Kicking it up a notch: our Catholic identity – Fr. Z rants

A reader alerted me to a letter of His Excellency Most Reverend R. Daniel Conlon, Bishop of Steubenville about Friday penance.

This is post on the website of the Diocese of Steubenville and the letter was to be read before or at the end of all Masses on the weekend of March 28 and 29, 2009.

This letter is great grist for my blogging mill today.

Let’s have a look with my emphases and comments.  At the end I will rant for a while and ask some questions.

Food on Fridays

March 28, 2009
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
With a few loaves of bread and a couple of fish, Jesus fed thousands. It was a sign of how he would himself become the Bread of Life, true life for those who believe in him.
We cannot become literally other Christs. [Though by ordination a priest is, when he celebrates Mass for example, alter Christus… ] We can be transformed by his life and be instruments of his life for others. Just as he accomplished salvation through his supreme sacrifice on the cross, we can fulfill our Christian mission through sacrifice. Jesus taught his disciples to pray, fast and care for the poor as types of sacrifice.
Maybe we separate these three activities into distinct functions. Jesus drew them together in feeding the multitude. He took the meager food of the apostles, prayed over it and distributed it to the poor. On Calvary, after a day with no food or drink, he gave his life for us sinners, all the while praying to his Father.
We can do the same in a very simple way. I am inviting the Catholic people of the Diocese of Steubenville to resume the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays throughout the year, but with a twist. I am asking that this be not only a penitential practice but also an experience of prayer and service. This can happen by connecting abstinence with our witness to the sacredness of human life[St. Pope Leo the Great (+461) in his preaching during penitential times always connected fasting to almsgiving.  In the ancient Church fasting was not just penitential.  It was a dimension of the Christian’s works of mercy.]
The Church teaches, in harmony with divine revelation, that every human life is sacred and inviolable from conception to natural death. Yet, abortion is widely accepted and legalized. Wars abound. Suicide bombings, terrorist attacks and public shootings kill innocent people. Domestic violence, human trafficking, racism, assisted suicide, capital punishment and so many other acts and attitudes degrade what is made in the image of God.
We must continue to teach the truth about life without ceasing and without hesitancy. But actions often speak louder than words. Abstinence from meat on Fridays, for the sake of life, is one such action, especially when done in solidarity with one another[Remember the distinction in law between abstinence (giving up certain foods) and fasting (cutting back the quantity of food).  Both are tools of discipline.]
Abstinence is a form of fasting—a discipline of the body. It can remind us of the beautiful gift of life that God has given to us personally. It can also remind us and each other of how sacred everyone else’s life is. As a public witness, it can be a service to those whose life and human dignity are at risk.
Next to Sunday, Friday has always been a special day in the Catholic Church for prayer. [We Catholics were famous for not eating meat on Fridays.  It was part of our identity both for ourselves and Catholics (ad intra) and for the rest of the non-Catholic world (ad extra).] Offering prayer for life–praising God as the source of life and begging him to turn away threats to life–is a fitting addition to abstinence. This prayer can be in the parish setting, in the family or alone. Abstinence itself can be offered consciously as a prayer for life and in reparation for sins against life.
Abstinence can also be service if we eat simple meatless food and donate the financial savings to the poor or to pro-life efforts[Which would require people a) to do this consciously and b) keep some sort of record.  For example, when preparing supper calculate the difference in the cost of the meal if the, say, pork chops were substituted with, say, scrambled eggs.]
The resumption of year-round abstinence in the Diocese of Steubenville will begin after this coming Easter, one week after Good Friday (April 17). Although the practice will not be a requirement of law, and failing to keep it will not constitute a sin, I hope every one who is old enough to receive Holy Communion and well enough to come to church will take it seriously. Our parishes, schools and organizations should provide meatless food at their Friday activities.
Until 1966, Catholics around the world were required to abstain from meat on all Fridays. That year, Pope Paul VI determined that the rules for fasting and abstinence should be set by the various episcopal conferences according to local circumstances. At the same time, he reminded us that doing penance was commanded by Christ himself and is an important part of our spiritual life[More on this below… a lot more…]
The bishops of the United States eliminated mandatory abstinence from meat on Fridays except during Lent. However, they insisted that all Catholics should observe some penitential practice on Fridays, in remembrance of the Lord’s passion and death, and they highly recommended continuing abstinence from meat.  [But…. wait for the coin to drop…. Do they?  Do Catholics actually do penance?]
So, the present challenge to the people in our diocese is not really radical. It is a call to what many if not most of us have put aside. And it is a way for us, like the apostles, to give up a little food and help Jesus feed the world.  [It’s the Catholic thing to do!]
May God bless you and your sacrifice. May he protect the life he has so lovingly fashioned.
Most Reverend R. Daniel Conlon
Bishop of Steubenville

A worthy project well-conceived and presented.  Well done indeed!

Now… I shall commence to rant

First, Pope Benedict’s pontificate is very much about reinvigorating our Catholic identity.  If we don’t know who we are as Catholics, then we will not contribute effectively as Catholics to the public square.  We will not be able to shape the world around us according to our vocations, because we don’t know who we really are.  

Nemo dat quod non habet.  You can’t give what you don’t have.

I have been beating to quarters on this for long time now.
However…. more and more I am noting Catholic figures in the press, even Catholic bishops, are talking in terms of our Catholic identity crisis

For example, I heard on a Catholic radio program the other day Bp. Sheridan of Colorado Springs talking about regaining our Catholic identity.  I read the other day how Fr. Robert Sirico of the Acton Institute had a piece on the site of National Review about the Catholic identity crisis

Of course the plural of anecdote is not data, but I think we are finally getting somewhere with this theme. 

The recent shifts in the culture war are wake up calls.  If you don’t hear reveille echoing off the walls of, for example, Georgetown and Notre Shame… then you are asleep indeed.  You might already be dead.

My suspicion is that we will see and hear a great deal more about the theme of Catholic identity in the future.   This is a topic whose time has come.  

Actually it came a long time ago!  

Second, it would be interesting to explore making the obligation of Friday penance once again a matter of.. well… obligation

When Pope Paul VI changed the Church’s laws on penance, he did so from a sense of optimism about the identity of the Catholic people.  He did so from the hope that we, knowing the value of penitential practices, would embrace them willingly on our own … without an obligation under sin.  After all, love of God is a more perfect motive to go to confession than fear of hell, right.  Similarly, it is better if people willingly embrace their penances from well-informed choice than it is to do so simply because if you don’t, it’s a sin you have to confess. 

At this point I must remind people that if love of God is more perfect, fear of hell is enough.  And I wonder how many people worry about hell these days… but I digress.

It seems to me that there was an overly optimistic, naive premise at work in the Council and its aftermath: that modern man was now mature, "grown up" and sophisticated in respect to previous ages.   We have grown beyond of the need for obligation under sin, or the kneel as if before a master, or receive Communion on the tongue from a power-figure priest, or fret about sins.  We are are all grown up and sophisticated!

That rosy view was wrong. 

We grow in knowledge and ability, but basic human needs and weaknesses remain the same.  Man doesn’t change in those respects.  It is follow to assume otherwise.

I think we are not so "grown up" after all.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea for Holy Mother Church to treat us as children and guide us through our spiritual fathers?  Children need rules with consequences.   What happens when the rod is spared?  What do children learn or become when things are too easy?

Consider the present length of the Eucharistic fast.  I think the Church should lengthen it again to three hours, both to give it more importance and also give people a reasonable "out" if they are worried what people will think if they don’t go forward for Communion.

"But Father! But Father!", the skeptical are surely saying.  "People have no idea what all this penance stuff is about.  Bishops and priests haven’t talked about that for decades now.  Friday? What a joke! Fasting? Sin? Puhleeze!"

Right… but brick by brick, my citizens.  We can whine or we can get to work.  We have a lot of rebuilding to do.  This is why I yamnmer away about Pope Benedict’s "Marshall Plan" to rebuild Catholic identity.  We must do this for our sake as individuals but also for the sake of the Church in the modern post-Christian world. 

So, it is good that Bp. Conlon has issued this letter.

But I ask… could it be a good idea to bring back obligations under sin?

Isn’t the optimism that Catholics are "grown up" enough to choose these things on their own a bit too rosy… a bit naive?

When the Novus Ordo came out, the rules and rubrics in the front of the missal no longer included that certain defects or abuses were sins, even mortal sins.   The result was, over time, a loss of the sense of the importance of saying the black and doing the red.  A liturgical entropy set in.  Priests lost sight of the good workmanship required to celebrate well.  They lost respect for the people and respect for the efficacy of the sacred actions and their importance for the whole Church bridging space and ages.  Removing the notion of sin from not following the books was perhaps naive optimism.  We could perhaps argue that insufficient consideration was given both to our wounded human nature as well as the acid working of the Enemy of the soul to corrode that which is most precious.

Corruptio optimi pessima.

So… is it time – in the context of this crisis of our Catholic identity – to rethink some things?

"But Father! But Father!", opponents will start shouting.  "You want to bring back the ’50’s when everyone was ridden with guilt.  We don’t want that neurosis again!"

Fine.  Then don’t be neurotic. 

We have learned from the chaotic years after the Council what we lost in the older form of Mass.  I’ll Mass is celebrated in the older form better now than it was before.  There is no reason why, given the intervening decades and our experience, we can’t reintroduce a healthy fear of God and dread of hell, respect for our weaknesses tempered with true Christian hope and the understanding of our dignity as images of God.


Should we to return to an explicit obligation under sin to do penance on all Fridays and during Lent?

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in Brick by Brick, Classic Posts, Our Catholic Identity, SESSIUNCULA, The future and our choices and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Noah Moerbeek says:


  2. Flambeaux says:

    Yes, we should. Thank you, Father.

  3. Megan says:

    I’m all for it.

  4. elizabeth says:

    Yes, I’m all for it also!

  5. Bob A says:

    Absolutly! I fully agree we need the obligation for Friday abstinence brought back, I’m as guilty as the next in being extremely lax in this in recent years. It might also serve a secondary function in showing the anti-Catholics that we are truly regrouping. I’m not too sure about the 3 hour Eucharistic fast though for purly personal reasons, if it comes it will be obeyed. I can’t remember if there was an age dispensation on that or not, I don’t believe there was.

  6. peregrinator says:

    “Should we return to an explicit obligation under sin to do penance on all Fridays and during Lent?”

    Yes, I think we should.

    I dunno, call me progressive, but I wish we could return to an explicit obligation to do penance on Fridays (and leave it thus broadly stated.)

    I always feel a bit odd about the Lenten abstinence obligation, because it’s not much of a penance to me. I don’t generally buy meat, because it’s too expensive (so I’d be scratching my head just a bit at Bp. Conlon’s statement too.)

    Seems to make some sense simply to make a requirement of penance binding, rather than abstinence, specifically.

  7. Ohio Annie says:

    I am just a convert and don’t know anything but this year was the first time I had a serious Lenten fasting/abstention routine and I thought I did a lot of growing (and getting smaller around the waist). So I am keeping it up permanently now.

    The cafeteria at my workplace, which should be considered atheist-ville, always has fish or some other appropriate choice on Friday year ’round.

    I think bishops should encourage us in penance more. Penance seems to bring us closer to God than almost anything.

  8. jarhead462 says:

    You betcha!

    Semper Fi!

  9. Frank H. says:

    I vote yes on both meatless Fridays AND a return to the three hour Eucharistic fast. I have been abstaining on all Fridays since Lent 2008, and have resumed the three hour fast in the last six months or so. Both have helped my spiritual life considerably.

  10. Yes.

    I suggest we read chapter 3, “The Bog Irish,” of Mary Douglas’ book, Natural Symbols (1970). I present a few quotes:

    “Thus it [abstinence on Fridays] pointed directly to Calvary and Redemption. It could hardly have a more central load of meaning for Christian worship. In reporting that it has become empty and meaningless, what is meant is that its symbols are no longer seen to point in that direction or anywhere in particular.”

    Speaking of Irish citizens going abroad to earn an income…

    “Then the sense of exile and of boundary is sharper. This is what the rule of Friday abstinence can signify. No empty signal, it means allegiance to a humble home in Ireland and to a glorious tradition in Rome. These allegiances are something to be proud of in the humiliations of the unskilled labourer’s lot. At its lowest it means what haggis and the pipes means to Scots abroad on Burns’ night. At its most it means what abstaining from pork meant to the venerable Eleazar as narrated in 2 Maccabees.”

    If I could, I’d quote the entire chapter. It’s marvelous and entirely appropriate to our discussion here. I’ll leave you with one final selection.

