenced this practice in their letter:
“We impose no fast before any feast day, but we suggest that the devout will find greater Christian joy in the feasts of the liturgical calendar if they freely bind themselves, for their own motives and in their own spirit of piety, to prepare for each Church festival by a day of particular self-denial, penitential prayer and fasting.”Feeling a little hungry is a good thing and helps us to appreciate Sunday.
The beauty of the Catholic Church knows no bounds and one of the most inviting aspects is the Liturgical calendar. The days have different values and Solemnities are the highest ranking. (See Fr. Hardon’s dictionary: Solemnities) Every Sunday is a solemnity. Father Hardon writes that there are 16 other solemnities including Christmas. St. Francis renown for his poverty and penance said that if Christmas were to fall on a Friday “even the walls should eat meat on such a day, and if they cannot, they should be smeared with meat on the outside." Solemnities which fall on Fridays are treated differently.
Courtesy also plays a role in Friday abstinence. If invited to a friend’s house and there is meat, I suggest imitating St. Louis IX. As King of France, St. Louis could have requested all sorts of food. This noble King was also a Franciscan Tertiary and he took as a personal rule to eat whatever was set in front of him. Since the absolute obligation to refrain from meat has been lifted outside of Lent, I think we eat the meat graciously and try to offer another penance. Since one is in company “saying only the good things men need to hear” would be a perfect substitute. (Eph 4:29)
(Personally, I always thought attending Mass on Fridays was a great way to fulfill the Friday obligation when confronted with an issue of courtesy.)
Finally, here are a few links on Friday Abstinence:
Women for Faith and Family has a good page with Canon Law, the modern and traditional requirements for Friday fasting.
Fr. Hardon's Modern Catholic Dictionary is always a good reference work.
Fr. Hardon’s page discusses the level of sin committed by one who doesn’t observe the Friday abstinence.