From a reader:
Yesterday I brought a ham sandwich for lunch. I had forgotten however that my firm was sponsoring a lunch on that day. It would have been somewhat awkward and unseemly to bring my own lunch to that sponsored lunch. Eating the sandwich for supper would have been inconsiderate as my wife would have been disappointed had I not enjoyed the meal she prepared. Certainly I could have planned things better and I take responsibility for that. I could have for example not eaten the provided lunch and eaten the sandwich at my desk later, but at my office for a variety of reasons that is not so easy to do. So now I am left with the procrustean options of eating a ham sandwich on Friday (I would rather not do that) or throwing the sandwich away as I don’t think it will keep until tomorrow (not a particularly good choice either but preferable from certain perspectives). What do you think? Thanks.
The present legislation concerning penance states that you can substitute another form of penance.
The law for the Latin Church says:
Canon 1253 It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.
I don’t know what country you are from, your local conference may have established norms concerning abstinence on Fridays of Lent.
Generally, however, if a person who is of the age and heath that he is bound to do the established Lenten Friday penance, including abstinence from meat, for a good reason a person can substitute another penance.
That would require a measure of honesty and a careful assessment of the circumstances. There are so few obligations placed on Latin Catholics today in this regard.
I will assume from your scenario that you are not in a financial position such that you can responsibly throw away food, which is not good in any case.
Another scenario might be: being invited to a home and being served meat and not wanting to offend or embarrass.
Still, the reason why the Church relaxed the laws on fasting and penance was because we need to make thoughtful decisions about penance and engage in it in a meaningful way. For some people fasting or abstaining from food really isn’t very hard. I know a couple people who have to be reminded to eat. On the other hand, were they away from a, say, radio or other noise maker, or cut off from the internet, they would be hard pressed.
I am guessing that where you live, you may have the option of substituting a penance.
Finally, your parish priest, the pastor, under canon law has the ability to dispense you from your obligation of abstinence on Friday. You might give him a call. He would probably be interested to learn that one of his parishioners wanted to do the right thing.