    “But it [Friday abstinence] was the only ritual which brought Christian symbols down into the kitchen and larder and on to the dinner table in the manner of Jewish rules of impurity. To take away one symbol that meant something is no guarantee that the spirit of charity will flow in its place. It might have been safer to build upon that small symbolic wall in the hope that eventually it could come to surround Mount Sion. But we have seen that those who are responsible for ecclesiastical decisions are only too likely to have been made, by the manner of their education, insensitive to non-verbal signals and dull to their meaning. This is central to the difficulties of Christianity today. It is as if the liturgical signal boxes were manned by colour-blind signalmen.”

    Friday abstinence was a part of our Catholic identity!

  11. Peter Morrell says:

    An emphatic Yes!
    Definitely part of my imaginary ‘to-do’ list for the Holy Roman Church:

    Reform the liturgy – check
    Reassert orthodoxy in the seminaries – check
    Emphasize frequent confession – check
    Renewed commitment to prayer, fasting/abstinence, almsgiving – check
    Silence the public dissenters/pseudo-Catholics – check
    Begin the new evangelization – check

  12. Theodore says:

    Maybe there has been time for the mild Jansenistic spirit in american catholic culture to die off and thus we could make things obligatory without all the neurotic guilt.

  13. KBW says:

    Yes. I think it is proper for our pastor to act paternally. I’m honored when he delves into our lives and provides direction and rules. When he calls me a “pagan” I know that his teasing represents a fatherly love for me and also a correction to which I should attend.

  14. truthfinder says:

    What I think is interesting about the bishop’s letter is that he is encouraging meatless Fridays for all those old enough to receive Holy Communion. This would make the child’s age about 7 or 8. Currently, the law says 14, but I believe in the past it was 7 years old for Friday abstinence. I think it is encouraging that a bishop would ask children to sacrifice, especially for pro-life reasons, even before they are obligated to.

  15. I never ate meat on Friday until the late 70s because I thought it was alright to do so then. In 1993 I took up the practice of not eating meat on Friday once again and have kept up the practice to this day.

  16. I would also support reviving 3 hour fast for receiving Holy Communion, but I think it should only apply for weekends, or even Sunday Mass alone. Most people who go to early morning Mass at my local church during the weekdays are going immediately afterwards to their place of work. To put a three hour fast on them would mean having to choose between their breakfast or receiving the Eucharist. Going to work on an empty stomach is unhealthy and often unpractical for many lines of work (eg construction where a good breakfast is often essential). A blanket 3 hour fast prescribed for every day of the week would in effect disqualify many from receiving Holy Communion who currently do so, and I would predict many of these people would simply no longer bother go to weekly Mass at all.

  17. Steve Murray says:

    It’s time, Father.

  18. Bryan says:


    Absolutely. In my somewhat contrarian opinion, the confidence that fallen mankind would willingly continue to self-regulate and abstain from an enjoyable thing (after all, when do you REALLY want a steak? On Fridays, during Lent, right?) absent any encouragement to do so, with penalties attached if you don’t was a somewhat pollyannaish view of the maturity of most of us.

    Acts of mortification and self-denial are good for the soul. Besides, a meatless day would probably do us all some good (as long as it’s not tuna-noodle casserole…ICK!).

    So, some self-denial in union with our Catholic brothers and sisters as (yikes!) an obligation binding under sin? ABSOLUTELY!

  19. I dunno, call me progressive, but I wish we could return to an explicit obligation to do penance on Fridays.

    Just to be clear, there is an explicit obligation to do penance on Fridays. What changed after the Council was that the form of obligation was left up to the individual. See sections 1250-53 of the Code of Canon Law.

  20. Paladin says:

    :) This may sound perverse, but: when Fr. Z says, “I’m about to rant”, I smile inanticipation; experience has taught me that it’s going to be good!

    My wife and I have observed the “year-round meatless abstinence” for years; not only is it easier for us than trying to remember and/or figure out some creative new Friday penance for the week (though nothing stops us from doing *both* abstinence and additional sacrifice), but it gets us more attuned to the pulse and flow of the liturgical year. When a Solemnity falls on a Friday, for example, we know it! :)

  21. Ioannes Andreades says:

    Yes! It’s hard giving up Buffalo wings on Friday afternoon happy hours, but it’s clearly the right thing.
    And aren’t the bishops to determine the local days for ember days to be observed?

  22. DavidJ says:

    How about an actual re-education of the masses about penance and abstinence on Fridays and what the current rule really is? Let’s at least try to legitimately get people on the right page before we start binding people under the pain of sin. I guarantee you that 9/10 US Catholics born after Vatican II have no clue what is current law with regards to Friday. Let’s try to get everyone up to speed before breaking out the sin stick.

  23. Mitchell NY says:

    Yes, it should be part of the Cathecism and be an obligation but perhaps not so harped upon. Let it be on the record and taught. We are not our parents of the 50’s and I do not think that the neurosis will return with this obligation. I think Catholics will take it in stride…There were many other “neurosis” of the 50’s that are gone now, so bringing about a form of discipline that was popular before and during that time does not necessarilly return us to that time. People are wearing platfrom shoes again but I really do not think we are in the overall cultural mentality of the 70’s. Priests wear Baroque vestments but I do not think they get so carried away and think that they are living in the middle ages. Imagine if it were so easy to bring something from the 50’s back and “poof” here we are in 1956, minus the global terrorism, biological weapons, secular mentalities, decent TV etc….and the list goes on.

  24. Dear Fr. Z: I could not agree with you more. Two subjects have ADMITTEDLY been dropped from the Catholic curriculum: Apologetics (the proofs that Catholicism is the true Faith), and Moral Theology (including all that that subject entails). The result? Millions of Catholics with no knowledge of what Catholicism is, or how it applies in their lives. That is why we have had 50 million legal abortions in this country. That is why same sex “marriage” can even be discussed. Apologetics conflicts with ecumenism, you see. Abortion, contraception, adultery, fornication, homosexual activity are all MORTALS SINS and the person who does these things will spend eternity in Hell (if he/she does not confess and do penance).

  25. Indelible Inkstain says:


  26. Timotheos says:

    Yes and I’d add the fasting until 3 p.m. that day as well!

  27. Liam says:

    I believe that making this a preceptual obligation gravely binding would be a mistake. I would support reviving the communal spiritual practice, but the reliance on gravely binding precept is precisely what made this such a brittle practice that broke so quickly. The Eastern churches manage to do this without the concept of gravely binding precept. So can we.

  28. Mark says:


    One solution to the challenge you present is to pack a Cliff Bar or some other form of nutritious food that you can eat after Mass on your way to work. 250 calories with a good balance of Carbohydrate, Protein, and Fat is sufficient for a breakfast for most people. If you need more calories, pack two.

  29. Mickey says:


    You might be interested to know that I and my family gave up meat on all Fridays about a year ago…after I did some research, I concluded that I was obliged to do penance on Fridays, and that abstaining from meat on Fridays was probably the most “do-able” penance I could devise for myself: easy to remember, easy to implement, a visible sign to the world, and a small sacrifice for me.

    Consider my little family as four bricks the Holy Spirit has put back in place…

    Now if I could just convince the women in my family to wear chapel veils ;-)

  30. Yes.

    Human nature does not change and will never change as long as the effects of original sin on creation are still with us.

    In times of weakness it is the extra push from it been an obligation that gives you the strength to do it. And those are the times when doing it seems to matter the most.

  31. Gregor says:

    In the universal Church, the obligation of Friday penance *is* still a matter of obligation, and of grave obligation at that. Paul VI says explicitly in No. II.1. of Paenitemini (which is still in force as far as I am aware): “The days of penitence to be observed under obligation throughout the Church are all Fridays … Their substantial observance binds gravely.”

    It is only by some (shaky) interpretation of some document of the USCCB (I’m sorry that I don’t know the details, not being an American) that it appears that it is at least defensible that at present there is in fact no obligation to do penance on Fridays outside Lent in the US, although Paenitemini did not grant the Bishops’ Conferences the power to dispense from this obligation, just to substitute other forms of penance instead of abstinence, as far as I understand. Here in Germany, the obligation still applies (but is likewise not observed by the vast majority).

  32. Chris says:

    Fr. Z: “But Father! But Father!”, opponents will start shouting. “You want to bring back the ‘50’s when everyone was ridden with guilt. We don’t want that neurosis again!”


    It’s time people get neurotic again about sin, Hell, never seeing our Lord face to face, etc.

  33. Charlotte says:

    While I recognize that penance here is being discussed in terms more than just no meat on Fridays, as concerns the abstaining from meat on Fridays, NO, I am totally against that.

    The average Catholic uses no-meat Fridays to gorge down fish frys at nice restaurants, or enjoy linguini with shrimp at Olive Garden, or a nice lobster at the local supper club. On the other end of the spectrum we have the folks who order in or go out for expensive vegetarian pizza, etc. Or, like me (because I am a weak person), you’ve got those whose no-meat Friday’s lunch or dinner turns into “Cool! Two Filet-O-Fish for $3! Make that a Value Meal!”

    What I’ve described above, in my uneducated opinion, is NOT penance. It is for this very reason that every year for Lent I seriously question if I am even going to bother with no-meat Fridays. I always capitulate, but I always wonder why.

    Penance should be real. It should make you think and remember. To make ALL Fridays year-round meatless will make me think even less about it and just mindlessly toss the Gorton’s fish sticks into the shopping cart.

    Just being honest.

  34. Liam says:

    Five years ago, Jimmy Akin trod well the ground of the level of the binding nature of this precept in the USA:

  35. Scott Mastel says:

    This is so incredible. I was contemplating this YESTERDAY and was about to write Fr. Z to ask if it would be appropriate for a bishop to declare meatless Fridays within his own diocese. I even thought about tying this practice to the pro-life movement. Would that my diocese follow suit! If you’re reading, Excellency, I’m game!

  36. Brian says:

    Thank you Father! A wonderful rant!


    Just loved this line

    “We don’t want that neurosis again!”

    Fine. Then don’t be neurotic.

  37. Clement says:

    Yes indeed Father,
    The fear of going to Hell can be enough to keep you out of it.

    In this day and age of low pain tolerance that should be just what we need.

    An imperfect contrition, WITHIN THE SACRAMENT OF PENANCE, will save our immortal souls from damnation.

  38. Aelric says:

    1. Mandate abstinence on all Fridays (as many have posted, our family does this in solidarity with the universal law of the Church).

    2. Mandate a 3hr (or similar) communion fast (c.f. Dr. Edward Peter’s commentary).

    3. Reprobate Communion received in the hand and whilst standing.

    4. Make versus populum and concelebrations in the Novus Ordo “safe, legal and rare.”

    5. Suppress the “Sign of Peace” (don’t find another place for it).

    Better stop before I get lost down a rabbit hole!

  39. Romulus says:

    Surely yes.

    Teresa of Avila taught her nuns that the Lord makes his way even amid the kitchen’s pots and pans. If the Cross is truly the center of all things, we do well to make it the reference point when our bellies demand to be served.

    It will not do simply to reimpose under pain of sin the stricter fast and abstinence; what would work better is that the restoration take place organically, starting at the top. Bishops, their priests, and seminarians can set the tone, giving witness that everyone is called to do his best, not an overly-indulgent bare minimum. Pious laity will follow. Children will be formed this way; perhaps the more serious Catholic schools will embrace the practice. The devotion will take root and spread similarly to the practice of eucharistic adoration.

    We are entering a time of great trial and danger to souls. The weak and doubtful will place more trust in the Church and take her more seriously, knowing that she takes herself and her mission seriously.

  40. Mark says:

    Yes. This idea that things done “of our own initiative” is somehow better is thoroughly unchristian. As Christ’s Passion shows us, it is only willingly submitting to OBEDIENCE which is meritorious, not our own ideas. I think the traditional theological teaching is that, all things considered, works done under obedience, under pain of sin, are MORE meritorious than self-initiated acts.

  41. LCB says:


    Sometimes we act out of love for God.
    Sometimes we act out of a desire to be acting out of a love for God.
    Sometimes we act out of a fear of punishment.

    The one who does the Father’s will is the one who honors Him, and the Father’s will is known through Church discipline, practice, and obedience.

    The journey from following out of obedience (and a bit of fear of sin), to following out of love, is a long one. Through the centuries many soldiers have followed out of obedience, but in time grew to love their commanders. Then they followed out of love and obedience, because the obedience was how they showed their love.

    Obligation and duty are good things. They are noble, and honorable, and it is good to fulfill them fully and well. Soldiers have obligations and duties, and they take legitimate pride in fulfilling them well. We are the Church Militant, and we should do the same.

  42. Ricky Vines says:

    I am all for penance and mortification. Asceticism is a tool to achieving a closer following of the Lord.
    And that is the distinction that I was to contribute. We engage in penance to become more like
    Jesus and not to just be a stoic or to earn another merit badge. It is a means to help us avoid
    temptation and sin. What value is it to abstain from meat when we snap at our spouses and children?
    Or write nasty comments at Fr. Z’s blog? So, with that caveat that it helps us imitate a sweet and
    loving Lord more and become more united with Him by all means abstain away. I wouldn’t make it
    binding as a sin because it is not a sin. Lack of charity is a sin. Eating chicken is not. Just
    my humble opinion.

