Last March, in the wake of sexual abuse of children by clergy, Benedict XVI wrote a pastoral letter to the people of Ireland. He asked the Church in Ireland to do penance, especially on Fridays.
One of the practices that distinguished Catholic, of which everyone was aware, was the fact that on Fridays Catholics did not eat meat. Some will argue that this is, in a wealthy society, not a very meaningful penance. The rules should be flexible enough for people willingly to chose to perform something more meaningful so that it is from the heart. On the other hand, abstaining from meat was a concrete way to do something.
This week in the UK’s best Catholic weekly, The Catholic Herald, there is an article and debate about whether or not we should return to a more serious observance of Friday penance.
Debate: Should the Friday Fast be restored?
Or should it be left up to individual Catholics to observe?
By The Catholic Herald on Friday, 3 December 2010
This week the Irish bishops urged the faithful to take up Friday penance again. They suggest abstaining from meat or alcohol, but also visiting the Blessed Sacrament, making the Stations of the Cross, or helping the sick, poor, old or lonely.
The English and Welsh bishops, meanwhile, considered whether to restore the Friday Fast at their plenary meeting last month.
They have asked Fr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, to investigate ways of revitalising Lent as a penitential season.
Of course, Catholics are meant to do some kind of penance on Fridays; the practice, though, is no longer widely observed. Should the bishops put more emphasis on it? The Friday Fast would be another way for Catholics to commit publicly to their faith. It would be an opportunity to remember Christ’s Passion and death, and, in a small way, to share in his suffering.
On the other hand, Friday Fasts, making the Sign of the Cross, saying grace before dinner – these are all external actions. What matters is our interior faith, our interior relationship with Christ.
So, should the bishops restore the Friday Fast? Or should it be left to individual Catholics to observe voluntarily, rather than being imposed?
Chose the best of the two answers and give your reasons in the combox, below.