  43. Ben Trovato says:

    We don’t eat meat on Fridays, and it acts as an act of witness. Some people recognise it as a traditional Catholic thing, others don’t and are intrigued: either way it works at that level.

    The whole issue of our lost Catholic identity is so important; for those who don’t find meatless Fridays sufficiently penitential, add another penance: but there is a real value in communal practices of this sort.

  44. JBS says:

    As Gregor notes, the obligation to observe Fridays,and also Lent, as days and times of penance, and to do so “substantially”, does remain a grave obligation, as Paul VI stated pretty clearly. Does this not mean that the holy father defined Friday penance as “grave matter”? Further, I wonder if the USA statement (also issued in 1966) meets the criteria under the 1983 code to be considered particular law (2/3rds and Vatican confirmation). If not, then the code’s directive that Fridays are meatless (except on solemnities) remains. Didn’t the USCCB take up this issue a few years ago, without resolution?

  45. stb says:

    Charlotte said:
    “What I’ve described above, in my uneducated opinion, is NOT penance. It is for this very reason that every year for Lent I seriously question if I am even going to bother with no-meat Fridays.”

    You miss the point. Even if (for some people) abstinence from meat is “mindless”, it still serves a purpose: sometimes they have to refuse meat, and say “sorry, I am Catholic, I do not eat meat on Friday”. Even if they order shrimps instead
    (hardly a sacrifice), this gives them an opportunity to remember who they are.

    The same can be said about any other external form of piety:
    kneeling, making sign of the cross, using holy water, having pictures of
    saints in the house, wearing medals, etc. etc. Even if you do it 99.9% of time
    “mindlessly”, time may come when one of those habits will help you to
    remember that you are a Catholic in some critical moment of your life.

    So it is worth doing.

  46. Ohio Annie says:

    I understand what Charlotte means, I have wondered about what abstinence can mean in a country with such abundance. Not eating meat is very easy and not a penance at all for some. It isn’t for me so I often to something else which is far more difficult for me.

    Just sign me Stir Fry Annie…

  47. Ricky Vines says:

    BTW, the Lord came that we may have life and have it to the full. So definitely neurosis is
    not Christian. Pre-neurotic tendencies pave the way to a slippery slope to sin. So, even
    those have to be watched by the particular examination of conscience. (Not mean to rabbit hole
    it, but I can’t let the neurosis comment pass. I hope the person was joking.)

  48. Jerry says:

    We decided on going meatless Friday starting Easter Week. Need to work on the penitential next.

  49. The Church was not stupid when she imposed Friday abstinence from flesh meat, thereby allowing the consumption of fish and, arguably, water mammals. Rather,

    It is a matter of obedience. Corporate abstinence as the whole Mystical Body.
    It is a matter of symbolism (as I posted above at 12:43pm). This helps restore Catholic identity.

    Even if I go out and enjoy a lobster on Friday, I am embracing my Catholic identity.

    St. Francis de Sales, Philothea, Part III, ch. 23:

    It seems to me that we ought to have in great reverence that which our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ said to His disciples, “Eat such things as are set before you.” To my mind there is more virtue in eating whatever is offered you just as it comes, whether you like it or not, than in always choosing what is worst; for although the latter course may seem more ascetic, the former involves greater submission of will, because by it you give up not merely your taste, but your choice; and it is no slight austerity to hold up one’s likings in one’s hand, and subject them to all manner of accidents. Furthermore, this kind of mortification makes no show, inconveniences no one, and is admirably adapted to social life. To be always discarding one dish for another, examining everything, suspicious as to everything, making a fuss over every morsel–all this to my mind is contemptible, and implies too much thought of meats and platters. To my mind there was more austerity in Saint Bernard’s drinking oil by mistake for wine or water than if he had deliberately drunk wormwood, for it showed that he was not thinking of what he drank. And the real meaning of those sacred words, “Eat such things as are set before you,” lies in such an indifference to what one eats and drinks.

  50. DG says:

    NO, said with trepidation in this sea of ayes.

    As I am wont to do, I was about to share this post with my wife via Google Reader, then thought it best not to. There are some of us Catholics who aren’t, shall we say, as far along on this reinvigoration of our Catholic identity. Something like this rant of yours, Fr. Z, would likely throw her further off the bandwagon, no offense meant.

    Children need to be guided with clear known consequences for action or inaction, yes. We are children of Mother Church, yes.

    But does this mean with a return of stricter penance (e.g., required abstinence on all Fridays) we will be reinvigorated? I would say perhaps yes, perhaps no. Doesn’t first catechesis need to be strengthened over a generation at least? Surely there are many of our extremely penitential forebears in hell for their belief that their doing penance would get them their reward — despite their lack of desire to change their sinful ways or their half-hearted, half-bodied, half-minded love of God.

    I don’t think we want or need that again.

    This is not to imply that things are rosy, obviously — just that this Marshall Plan does not call for such a drastic changes before it must call for re- and better catechesis and a culture of love for God and the Church.

    Bp. Conlon’s letter and intention is great as it is! A truly pastoral approach!

  51. Aelric says:


    If you want serious penance, put on a hair shirt or wake for two hours of prayer in the middle of the night with broken sleep like the Carthusians. Can anything be perverted by man’s ingenuity? Can the sin of Gluttony overwhelm the virtue of abstinence? Of course. But for some of us Catholics, apparently not-so-average by your estimate, meatless Friday is a “little death.” Yes, even going “better set out Salmon for tonight” – even if nicely prepared – means I adjust my cooking for that Friday (we’re not exactly a veggie family) from the usual routine of chicken; pork; or beef. Each week we know Friday has a different nature to it, again, even if the meal is somewhat “fancy.” In fact, to us, a well prepared salmon, tuna or talapia (sp?) meal prepared at home is more “meaningful” and, because of the labor, more penitential, from a certain point of view, than was the stop-off at Wendy’s last night.

  52. Scott RP says:

    Liam – Jimmy Akin is mistaken. Friday Penance is still obligatory, and the strongly recommended form is meat abstinence. He uses a lot of tortured words to draw a mistaken conclusion.

  53. Anglican Use girl Mary says:


    The only thing sure to be a penance for everybody is positive pain. And even then, well, there are some to whom even that isn’t. An emphasis on the meaning of penance is also necessary so that people won’t indulge themselves while just following the letter of the law. Whether one does ‘think and remember’ is not utterly determined (though it’s influenced) by what kind of penance you do, but by your intention and will. People should definitely choose penances that are penitential to them, but the Church can’t be expected to cater specifically to everyone’s non-appetites.

    Lack of meat is sure penitential to me. :)

  54. Liam says:

    Scott RP

    You misread Jimmy Akin. He’s addressing the issue of the gravity of the obligation. And I think his argument, over a series of posts, is fairly taken compared to the arguments made against it.

  55. EDG says:

    I definitely think we need to go back to mandatory meatless Fridays. For one thing, when I was a kid, that was how you’d know somebody else in a “mixed” area was Catholic – watch to see if they chose the fish menu on Friday! It may sound silly, and I know it’s not a very spiritual approach, but not eating fish was a great sign of Catholic identity. And it wasn’t entirely easy – non-Catholics used to tease us about it.

  56. EDG says:

    DG – This doesn’t have to be difficult. Generations of American Catholics were raised on the Friday mac n cheese or tuna noodle casserole. Granted, we might find a more healthful alternative, but it’s not as if this penance required anything very elaborate.

    Penance is a catechesis in itself. Obviously, the bishop should explain it to people, but it is from the practice of the penance that they will learn its meaning.

  57. Chris says:


    While sympatheic to your situation with your wife, I have to say, I’d understand where you were coming from if Fr. Z. was asking if we should implement something difficult to accomplish and, thus, your wife felt overwhelmed.

    But come on — we’re talking about eating cheese pizza with mushrooms and peppers instead of pepperoni. Or salmon instead of steak one night a week.

    If your wife would walk away from the Faith because of something so small, I would think there are much bigger things at play.

  58. No. I think my commute on I-66 and Route 495 is penance enough.

  59. elmo says:

    Should Friday meat fasts be revived? Yes. Should all Catholics should be called to follow this under obedience? Yes. But under the pain of sin? No. If something wasn’t a sin for so long, then making it a sin now just smacks of the Protestant claim that the church goes about inventing man made sins. Calling for widespread obedience under pain of sin for what amounts to a discipline is a recipe for neurosis and flip remarks like “don’t be neurotic” don’t help the scrupulous to embrace this obedience in freedom out of love for the Church.

  60. Frank H. says:

    I found this William F Buckley Jr article from December 1997, on this very topic. Apparently the US Bishops were considering such a thing back then. Too bad it didn’t materialize.

  61. Girgadis says:

    Making abstinence on Fridays outside of Lent an obligation
    under sin means that approximately 53% of those who identify themselves as
    Catholic will have one more sin to commit . It also means that the other 47% will have more impetus to strengthen Fridays as a day of penance. Personally, as the cook in our family,
    it’s no big deal to skip meat on Fridays because I have a few vegetarians to
    deal with, so I already look to other means of penance. Perhaps a future topic
    could concern what people do besides abstain from meat as a penance on Fridays.

  62. Liam says:

    Also: trying to revive the character of Fridays without an equal emphasis on reviving the character of Sundays would be to invite failure. And imposing a new rule without high confidence of its being well received would be very foolhardy and erode further the respect for precept.

    Friday evenings have become what Saturday evenings used to be, and Sunday evenings have largely become prep times for Mondays. There is linkage in cultural evolution here that needs to be remembered.

  63. Marcin says:


    and to Charlotte: Even if meatless meals on Friday are not really “punitive” for a particular Christian, and can be hardly regarded as mortification, a _conscious effort_, an intent in it (especially when combined with prayer) is indicative of an _ascesis_.

    This last Great Lent, I made an effort to go without meat in Wednesdays and Fridays, and (only) moderately fast throughout (except Sat and Sun), took no second coffees at lunch, offered alms commensurate to the fast PLUS increased prayer. Each time I prepared the meal I made an effort to remind myself of the purpose of this Lenten practice and focused on Christ. It was my first Great Lent with such an abundance of grace, a very intimate and blessed experience.

  64. Hmyer says:

    No. Perhaps you should have a “rant” about clericalism some day.

  65. Mary in CO says:

    Yes. Perhaps this would help us to keep in mind why we abstain.

  66. I suspect most of the folks I attend EF Mass with this evening abstain from meat on Fridays and probably “always” have — even though the majority of them consist of families with young children who’d never seen a traditional Latin Mass five years ago.

    This is an entirely voluntary and largely unspoken thing. No local sermon (that I can recall) has ever mentioned the subject, nor has there been any big discussion, formal or informal. It just seems a natural part of the ethos of a traditional Catholic community.

    Really, just a Catholic thing. Which reminds of the other important benefit — a sense of Catholic identity, even if on a special occasion one might have lobster thermidor rather than real penance.

  67. Yes. Absolutely. Let’s revive our Catholic identity, which has never really died out completely. For instance, I have a lapsed-Catholic co-worker who hasn’t been to Mass in ages and lives with her boyfriend, but still abstains from meat on Fridays in Lent.

    I’ve been going meatless on most Fridays for about 8 years now. Sometimes I do forget or don’t plan ahead, so I have to say an extra decade of the Rosary or something.

    I am so glad Bishop Conlon included children of First Communion age in the penance. The age 14 threshold has always baffled me – a second-grader can’t just eat fish sticks and PBJ on Fridays?

    Friday abstinence doesn’t have to be some neurotic guilt trip. It’s not even that hard, especially these days where vegetarians are everywhere. If someone has an allergic reaction to the concept of penance, you could sell them on the health benefits of avoiding fattening food and building self-discipline. You could even say it is a “Green” concept – think of the environmental impact saved by all American Catholics not eating meat once a week! Help the environment, pray for the unborn, donate the savings to the poor – how could anyone argue with that?

  68. amdg says:

    I’m with Charlotte. I just don’t see the penitential aspect of a meat-less Friday, unless we’re going back to Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks, which our family will not. It would be far more effective to propose TV-less Fridays. Or, even better — blog-free Fridays. But trying to convince the average poorly-catechized Catholic that there is something virtuous about substituting shrimp for hot dogs on Fridays will only serve to convince him that the Church is all about silly pointless rules, which is what he thinks already.

  69. Thomas in MD says:

    Ita! Fiat.

  70. People, it’s about obedience, not fish sticks vs. burgers.

  71. ssoldie says:

    You betcha!, but then I have always observed the fast on Fridays, as that was the day of the week that Christ died for me, at least this is what we were told by the good Sister’s and Brother’s and Priest’s so very long ago. Have always kept the fast from midnight to recieving my Lord at Mass on Sunday whether at 6:00am or 12:00pm (that was the last Mass in Long Beach,Ca.)in 50’s. Fasting and Penance, so outdated in our Oh! so grown up modern world.

  72. Allan says:

    Wow, I sure do have to look up a lot of new words on this site! Hymer made me look up “Clericalism” which is the application of the formal, church-based, leadership or opinion of ordained clergy in matters of either the church or broader political and sociocultural import.

    I don’t know, sounds OK to me. I’d rather have some kind of defined authority structure to answer to than a bunch of self-appointed laity running around. They may not always get it right, but they won’t be wrong nearly as often!

    Oh yeah, no meat on Fridays. What the heck, sign me up.

  73. San Diego Seminarian says:

    Bring back the obligations! The rod has been spared for far too long!

  74. Linda says:

    YES to both the year-round Friday abstinence from meat and the three hour fast before Communion…both under penalty of sin.
    THANK YOU for bringing up this topic and for stressing the tragedy of the loss of Catholic identity.

  75. Sarah P. Keenan says:

    As I read through the comments I see one one side of the equation being addressed. The other side of the equation suggested by Bishop Conlon is almsgiving. Giving up eating meat on Fridays is a relatively exercise. Parting with one’s money is a bit more difficult. For all the folks who are anxious to put the requirement for meatless Fridays back what should we suggest might be an appropriate almsgiving sum? The Acts of theApostles tells us that money was placed at the feet of the apostles and each received in accord with their needs. Our bishops and Catholic Charities have great needs. Are those being met?

  76. Old Bob says:

    1. I’m 65.
    2. I hate fish, except tuna-noodle hotdish (sorry!)
    3. Ordering a veggie pizza on Friday is good witness. I think people are more impressed by actions than preaching.

  77. Larry says:

    How effective as penance is something I am compelled to do under pain of mortal sin? That being said I do feel that a great deal of catechesis needs to done. It was years before I found the document the bishops promulgated on this subject. One of the themes that seemed to me to be the point of Vatican II was that we are to operate out of Love for God and from threats. To behave as adults. Of course it is easy to see that the human race is adolescent at best and usually quite childish.

    I don’t recall when I returned to Friday abstinence but I find it easy to do and refreshing that I can do something to repair my sinfull behavior without threat.

  78. Clinton says:

    According to Nat Henthoff, in his biography of the late Cardinal O’Connor of New York, the good Cardinal decided to keep
    the Friday fast as an act of reparation for our nation’s abortion holocaust. It seemed like an excellent idea to me at the time,
    and I’ve since been imitating +O’Connor in this for years now. So, while I think reinstating the Friday fast is a great idea for
    many reasons it could be even better if our Bishops also added the dimension of fasting as reparation for our nation’s
    violations of the sanctity of life.

  79. terra says:

    I think the point about Friday abstinence bringing our catholicism into the home and thus reinforcing our catholic identity is the vital point. And the little bit of extra thought and effort involved is a useful bit of asceticism, even if eating vegetables or fish isn’t really much of a hardship for most!

    When I was growing up, the war been aggressive atheism and catholicism in my household largely centred on two fronts – having the car to get to mass on Sundays (as well as which Church, protestant or catholic, we children would attend), and eating fish on Fridays. My father declared Friday ‘hamburger night’, the one night he would cook in order to avoid my mother’s fish offerings… I was too young at the time to understand what was going on, but the symbolism stuck in my mind and I’m sure that my mother’s faithfulness on this small thing during the formative period of my life contributed to my own discovery of my catholic identity later on.

  80. Steve B says:

    An emphatic YES!

    Fr. Z, your “rant” is right on-target. The Church relaxed FAR too many of Her spiritual disciplines after Vatican II, especially for the laity, and we all know what the disastrous consequences for the Church have been.

    As our Lord taught us Himself in Matt 13:52, the Church has old and new treasures – so doesn’t it also make a LOT of sense to re-introduce the old treasures?

    Fr. Z, you also said the following:

    “There is no reason why, given the intervening decades and our experience, we can’t reintroduce a healthy fear of God and dread of hell, respect for our weaknesses tempered with true Christian hope and the understanding of our dignity as images of God.”

    Aren’t you merely advocating the healthy spiritual BALANCE that has been sorely lacking in the Church since Vatican II?

    As I have read in many, many, places before, Catholicism is a “both/and” religion, not an “either/or” one. Your “rant” emphasizes this loud and clear….

    Kudos to you Father Z. Keep on giving us your holy rants! ;-)

    Pacis et benedictionis tibi, per Christum Dominum nostrum.

  81. Salvatore Guiseppe says:

    I say yes to the 3 hour fast, but no to the punishment of sin for not doing penance. Put out more letters like this telling people they have an obligation to, and promoting meatless fridays is a good idea to me, but if you make it a sin to not do so, it doesn’t really seem like penance, but obligation.

    This came up during lent, when all meat was stricken from the cafeteria menus on Fridays. Were we really doing that much penance, if there was no choice in the matter?

  82. Tina says:

    I think it is a good idea and not that large of a hardship to do without meat on Fridays, especially for one or two meals. My Catholic high school in the early 90s never served meat for lunch on Fridays. THey even took away pre-packaged sandwiches. So I am in agreement with not eating meat at every meal.

    However, many times Friday nights are when my family goes out to eat or I gather with friends, non-Catholics or ex-Catholics the lot of them, to eat meat at a meal prepared by friends doesn’t seem like something that would be sinful.

  83. Marcin says:

    “How effective as penance is something I am compelled to do under pain of mortal sin?”

    Ascetic practice is meaningless and brings no fruit if it’s done for itself. It has to be done for the growth one’s soul, that’s why it’s prescribed together with augmented prayer. Then and only then it bears the spiritual fruits. We sin not because we don’t _perform_ what is prescribed but but because we neglect and don’t take care of our souls. Canonical obligations (e.g. fasting, Sunday obligation) and penalties (e.g. excommunication) are _curative_ measures first and foremost.

    _Salus animarum (suprema lex)_ comes to mind.

    “That being said I do feel that a great deal of catechesis needs to done.”

    Yes, yes, and yes. An ample dose of Eastern Christian ascetic spirituality would help big time.

  84. catholic south says:

    I think it would be wonderfully productive if all of us would do two things:

    1) Practice the ancient discipline of Friday abstinence and offer a quick and succint explanation to those who ask us why.

    2) Resolve to write both our bishops and our respective diocesan newspapers encouraging a return to the obligatory nature of this practice, pointing out its important tie both to discipline and to our Catholic identity.

  85. Papabile says:

    Interestingly, I seem to remember the American Bishops also asking Catholics to return to Friday Abstinence in the 1980’s, in solidarity with the denuclearization pastoral letter.

  86. Duh. I thought there was always pain of sin for not doing some form of penance on Friday. Although the stipulation for meat was lifted, I was under the impression that we were to do SOMEthing penitential on Friday.

    For some going meatless isn’t a penance. [yay for sushi!] Years ago, back in the meatless Friday era, my mother questioned my dad on the intent of their meatlessness as they enjoyed a buttery lobster one Friday.

    I’ve been abstaining from meat on Fridays for years. For me it is way simpler than guessing whether I’m going to give up a dessert that day or say an extra rosary and such. Its just simpler to stick to the meat-thing.

  87. Gloria says:

    In a sermon awhile back, even before Lent (Trad parish), we were encouraged to abstain from meat on Friday; and if we did not or could not, then some other form of penance was deemed necessary. There is nothing wrong with a feeling of guilt. Guilt is not necessarily a neurosis, is it? Seems to me it is a normal reaction when we realize or admit our sins and defects. In that sense, guilt is healthy and the remedy is in the confessional.

  88. mfg says:

    yes, yes, and yes. And while you are at it how about adding sermons on sin which I haven’t heard for at least 35 years, also sermons on the BVM which used to be every priest’s specialty. Obligations are a good thing! Look at the world we are living in today which is the result of everybody makes up their own rulesl. Do you like this world better than the one we had before? I don’t. I say more Catholic Church regulations, not less. I have to say that since I now have the opportunity to attend the TLM again (Praise God from whom all blessings flow!) I have on my own returned to the Friday abstinance. It just seems to go together. We also get the occasional sermon on hell. I feel Catholic again. And I want people to know I am Catholic.

  89. Dominic says:

    A great move by the Bishop, and a brilliant reflection on it, Father!

  90. Latekate says:

    I vote yes.
    When I began attending RCIA I was disappointed that so much I grew up with associating with Catholics had fallen by the wayside, such as the Latin Mass, communion on the tongue, etc. It seems very likely to me that this is a large part of the reason for the decline of the Church. Why bother? What makes Catholics different? In RCIA the deacons were almost apologetic of Catholic ritual, one the very things that attracted me to the faith.
    I love that British lady on EWTN, her name is Bogle, who has the shows on cooking for the feasts and seasons. I have bought books on making a “Catholic home”. My family has began to notice a new crucifix or Blessed Virgin Mary planter, holy water font or candle stuck somewhere once a week. They tease me but they respect it. I plan on making a Mary garden in the yard this summer, my hubby doesn’t want it in the front yard but …eventually, who knows? These things are all wonderful reminders of the lasting and the real in this temporal world.

    The funny thing is that I used to wonder what on earth those strange people who put those tacky Mary shrines in their front yards were thinking. What was it all about?? I think God has a great sense of humor.

  91. Sam says:

    Many Latin Church Catholics have lost their religious identity. The majority of Latin Church Catholics have all but abandoned Confession. Latin Church Catholics are religious illiterates.

    The Mass is said to be in shambles. Many Latin Church Catholics arrive at Mass dressed like slobs. Many Latin Church Catholics chatter in church. Many Latin Church Catholics fail to understand that the Eucharist is The Body and Blood of Christ.

    I encounter constantly said descriptions of life in the Latin Church. But said descriptions regarding the collapse of the Latin Church don’t apply to TLM parishes and communities.

    Latin Church Catholics attached to the TLM are strong in the Faith. Unlike many, if you will, Novus Ordo parishes, TLM parishes and communities are not, to use Cardinal (our Pope) Ratzinger’s term, “desacralized.”

    Let us be honest: “Novus Ordoism” is a disaster. Virtually the entire post-Vatican II “reform” is a disaster.

    Only the return to the TLM and restoration of Traditional Catholic practices can possibly restore traditional Latin Catholic identity to Latin Church Catholics.

  92. DG says:

    Chris, we’re not talking about “eating cheese pizza with mushrooms and peppers instead of pepperoni” — we’re talking about obliging Friday abstinence under pain of sin. That was Father’s question. That notion is nothing like the encouragement of abstinence that His Excellency is giving his flock with this letter. Also, my wife’s not walking away from anything. I simply believe you gain more faithful and heartfelt conversion (which we all should constantly pray for, even for ourselves!) and a true love of God and neighbor with words and teaching, rather than binding and loosing.

    I again applaud Bp. Conlon.

  93. Marcin says:

    “Guilt is not necessarily a neurosis, is it?”

    Unfortunately, in a secular contemporary culture they are equated. Our children hear it all the time in schools, from non-Catholic friends, from TV and films. Do you remember last time you’ve heard about “Catholic guilt”? Surely not long ago! It brings much confusion, especially to young ones.

  94. Paul says:

    This is great!

    My experience (I’m 42) is that everything has gotten easier. Less fasting, communion in the hand, simple prayers as penance, etc.

    But when I learn more about the Catholic faith over the centuries, easier is not how it was. I have been inspired to take the Holy Eucharist on the tongue. I have also returned to abstinence from meat on Fridays. I’ve led a dissolute life, and I can’t make up for it by “being better,” but I certainly can repent and start anew.

    We all need to weigh what our debts really are, and how Christ’s sacrifice paid that which we can never pay. In this view, we are not simply making amends by fasting or alms-giving. Making amends for my sins is truly beyond me. But I can still give glory and thanksgiving to God. Thus, I return to the tradition of centuries, and praise and thank the Lord for his mercies in this way.

    Repent means to change your life. To do this, we must do more than the minimum requirements. To analogize, we can watch sports or we can try to become Olympic athletes. In being Catholic, what would offer more glory to God?


  95. Wouldn’t starting on April 17th be wrong since that is technically a solemnity (as are all days within the Octave of Easter) and thus by canon law is not a day of penance? Seems to go against the spirit of the season.

    Otherwise, I’m all for this.

  96. Maynardus says:

    I recall Cardinals Law and Maida proposing this a number of years ago – perhaps concurrently with the bishops’ meeting referenced in the W.F. Buckey article – and wrote to them both at the time encouraging them to press the idea further. Of course nothing came of it, but it made me newly aware of the concept of “Catholic Identity” and how much of it we’d lost. My wife and I were inspired to begin Friday abstinence ourselves, in partial expiation of some particular sins from our past. After several years we gained a real appreciation of its value, and it was interesting to see my wife – who became a Catholic four years later – go from the “lobster-and-chardonnay-is-not-penitential” camp to a full appreciation of the various dimensions of this practice.

    Interesting that the change in discipline happened during the same period in which we lost the genuflections in the Creed (and the Last Gospel) at the references to the Incarnation. Perhaps more important than the penitential aspect of Friday abstinence was the symbolic value by which we acknowledged weekly the Crucifixion, which one could say marked the *end* of Our Lord’s earthly Incarnation, by denying ourselves flesh meat. This context really helped my wife to understand the significance of the practice.

    It’s also why I hope the bishops will consider making this binding.

  97. Father, I believe in setting the bar high. Challengining the faithful to be holy. I applaud the bishop’s letter and your suggestion that it should be mandatory for all Catholics to do penance on Friday that would include fasting, abstinence, alms giving etcetera. I think that a greater problem for the Church is the Catholic culture that says that attending Mass on Sunday and Holy Days of obligation is optional. As is Confession prior to coming to Holy Communion. So many people are caught up in ignorance and indifference as to the Truth they have been given in the Blessed Sacrament and Confession that mandatory Friday penance would fall on deaf ears. But for those who do follow the Church’s teaching it would be of great benefit.

  98. catholic college student says:

    I thought we were under the pain of sin if we did -no- penance on Friday whatsoever? Am I mistaken about this?

  99. Ricky Vines says:

    “Guilt is not necessarily a neurosis, is it?”

    No, it is not necessarily neurosis. False guilt e.g. a scrupulous conscience may be somewhat neurotic.
    But honest to goodness guilt, one that comes from a healthy conscience, is “God’s voice” telling us
    that we’ve sinned. FYI.

  100. BiffTheMan says:

    My son and I fast and abstain on both Wednesdays and Fridays throughout the year…not just as penance, it also gives us a time to stop and think about things otherworldly. We’ve done this since last summer and it has greatly improved our spiritual and familial life.

  101. Alice says:

    My family abstained on Fridays when I was growing up and my husband was already doing so when we met, so it’s always been part of our family. Giving up meat on Fridays is relatively easy, but it’s a constant reminder of the sacrifice of the cross. It’s like having “Remember, Jesus died for you” tattooed to the back of your eyelids all day. No, I can’t go to Mickey D’s on the way to work for those breakfast burritos. No, I can’t catch a quick lunch date with my husband at Steak ‘n’ Shake. Yes, I have to remember have PB & J or cheese in the house to pack for lunch. In fact, for cooking, I have to plan my week around it. My freedom is restricted and I find it just a little annoying.

  102. Alice says:

    Oh, I should add. I’d say it should be under pain of venial sin to avoid the whole “rape is no more sinful than eating meat on Friday” thing.

  103. John Penta says:

    No, actually, I don’t think it’d be a good idea.

    Here’s why: Meatless Fridays were a penance even back in the 1950s because meat was rarer and more expensive than it is now. To give up meat was to give up one of the few luxuries the average person had.

    Meat is neither rare nor expensive these days – not in real terms. I think, quite simply, to focus on meatless Fridays misses the point. It isn’t really giving up anything.

    (Finally…are we absolutely sure it’s wise to make it obligatory for kids? I can think of no quicker way to turn kids off from the faith than to make being Catholic a matter of denials. Nor, in an age when most Catholic kids do not go to Catholic schools, do you want to open kids up to being singled out in school.)

  104. I have been abstaining from meat on Fridays since I joined the Third Order Dominicans, as that is one of our disciplines (though not binding on pain of sin). Hasn’t killed me yet.

    In his Dialogue Concerning Heresies, St. Thomas More says that the rules and laws of the Church are made by God Himself for the good order of his people. In terms of difficulty, they are nothing like the Laws of Moses: “For if you really think about it,” he says, “I believe that if you were, at this age that you are now, to choose, you would rather be bound to many of the laws of Christ’s Church than to the circumcision one alone.” But the laws of the Church, he goes on to point out, are a cake-walk compared to the laws that Christ Himself lays down in the Gospels:

    It is, I feel, harder not to swear at all than not to swear falsely; to forbear every angry word than not to kill; to watch and pray continually than to do so on a few designated days. And then what an anxiety and solicitude there is with the forbearing of every idle word! What a severe threat, from an earthly point of view, for a small matter! Almost never was such a distressing thing said to the Jews by Moses as is said to us by Christ in that statement alone, where he says that on Judgment Day we shall give an account of every idle word. And then what do you say about the forbidding of divorce, and the revoking of liberty to have several wives, where they had the liberty to wed as they pleased if they took a fancy to any that they came across in the war?…Also, what comfort do you call this, that we are obliged – under pain of perpetual damnation – to suffer whatever kind of affliction and shameful death, whatever kind of martyrdom, for the profession of our faith?

    Must we really cavil, then, over the small matters of abstaining on Fridays and a three-hour fast before Communion?

  105. Dan W says:

    Yes. Absolutely.

    I don’t think the arguments about people going out and eating lobster and such really hold up. When meatless Fridays only occur during Lent, that means there are only 7 of them in a year. People treat it as a special occasion because it is one. If we were expected to abstain on all 52 Fridays instead, going out for a fancy seafood dinner every week would get old pretty quick.

  106. Maureen says:

    Re: the non-luxuriousness of meat

    Meat was never a luxury for kings and princes, but the Church said that kings and princes had to eat meatless meals on Friday, too. It’s not that it’s a luxury; it’s that it’s bloody red flesh. Like Jesus’ flesh. (Not to gross you out or anything.)

    Re: singling kids out

    But I thought nobody would notice, because meat’s not a luxury. :) Look, every kid is singled out. Lots of them are vegetarians these days or on special allergy diets or dieting. Eating weird food options is, if anything, something that the world can understand. Adding donations for the poor makes the whole thing sound like something a high school kid would pant and beg to join.

  107. Jill of the Amazing Wolverine Tribe says:

    I vote NO. I was 10 when this law was changed. We always kept meatless Fridays in our home prior to then. NOt so many years afterwards I found out that the Mexicans, for one, never had the rule, and I was FURIOUS. Here I was under penalty of sin for having a hotdog at a protestant’s house, and Mexicans couldn’t care less. Ditto those pronouncements that said it was okay for those in Catholic officialdom to skate when having “official meals.” [Anyone care to guess what was on the Menu for President Kennedy 11/22/63 – if you said “Steak” give yourself a kewpie doll.]

    That said I had decided early this Lenten season that I was going to go back to meatless Fridays ALL year – unless last minute I am invited to a friend’s house for a meal that has meat, in that case I will make a point to do something else.

    I had looked on the “pass for Mexicans” and the “important people gimmee” with a cynical eye for years. I have changed that way of thinking, to make an extra effort to remember to do penance of Fridays – and meatless Friday all year was a good option, traditional, and has the “Catholic identity” stamp on it — all to the good.

    But I won’t be bullied to it under penalty of sin. Making it a grave sin — for something that’s purely a discipline — would probably cause me to go meatless every day of the week except Friday.

    As far as a 3 hour fast, that does seem a bit excessive. I’d drop it for daily Mass, as another said, it’s asking too much for workers to have to go without breakfast under pain of sin, particularly.

    Sunday Mass? What we have now is too easy – effectively if you don’t eat 15 minutes before Mass starts, in most places you’d be safe. Perhaps encourage 2 hours?

  108. AuroraChristina says:

    I will join the Diocese of Steubenville in its dedication to this wonderful practice.

    From the Diocese of Cleveland,

  109. Janet says:

    YES! Introducing some of the old rules and penances might get some of the phony-baloney cafeteria-Catholics to be honest with themselves and others and leave. Not that I’m happy to see souls lost, but better than lying to themselves and thinking God is deceived.

  110. Danny Mary-Joseph says:

    I eat sushi on friday, hardly a pennance unless you add the wassabi sauce. But if I cannot afford the £4 for sushi I have porridge. According to the Catholic rules I am fasting every day. Thats not intentional, im just poor. I practically live on porridge. I dont have much money to give as alms, but I do what I can, offering prayers instead. For pennance I wear chains. Mortification should be brought back too.

  111. Amy says:

    Jill: I don\’t know where you got your information, but the Mexicans in my family, those with whom I know well, have always abstained from meat on Fridays. They still do today.

    John: As much more eloquent than I, I hope FRZ addresses your reasoning. I do believe your mindset is off kilter. Our Catholic Faith is anything but a \”matter of denials\”, and one\’s children will never view it that way unless you teach it to them that way. Abstaining is about identifying with Christ, not complaining about what we can\’t have. And if one is worried about one\’s kids standing out, then you have more problems than your kids eating fish on Fridays. If we are truly living the Faith, we will absolutely stand out, and we will do so in much more dangerous places than the school cafeteria.

    Abstaining from meat on Fridays under penalty of sin, absolutely. And can we PLEASE have our Holy Days back while we are at it!?

  112. Danny Mary-Joseph says:

    If the abstinence of meat or eating fish cannot be considered pennance, then perhaps being obedient to the abstinence can? Disobedience mortal sin? :-o shock! who would have come up with an idea like that? “He who rejects you rejects me” “whomsoever humbles himself will be raised up”. think about that. the church is not a democracy.

  113. mrteachersir says:

    In response to Larry and Latekate;

    Larry, when the Church lifted the “pain of sin” on Friday abstinence, what happened? When the Church lessened the Eucharistic Fast from 3 hours to 1 hour, what happened? When the Church moved the Feasts of the Ascension, Epiphany, and the Baptism of the Lord to Sundays, what happened? Our identity as Catholics lessened. By easing restrictions, we lost much of the meaning of what those restrictions were. For example, when I went to Mass (OF) for the Assumption, it was a plain old daily Mass. The prescribed liturgy did not elevate the Solemnity to anything higher than a daily Mass. It is not hard to fast for one hour prior to the Eucharist…just stop eating about 1/2 hour before Mass starts (that is a pattern I have noticed). I have to do that anyway on Sundays in order to get the kids ready to go. However, when the pain of sin is reintroduced, catechesis is definitely needed.

    Latekate: I too am dismayed at what was lost. I had always envisioned Mass to be truly special (I remember attending my mom’s aunt’s funeral…it was awe-inspiring in the old Church that was decked out and traditional looking). I knew that Catholics were always different. As I began to attend Mass regularly, I began to feel dismayed that it wasn’t different…it was the same as everybody else. And when I learned what was lost after Vatican II, I was heart-broken. So much meaning, so much history…

  114. Marcin says:

    “No. I think my commute on I-66 and Route 495 is penance enough.”

    Greg, I do my purgatorial sittings on I-270 everyday, and believe me, it’s definitely NOT good for my soul, as proper penance should. For that I need something else.
    (Although I concede, the use of I-66 may have penal flavor to it even on Sundays.)

  115. Federico says:

    Fr Z: “Second, it would be interesting to explore making the obligation of Friday penance once again a matter of.. well… obligation.”

    Just to be clear: the obligation still exists. The USCCB (and other conferences, including CEI) have merely provided the faithful a choice on WHAT penance to do.

    So the faithful ignore the law now. Are we hoping they will ignore it less when we specify the penance to be done?

  116. Regina says:

    Abstaining from meat, which really isn’t that good for us anyway, is really no big sacrifice. And rather than trying to impress others, most who would readily dismiss us as hypocrites once we behave like our usual selves even while consuming a tunafish sandwich in honor of our Catholicism,it would be better to do a personal penance or self-sacrifice.
    What’s a vegetarian Catholic to do?????

  117. michigancatholic says:

    I’m not so sure. If it does come to pass, I think that it should only be binding on adults at this time. Meatless Fridays did confirm Catholic identity to Catholics and non-Catholics alike in a pretty effective fashion, it’s true. I’m old enough to remember them. We do need something, I’m just not at all sure it’s this. It worked then, but then was different from now.

    Why adults only? I have seen too many ex-Catholics who came from Catholic families and went all the way through Catholic schools who don’t really “get” a thing about the Church…and yes, many of them are old enough to remember meatless Fridays…they “do” remember that but had no idea what it was about–then or now. Not a clue. Zip. Nada.

    Yes, yes, I know this doesn’t apply to most of Fr Z’s readers. You guys are uberCatholics. But most people aren’t, even people who’d like to be VERY Catholic but don’t know how at this time because of the incredible disarray the Church has been in for years.

    What do I think would be better?
    1) Processions. Big processions around the property. Anything and everything should be an excuse for a procession. Eucharistic processions in public shout–no, they scream–CATHOLIC.
    2) Music that sounds Catholic, sung by different groups for different occasions–including big groups of children, learning to sing in 2 & 3 part harmony. Make their parents proud. Have CCD and school programs. Sing in Church. Teach them something fun to do. Plain little songs in community–a Catholic tradition that’s old, old, old and ours, ours, ours. And make sure the words are ORTHODOX and EXPLANATORY. Kids can chant. It sounds awesome and they know it.
    3) Rosaries, chaplets & public prayers–people should be saying them before mass in groups and anywhere more than 3 Catholics go with 15 mins to spare. I’m serious. If the ones inclined to this were allowed the rest would eventually join in. It’s one of the ultimate Catholic identity pieces.
    4) No more darned golf jokes. People need to learn the faith solidly from the get-go. If these bishops want to see Catholic identity, then they need to get out there, STOP TOLERATING CRAP and START TEACHING!

    Once people identify by taking part in these consolidating and self-labeling GOOD activities, THEN they will have a stake in the Catholic identity strong enough to start to undertake the deeper things when they are taught what they are and what they mean.

    WE need to do away with not understanding the first thing about the religion we belong to. That’s every bit as bad as not having an overt Catholic identity. In fact, knowledge of what Catholicism actually IS (on a whole bunch of levels) is essential for self-identifying oneself as a Catholic! (Sort of obvious, isn’t it?)

  118. michigancatholic says:

    Once we have a generation who processes, knows sounds, knows some public prayers, knows basics about the faith, and thinks belonging is not like pulling teeth in the dark, THEN we can abstain together. It needs to be done, I just think that now isn’t the time YET. We are just now coming off a disastrous period and picking up the pieces.

  119. Joe says:

    I think the Church has to realize that there is at least one large middle generation that is lost to the traditional life of the Church. The Church should look kindly on that lost generation and treat it gently, helping it prepare as best it can for its judgment before God. “New sins” would just frighten it too much. In effect treat that generation as one would the elderly or incapacitated, which in a way it is. At the same time the Church should rediscover the fullness of tradition, and present it vigorously and in a lively fashion to the upcoming generation. I mean the traditions that produced saints in the past. In particular I think that while meatless Fridays are fruitful, and are part of that tradition, they would have to be seen in the context of each week being our participation in the Paschal mystery. We shouldn’t get caught up in ‘meatless’ vs ‘tv-less’ Fridays, we should get caught up in the mystery of Christ on the Cross. Saturday should be a day where we prepare for Sunday, including perhaps evening prayer or Vespers, and then Sunday the culmination of our week.

    Rather than defining it, put the emphasis on spiritual union with Christ (in fact why not start Thursday evening with a Holy Hour? – just one hour like He asked for in the Garden). Then the question is not on pain of sin but on authentic desire to become a saint, and to live in Christ. Look mercifully on those who do not do this as you would upon the weak, as Paul says to the Corinthians.

    My model in this matter is Orthodoxy, which finds, with regards to fasting, approaches which are not legalistic to be more fruitful. I’m not suggesting that their spiritual life is better than ours, but a community norm that is presented as the norm, and is presumed, is more likely to become a law written on the heart….

  120. michigancatholic says:

    There are a couple of other things that are kind of dumb, but they work. [I used to be a teacher and you’re going to be able to tell now.]

    1. We’re far to sloppy about protocols concerning pretty much everything. As any outfit will tell you, if you want identity you have to have protocols. We need to get more ornate, more deliberate, more elaborate, which won’t be hard because right now, most Catholic parishes are more informal than a picnic at the beach. We need to clean up our act and introduce more “expectation of event,” so to speak. [Think it’s a mistake that people come out of the woodwork at Christmas? Think again.] Cleaning up our act will raise the general level of concern and foster identity….”this is how we do it, this is what it is, I love this part, this is what’s next, etc” Sounds dumb, works like magic on most people. Someplace inside most peoples’ brain stems this implicitly says “I belong,” and “I’m included.” [It’s one of the tools teachers use to build class community for making learning more efficient–true.]

    2. People need to dress the part. Now, be careful here. I DON’T mean that we should all come to church dressed up like a batch of Dutch Reformed at Easter Sunrise. I mean that persons involved in mass and other events need to be in garb–not street clothes! The altar boys, the choir, the ushers, the readers, the works. The closer we can get to a venerable uniform, the better off we will be, when it comes to fostering identity. Knights of Columbus, where are you??? RECALL–the absolute, quintessential, instantly recognizable Catholic token is the sister–as Catholic as it gets on the subconscious levels of Catholics and non-Catholics alike. [There is no better way to get someone to self-identify than to clothe them in the role–again a teacher thing. So clothe.]

    In a few words: We need to learn to do it like we mean it again. If this is done, identity will appear from the ground up. And it’s contagious.

  121. Danny Mary-Joseph says:

    Does no one understand the spiritual value of shutting up and doing what your told? If you stop moaning and do what the church tells you to do you are not only avoiding sin, but practicing a virtue called obedience. Its a good idea to bring back obligation. I mean, we have managed to wriggle out of any obligation set, we dont do anything. I thought good religion was meant to exercise the soul?

  122. michigancatholic says:

    Really, Danny? Is that the essential meaning of religion?

  123. Danny Mary-Joseph says:

    what? the humility? the obedience? the exercise of virtue? maybe not the essential meaning but definitly essential. Good religion should train the soul. the church is supposed to give people the tool of religion. If you reject the church you reject Christ.

  124. Maynardus says:

    Obedience – observance – penance – identity…

    So why on earth did anyone – let alone poor Pope Paul VI – think it would be a good idea to make Friday abstinence optional?

    The only reasons which have been adduced against re-instituting this discipline seem to be personal…

  125. Matt Q says:

    This is already the case actually. Vatican II didn’t do away with penitential Fridays, but left it up the Conferences which did abolish just about everything else. At the moment, I disagree with this. Not because of its value but because of the present lack of catechesis on just about everything, implementing this with such an obligation attached is unwise and would further add to the disregard for true aesthetics by the Faithful. We can’t even tidy up the Novus Ordo or stress enough the need for praying the Rosary, and then toss this to the congregation? No.

    With the coming changes for the English Missal, it could very well be the right time to intro the return to Friday observances. If that even gets off the ground.

  126. michigancatholic says:

    I’m not rejecting the Church–not at all. I’m a convert and I’m here to stay–that’s not rejection. At. All.

    And I realize that the soul needs to be trained to progress in prayer and union with God, but to use a figure of speech, you don’t yank a little kid out of his crib and throw him wholesale into the Olympics unless you won’t be disappointed by failure. In the same way, I think that expecting the average (ignorant) Catholic to shoulder a new set of obligations without understanding their identity as Catholics would be doomed to failure.

    If the point of these measures is supposed to be an increase in the identity of Catholics, as Fr. Z suggested, I think they will fail, in general. Don’t get me wrong, I think they will increase identity for those who already have a strong Catholic identity (about 10% or something like that) and flop miserably on the other 90% (or so) who have no idea what fasting & abstinence might be about (not to mention the rest of the spiritual life).

    I also think that there are better ways to encourage a sense of identity–ways that would lead people to the kinds of commitments you envision, and ways that would allow more people to arrive there. Just because they’re not as difficult as the dickens doesn’t mean they’re bad or lacking. Not everything is a struggle nor should it be made out to be.

    I recognize that the spiritual life can be arduous and difficult and *when a person is ready*, God takes them there for their own spiritual good. That’s how deep faith is born–out of working at prayer and struggling with complications, all the while having to trust God in the dark. I know this. But it does have a point besides being heroically muscular on one’s own steam, and you can trust me on that.

  127. Jill of the Amazing Wolverine Tribe says:

    Amy, you are simply unaware that Spain and Spanish colonies had an indult:,9171,815001,00.html

    What fun. For quite a while there you could stand in Arizona, right next to the border fence, take a bite of hot dog and commit a mortal sin. If you got hit by a truck, why then you could go to hell. But if your little Mexican friend was standing on the other side of the border, in Mexico, why he could eat a hot dog from the same batch, get hit by the same truck, and assuming he had no other mortal sins on his soul, go to heaven.

    Swell. Just swell.

    Thanks, but no thanks.

  128. craig says:

    NO. It smacks of arbitrariness and indeed Judaizing to bind the faithful under pain of sin to a rule making something sinful that is not sinful per se. Externally-imposed obedience, the “Because I can make you” kind, only inspires contempt. It’s a kind of hazing; just look at the comments above — half of them amount to “do it to show ’em who’s boss”. Who said Jansenism was dead?

    It is that self-inflicted contempt that is responsible for much of the collapse of Catholic identity in the West in recent years, and indeed the collapse of Christendom itself in the last couple of hundred years. How many ways has the Church come to be seen as a tool of the powerful to control the powerless? How much does this perception dominate the popular caricature of Christians and Christianity, especially on the left? It didn’t just come out of nowhere.

    The East does not obligate under pain of sin, and they have been subjected far less to the upheaval in traditions, the iconoclasm, and laicite as occurred in the West. I argue there is a direct cause and effect relationship. The cross of asceticism taken up willingly is more lasting and more inwardly transforming than the cross thrust upon one like Simon the Cyrene’s burden.

  129. Former Altar Boy says:

    Many “traditional” Catholics already abstain from meat on Fridays (and have for some time). I am all for bringing back meatless Fridays as an obligation. There was a day when the Prots referred to us despairingly as “mackerel snappers,” a name we bore with a certain pride. Yes, we should stand out from the rest of society: priests in Roman collars, religious Sisters in habits, and Catholics who don’t eat meat on Friday!

  130. Mafeking says:

    Your rant at the end is spot on. The answer to your question is 100% yes.

  131. Matt says:

    Friday is typically one of the days we eat out. Many of our local parishes have their own fish frys in the school gym. Families come and either work or eat or both. We get to see more people in the parish at the fish frys than at any other time.

    ALL of the local restaurants in the area have fish fry on Friday’s year round. Maybe it is a Midwest thing, but almost everyone we know goes out for fish. Those who order a steak really stick out.

    While it may not be pennence per say, it is a good witness to those around us that we actually take the time to abstain from meat.

    I personally loved the McDonalds two fish for $3. I hated to see them go. The regular price is a rip off.

  132. Daisy says:

    Should we have to fast for three hours before receiving Holy Communion? Yes. Should it be under pain of sin? No.

    Should we have abstain from meat on Friday including meat broth? Yes
    Should it be under pain of sin? No Maybe Australia could start with not eating meat during Lent.

    Jimmy Akin is also of the opinion that Humanae Vitae applies only to married couples.

  133. wsxyz says:

    But I won’t be bullied to it under penalty of sin. Making it a grave sin—for something that’s purely a discipline—would probably cause me to go meatless every day of the week except Friday.

    Wow. So do you have this attitude about going to Mass on Sundays? Do you attend Mass every day except Sunday?

    It seems to me that you have a problem with obedience. And that puts you on the fast track to Hell.

  134. wsxyz says:

    What fun. For quite a while there you could stand in Arizona, right next to the border fence, take a bite of hot dog and commit a mortal sin. If you got hit by a truck, why then you could go to hell. But if your little Mexican friend was standing on the other side of the border, in Mexico, why he could eat a hot dog from the same batch, get hit by the same truck, and assuming he had no other mortal sins on his soul, go to heaven.

    Swell. Just swell.

    Why do you have a problem with this? You commit a mortal sin by choosing through your own free will to disobey an obligation which has been placed upon you by the authority of the Church. Your Mexican friend, knowing he has been dispensed from this obligation, is not disobedient.

    It is not the hot dog which would send you to Hell, instead it is your defiance and refusal to obey the Church, which has God given authority to bind you under pain of sin. Your attitude is no different than that of the devil: Non Serviam!

  135. wsxyz says:

    NO. It smacks of arbitrariness and indeed Judaizing to bind the faithful under pain of sin to a rule making something sinful that is not sinful per se. Externally-imposed obedience, the “Because I can make you” kind, only inspires contempt.

    So you are opposed to the binding obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays?

  136. wsxyz says:

    Jimmy Akin is also of the opinion that Humanae Vitae applies only to married couples.

    Well maybe that’s true in a way. For unmarried couples, sexual relations are mortally sinful in and of themselves, whether contraception is used or not.

  137. Christ is Risen! Indeed He is Risen!

    As an Easterner, none of our fasts are obligatory in the sense of “under pain of sin.”

    And yet we, old and young, fast.

    In fact, we have four periods of fasting, each one with its own unique fasting and festal traditions:

    – St. Philip’s Fast (before Nativity)
    – The Great Fast (before Pascha)
    – The Apostles Fast (before Sts. Peter and Paul)
    – The Dormition Fast (before the Dormition of the Mother of God)

    Our fasting occurs in various degrees based on the decision of our bishop and the direction of our pastors and spiritual fathers. (Between a lighter fast – I call it the slim fast :-) – and the strict or black fast)

    The answer to the crisis of a lack of asceticism in the Latin Church is not more or stricter Church Laws. People will regain a generous and sacrificial spirit when they believe there is something worth sacrificing for, something they truly love. Fix the liturgy, fix catechesis and teach the people about the interior life and you will fix this as well. I think Bishop Daniel Conlon’s idea is brilliant. He is asking something of his flock as a spiritual Father, without imposing any excessive canonical penalty.

  138. Danny Mary-Joseph says:

    “smacks of judaizing to bind the faithful under pain of sin…externaly imposed obedience only inspires comptempt”

    Unfortunatley for rebelious types, God has a habit of doing this- making rules that you might not see the benifit of, but He can. If you reject the church, you are probably the type who would reject Christ. Dont let that spirit of rebelion in.

  139. Danny wrote:

    “Unfortunatley for rebelious types, God has a habit of doing this- making rules that you might not see the benifit of, but He can.”

    Except for the fact that this is not God’s law, it is man’s. We are commanded to fast by Christ, to be sure. And we should listen to the successors of the apostles as our spiritual fathers when they tell us it is time to fast. But why add the moral penalty for not fasting on particular days? I think the notion of “binding under pain of sin” that which is really an ascetical practice intended to help others grow in the spiritual life does smack of a certain authoritarianism which is not good for the Church.

    Bring back the authentic liturgy. Bring back Gregorian Chant. Bring back solid theological teaching. But this? Many Latins barely observe the so-called “Sunday Obligation. Do you think that by restoring the canonical penalty for eating a cheeseburger on a Friday they are now going to be more spiritually aware? All that will be accomplished will be to create a population of lawbreakers or to compound sin in those who already disregard the “law”.

    There is a hardness of heart among the faithful. Many do not even understand the nature of mortal sin. Post-Vatican II catechesis has largely spawned several generations of Pelagians.

    The answer is to invite, inspire and challenge. When was the lasting time the spirituality of fasting was really proclaimed from the pulpit? The fact that Bishop Daniel Conlon’s letter is unique and worthy of note should give us pause. Why do we not hear more from our bishops, priests and deacons about the benefits of asceticism? The Gospel teaching of Jesus Christ through His words and deeds are full of such things, as are the Epistles of St. Paul.

    Finally, I am reminded of the wonderful homily of Saint John Chrysostom, a doctor of the Church, which I proclaimed twice this Pascha (Old Calendar and New Calendar) and I think should reflect the true spirit of the church as it pertains to these matters:

    “If anyone is devout and a lover of God, let them enjoy this beautiful and radiant festival.
    If anyone is a grateful servant, let them, rejoicing, enter into the joy of his Lord.
    If anyone has wearied themselves in fasting, let them now receive recompense.
    If anyone has labored from the first hour, let them today receive the just reward.
    If anyone has come at the third hour, with thanksgiving let them feast.
    If anyone has arrived at the sixth hour, let them have no misgivings; for they shall suffer no loss.
    If anyone has delayed until the ninth hour, let them draw near without hesitation.
    If anyone has arrived even at the eleventh hour, let them not fear on account of tardiness.
    For the Master is gracious and receives the last even as the first; he gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
    just as to him who has labored from the first.
    He has mercy upon the last and cares for the first; to the one he gives, and to the other he is gracious.
    He both honors the work and praises the intention.
    Enter all of you, therefore, into the joy of our Lord, and, whether first or last, receive your reward.
    O rich and poor, one with another, dance for joy!
    O you ascetics and you negligent, celebrate the day!
    You that have fasted and you that have disregarded the fast, rejoice today!
    The table is rich-laden; feast royally, all of you!
    The calf is fatted; let no one go forth hungry!
    Let all partake of the feast of faith. Let all receive the riches of goodness.
    Let no one lament their poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
    Let no one mourn their transgressions, for pardon has dawned from the grave.
    Let no one fear death, for the Saviour’s death has set us free.
    He that was taken by death has annihilated it!
    He descended into Hades and took Hades captive!
    He embittered it when it tasted his flesh! And anticipating this Isaiah exclaimed:
    “Hades was embittered when it encountered thee in the lower regions”.
    It was embittered, for it was abolished!
    It was embittered, for it was mocked!
    It was embittered, for it was purged!
    It was embittered, for it was despoiled!
    It was embittered, for it was bound in chains!
    It took a body and came upon God!
    It took earth and encountered heaven!
    It took what it saw but crumbled before what it had not seen!
    O death, where is thy sting? O Hades, where is thy victory?
    Christ is risen, and you are overthrown!
    Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen!
    Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice!
    Christ is risen, and life reigns!
    Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in a tomb!
    For Christ, being raised from the dead, has become the first-fruits of them that slept.
    To him be glory and might unto ages of ages. Amen.”

    Quite a different ethos from conversations about the imposition of penalties…

    I should also add that Christian tradition also calls for fasting on Wednesday as well as Friday.

  140. With the phenomenal laxity these days, bringing back the Friday abstinence under pain of sin would be a good wake-up call for a nearly completely forgotten practice – personal sacrifice. Any parent knows that sometimes stricter rules are needed to get wayward children in line. The Church, as a mother, can modify its discipline as needed for raising her children. Often fear of punishment is a step towards fear of the Lord. Many will whine and complain about such impositions, as do wayward children when they are disciplined. So what else is new? Also bring back the three hour fast before Holy Communion. It would also behoove us to eliminate the local Ordinary’s choice to enforce this or not, and make it binding on the whole Church. Even many Bishops need this training.

  141. Tom says:

    One could assert (respectfully) that bishops born before say 1955 (with a few exceptions) are completely out of touch with those of us who were born in the ‘60’s and later. I think those who learnt the Baltimore Catechism take certain things for granted about those who are younger. They fail to understand that those of us who were raised on Kumbaya and WWJD weren’t taught a darn thing about the Faith. One could further assert that many Catholics born after 1960 aren’t even Christian. Bp. Conlon seems to understand this. Deo gratias!

  142. “Any parent knows that sometimes stricter rules are needed to get wayward children in line.”

    But as we are talking about a spiritual penalty, how does the imposition of such a penalty bring wayward children – those who perhaps are already rebelling and have little regard for matters pertaining to the soul – into line?

    As a parent, I can tell you that it is the pain of either physical discipline or the removal of privileges that provides the “bottom line” of discipline. (Obviously, the first step is often the appeal to love or the rationale for the request or restriction…depending on their age and maturity level.)

    In these matters, neither of these options are available to the Church, nor should they be.

    “Often fear of punishment is a step towards fear of the Lord.”

    For having a hotdog at a baseball game on a Friday afternoon? I think it more important to help them recognize that:

    a. There is a God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
    b. They have an immortal soul.
    c. There is a Divine Law which all of mankind is called to follow.
    d. They need to turn from sin and follow Christ.

    If the faithful had even THIS basic understanding we would be making progress. You want them to abstain from meat under pain of sin. I’d just like them to abstain from sin!

  143. craig says:

    “So you are opposed to the binding obligation to attend Holy Mass on Sundays?”

    Keeping the Sabbath holy is a Commandment, not merely a man-made discipline. I agree wholeheartedly with everything Fr. Deacon Daniel wrote above. The Church’s goal must be to foster inward transformation, not merely external compliance. Focus on the latter was the Pharisees’ error.

    Just because the Church has the authority to bind doesn’t mean that binding is the right answer. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up with the training and instruction of the Lord.”

    Aside: it would be interesting (as a gedankenexperiment) to know which of those here who call upon the Arizonan to ignore the dispensation given to the Mexican to eat meat on Friday, are the same people who decidedly do not ignore the dispensation given to the Californian to receive Holy Communion in the hand while standing.

  144. I would also add, if a law must be imposed, I would argue that it should be imposed upon we who are clergy. Make it a requirement for the fulfillment of the discipline of our office. In addition, restore the imposition of the Divine Praises (or at least some of them). It is one thing to impose a discipline upon the faithful. It is quite another to impose it upon the spiritual fathers who lead them. Perhaps by our visible example, we spiritual fathers will inspire the faithful to greater observance.

    Just a thought…

  145. Dylan says:

    If we’ve lost the sense of sin, then will fear of sin motivate most Catholics? On the other hand, taking the measure might actually help restore the sense of sin.

  146. Liam says:

    No, it won’t for most people. Really, if you think too many people lack a sense of sin about things that are in inherently sinful, creating a rule to invent a sin about something that is not inherently sinful is not only unlikely to remedy it, it’s more likely to bring the idea of sin into disrepute. [I don’t think that this is about “inventing” a sin.]

  147. Henry says:

    As the one and only announcement at the end of OF Mass this Friday morning, our priest reminded us that this is a day of penance, and that the USSCB has asked us to do a significant act of mercy or penance of our choice each Friday; otherwise we are obligated to abstain from meat.

  148. david s says:

    “…the letter was to be read before or at the end of all Masses on the weekend of March 28 and 29, 2009.”

    Speaking of regaining our Catholic identity, another small step might be to to speak about ‘Sunday’ Mass. After all, the precept is to attend Mass on Sunday, the Lord’s Day. Yes, I understand that Mother Church in her solicitude allows the precept to be fulfilled in anticipation on Saturday evening, but does that make it ‘weekend Mass’? Remember the weekend, to keep it holy? Was this letter read at Saturday morning Masses? Friday evening? How about those Saturday wedding Masses?

    By the way, I have been observing year-round Friday abstinence for several years now. Back in the 60s, all I, and many other Catholics, heard was: “We can eat meat on Fridays now!!” Nothing about another form of penance. Not sure I’d want to see it reinstated on pain of sin, though.

  149. JohnK says:

    Our household has abstained from meat on Fridays for — what — around 25 years now. It was just a matter of course for our kids.

    But making Friday abstinence obligatory under pain of SIN would seem to require a change in the universal law of the Church, just as making it not obligatory did so require.

    I don’t recall a bazillion petitions being sent to Rome, or a gazillion Rosaries said, prior to Paul VI’s original relaxation of the rules. I don’t know the real story, but my memory is that from the point of view of the average American Catholic, the Pope just upped and did it one day.

    If another Pontiff made it obligatory again, then when — when, not if — many Catholics laughed at the obligation, and ignored it, and never confessed it, and flaunted their disobservance, and nothing visible happened to them, and they thought that Catholics who took the new obligation seriously were weird and totally out of it, and told them so at every opportunity, what then?

    Brick by brick indeed, but would it be re-placing bricks, or tearing more down, that would be the outcome?

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but seems to me Benedict could do this tomorrow, if he wanted. In the current climate, considering the good of the universal Church, hard to know if it would be a good thing.

  150. mwa says:

    Along with Bishop Conlon’s letter, the Diocese of Steubenville has provided a set of catechetical materials regarding abstinence organized by grade level, K through high school/adult, as well as a student abstinence pledge certificate and a special prayer for the unborn.

  151. irishgirl says:

    I say YES!

    I do abstinence on all Fridays of the year myself. My mother and I did no-meat Fridays when she heard Cardinal O’Connor’s suggestion to abstain in reparation for abortion.

  152. Charlotte says:

    I’m all for reestablishing Catholic identity. But if people think that by eating fish in a restaurant, that’s the way to do it, God help us. [I think that in your whole comment, you have misapplied the questions I raised. For example, no one thinks that “eating fish in a restaurant” is going to reestablish Catholic identity. Comments like this don’t do justice to the issues I raised.] I’m hardly spending time in a restaurant taking a mental poll of what everyone else around me is eating. Those who are doing that really need to find some better form of entertainment (and also, if I knew people were secretly spying what was on my plate as I ate in a restaurant, I’d be mad at the voyeuristic quality of doing so.)

    Someone above mentioned that eating fish on Friday was also good because of the health benefits? Yes! Bring on the grease, drawn butter, and mayo-filled tartar sauce. [You do it again. It is possible to eat fish without those things, right?]

    Whoever said we should be doing processions and praying rosaries in church before church – that’s the right idea. Let’s catechize and expand our Catholic identity to the ones who label themselves Catholic before we worry what the guy next to us at Applebee’s is eating. [You have an either/or view of things. It is possible to approach this crisis with more than one project.]

    People here keep harping on obedience. Point taken. But can we start with obedience to the stuff that no one’s obedient to? Like basic Catholic teaching, whether in a TLM or NO setting? Like not voting for an abortion-promoting President. Like contraception. Do you see what I’m getting at? Fish on Fridays pales (no, is practically non-existant) in comparison with the issues of obedience that REALLY matter, the stuff that REALLY might consist of a one-way ticket to hell. [Again, you seem to think that people cannot do more than one thing at a time.]

    For “WXYZ” to suggest to anyone that they’re on the fast track to hell over obedience to an issue over what you eat for dinner on any day of the week is quite judgemental. [“judgemental”… yah… we had to see that word eventually…]

    Again, I keep pounding on the same issues here in Father Z’s commbox. The Trads here want to prescribe all this good, soul-edifying stuff for ALL Catholics. Great. Except 99% of all Catholics don’t even know the Trads exist, that the Latin mass is even still offered, and they’re standing in line at CVS picking up their birth control pills, while scanning a copy of People magazine to see if Brad and Angelina are pregnant again.

    What REALLY matters? If we care about ALL Catholics, let’s find an approach that addresses the needs and issues of ALL Catholics. [Right… and a simple project like dietary discipline is tailor made for regular folks.]

  153. dcs says:

    Friday abstinence
    Ember Days
    Lenten fast and abstinence
    Strict fast from midnight for Holy Communion

    That would be a good start.

  154. DG says:

    Spot on, Charlotte. And yes, michigancatholic, MORE PROCESSIONS!

  155. dominic1962 says:

    Abstinence and fast laws should be made with the “10%” (as quoted somewhere above) of the staunch Faithful in mind, not the 90% who are often culturally Catholic at best or practical pagans. Many of us were probably in the 90% at some point in our lives, and it helps to have a highly set bar to shoot for rather than a lowest common denominator that is not even followed by the lax. Besides, doing the bare minimum requirement is rarely enough anyway because if you are not progressing and growing in the spiritual life you are most likely regressing. If you’re at the bare minimum line, the only way to regress is below the bare minimum…

    As to the idea that things like Friday abstinence shouldn’t be under pain of sin because it creates apathy or obstinence-that is exactly what it is made to overcome. If you are willing to thumb your nose at something Holy Mother Church has bound you to do under pain of sin then all the self-righteous chest pounding and harping about “man’s law” versus God’s law and what is “really” important is not going to justify your willfuly sinful disobedience. Remember, Jesus said that those who hear you (the Apostles and thus the Hierarchy) hear Him.

    As to focusing on more important things-sure, we should do ALL of this stuff. It should be an all out war on all fronts to restore the observance of Catholic doctrine and identity. If 90% of “Catholics” don’t know that we Trads exist, that the traditional Latin Mass still exists or that their contraception use is leading them on a path straight to hell-well, its about time they learn.

  156. Larry says:

    I’m surprised at the strong, negative opinions towards a rather simple suggestion to improve a sense of the Holy and provide some concrete action on which to reflect on the Sacrifice of Jesus. Yes, there are many ways to improve both the above and Catholic identity in general, but the broad-brushed refusals to even countenance such an action is, to me, surprising.

    Our family has generally abstained from meat on all Fridays for the past 3 years. There are occasional Fridays where we don’t but that has typically been more an issue of convenience than anything else. If the Church were to reinstate an obligation to abstain on all Fridays, that would give us a very good reason not to just “order a pizza” or something else if we’re running short of time or haven’t made arrangements to prepare a meal without meat.

    There are many, many alternatives for meatless meals. If you don’t like fish, have a PBJ, the kids like it and it’s quick and easy. My wife often makes a large pot of pinto beans that we use to make all kinds of dishes without meat. There’s countless alternatives, as most of the world eats far less meat than North Americans. I think Father Z’s suggestion is very worth considering, however, as it is, as he said, a very simple way in which to help focus the Catholic mind on the source and summit of our Faith, the Holy Sacrifice of the Eucharist, and on the general self-denying nature of our Faith. I can speak from experience that having that one day a week of abstinence and fasting helps keep us more in a “Lenten” frame of mind and can be quite beneficial. Having said that, I’m afraid the negative comments do indicate that some Catholics, even the relatively devout, may view an obligatory requirement to fast and abstain as an unnecessary burden and stifling return to the days of pre-Vatican II. That view would be wrong, in my opinion, but it would be very important to explain to the majority of Catholics why such an obligation is both necessary and a distinct good from the view of their immortal soul.

    I think it’s definitely worth serious discussion within the Church. Handled properly and with adequate formation, it could, in conjunction with many other efforts, help improve Catholic self-identity and make our Faith more distinctive.

  157. Henry Edwards says:

    Charlotte: Except 99% of all Catholics don’t even know the Trads exist, that the Latin mass is even still offered, and they’re standing in line at CVS picking up their birth control pills, while scanning a copy of People magazine to see if Brad and Angelina are pregnant again.

    Thank you. I think you made it about as clear as can be. Why we need so many thinks — Friday penance as well as ad orientem liturgy, communion on the tongue while kneeling, liturgical music that neither irreverent nor contra fide, and so on — to instill a sense of informed Catholic identity in several lost generations of people who are Catholic in name only.

  158. Charlotte says:

    But Father Z,
    Many of the other commenters seemed to make it that Friday penance (especially fish on Fridays)= showing others our Catholic identity. I was only commenting on what they were making of this whole idea.

    And yes, numeous people above DID say that others seeing Catholics eating fish on Fridays was an outward show of Catholic identity.

  159. Charlotte says:

    P.S. I agree that I’m an either/or thinker! Haven’t yet figured out a way to move away from that. : )

  160. paul says:

    I agree with changing the fasting laws for Holy Communion. I think for morning Masses the midnight fast makes sense. If one were to go to an 8, 9 or 11am Mass I think most any healthy person could observe the traditional fast- most of us would not be hurt be such a fast as ALL Catholic observed that fast for over a thousand years and the Orthodox still must observe it.

  161. craig says:

    Here’s my take on it. I don’t live in a Catholic household; I am in the process of converting to the faith. To me, this is an unnecessary and unhelpful occasion for still more marital strife over the subject of religion. There’s plenty of tension on the marital bond already. Which course of action should I prefer, to eat what my wife cooks on Fridays and be condemned by the Church for no good reason, or to not eat it and harden her heart further? Those of you who already have a joyful and united Catholic household should not be so quick to assume that all can bear this burden equally. Maybe that attitude is not sufficiently hardcore for some of you, but I can go only so fast. With a host of obligations such as this, I might not ever have come even this far.

  162. EJ says:

    I disagree with those who say less-observant Catholics would scorn or simply ignore the idea of giving up meat on Fridays.

    I come from a family of non-practicing Catholics and, having been educated in Catholic schools most of my life, know literally hundreds of half-a$$ed Catholics. Every single one of them gives something up for Lent (a practice which is completely optional, but was taught to us as children and has the force of habit).

    If a seed is planted, it will grow. If the Bishops encourage Catholics to give up meat on Fridays as a sign of mindfulness of Christ’s sacrifice and a sign of solidarity with those who have less than us, people will listen.

  163. wsxyz says:

    To me, this is an unnecessary and unhelpful occasion for still more marital strife over the subject of religion.

    If abstinence on Fridays were a binding obligation but would cause trouble in your marriage, then you would speak to your pastor and ask for a dispensation. If your pastor refused then maybe you could offer to take your wife out every Friday, freeing her from the necessity of cooking, and allowing you to choose a meatless meal. There are other possibilities too, just be creative.

  164. Father Z wrote:

    “I don’t think that this is about “inventing” a sin.”

    The ascetical practice which should be encouraged is certainly not, but the additional penalty to be imposed would be.

  165. plisto says:

    It is true that many orthodox people fast from midnight on, if they are going to receive Holy Communion. I also used to do that -it made me feel very dizzy and kinda “very mystical” because of the lack of food. Then I got married and had kids. The spiritual life within the family must also change from what it was before. It is not possible to fast very strictly with infants -or at least, not very healthy.
    I think if the 3 hour fast was obligatory, less (orthodox catholic believers who want to follow rules out of love and obedience) people would go to receive Holy Communion. Good or bad, I don’t know -people used to have more “fear” during “good old times”. When casual comes in, fear goes out.
    One thing I don’t know what to think of is, wheter to have more “fear” as such would be a good thing. Seeing so many pharisaic comments encourages me to think that less fear and more love (of one’s neighbor) is better.
    A parent apparently wants her/his child to LOVE her/him, not just fear and because of the fear, obey. Those who demand obedience, should be careful to be very meek and Jesus-like in their conduct, and always demand the most from themselves.

    Meatless fridays are a great tradition. Even my (very anti-catholic) extended family has adopted the tradition -at least, when we are around
    have a blessed weekend, everyone!

  166. wimsey says:

    The renewal of Friday abstinence should be beginning today in the Steubenville diocese and not last week as last Friday was within the Octave of Easter and a Solemnity which is exempt from the law of abstinence. See Canon 1251: 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 (nisi) they are solemnities.

    In response to Charlotte: Abstinence from meat on Fridays is an example of Catholic identity (both a reminder to ourselves and to others) and gives us a real opening to “give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” In addition to being an act of solidarity, both with Christ and each other, it frequently marks us in the public square (though not necessarily in the voyeuristic way you suggest). I used to work in a small business and, though I never made a big deal out of it, everyone in the office soon learned that I did not eat meat on Fridays. This was a curiosity to many of them, but it also let them know that I was serious about my faith. Soon, I began to be asked all kinds of faith questions – by both Catholics and non-Catholics – because they knew that I would have answers for them. The simple fact that I did not eat meat on Fridays acted as a witness of my faith before them.

  167. Liam says:

    Fr Deacon Daniel

    Precisely. And it would more likely do damage. I would welcome promoting communal ascetical practice in the context of a larger promotion – but not a promotion of Catholic identity but of putting on the identity of Christ. A penalty of grave sin, however, would strike the average Catholic and non-Catholic at best as arbitrary (not exactly capricious – this idea is not coming out of thin air but has a history) and undermine the goal it ostensibly is intended to serve. And I think history demostrates that the penalty made the inculturation broad but too brittle. The practice of the Eastern churches is more flexible but also more resilient. This is one of the areas where the 2d Millennium habit of juridicalizing things in our church has had some strange fruit, as it were. If one thinks that by reviving it, one can revive the culture it once bespoke, then I think one is thinking ideologically rather than anthropologically. Progressives have made this mistake in their way (and more than their share), and so can traditionalists.

  168. JW says:

    I’m not sure about making meatless Friday an obligation under pain of sin, but I do think the obligation to do penance on Friday needs to be more aggressively reasserted with meatless Friday being promoted as the best and most ideal. Most people don’t do penance on Friday because they were never taught to. It seems to be the widely held belief that it was done away with completely after Vatican II (I was certainly never taught to abstain from anything outside Lent).

    Connecting meatless Friday to the Church’s pro-life stance seems to be a good idea, IMO. People will probably be more likely to do it if they see it as an act of sacrifice for a greater cause that many Catholics (both lax and not-so-lax) identify strongly with.

  169. Henry Edwards says:

    My wife and have have always abstained from meat on Fridays, and for general penitential reasons hadn’t gone out to dinner on a Friday night in somewhat more than a blue moon. Until tonight.

    So it was with a palpable sense of Catholic identity that I ordered the lobster ravioli instead of the prime filet mignon I could have enjoyed on another day. Seriously.

    And more seriously, the lobster was real penance as I kept thinking with each luscious bite about the menu-featured smokehouse bacon cheeseburger with onion rings for which my mouth continued to water.

    Indeed, it will be less penance next week when I eat my usual Friday night Lean Cuisine frozen dinner, fish with rice and broccoli.

    PS. I wonder whether those, who quibble about whether the obligation of Friday abstinence should be a matter of sin, are at least border-line neurotic.

  170. Sal says:


    One can “put on Christ” as well as promote Catholic
    identity. The two are not mutually exclusive.

  171. michigancatholic says:

    Correct, Sal. When “putting on Christ” is genuine, it means assuming a Catholic identity. That’s what conversion to the faith is all about.

    Catholicism now, however, because it was pretty much eviscerated in the period from 1965-1985, can seem very identity-less. That’s a big problem. People don’t stay in something long if they can’t tell why they’re there.

    Every Easter, I read the gleeful diocesan headlines about how many people have joined the church in the past year. But no one keeps track of the ones that leave, which I would estimate to be a larger number based on experience. Indeed, I used to be on an RCIA team years ago, and I don’t think people realize how many folks come in the front door and walk right out the back within one single year.

  172. michigancatholic says:

    I’ll probably get jumped all over for what I’m going to say now, but I’m going to say it anyway because it’s the truth and my commitment to the truth is what brought me here in the first place….

    On the theological level, of course, there is no better choice than the Roman Catholic Church. She’s simply right about what really matters–and that’s why I’m a convert to her. She is the Body of Christ.


    When it comes to running an organization that a person can belong to with an orthodox sense of identity, and having a mission a person can live out, the Catholic church since V2 is an unmitigated disaster. I don’t find it one bit surprising that people show up for an hour week (or 2 hours at Christmas) and then go back to doing exactly what they were doing before which had nothing to do with being Catholic (we have the same stats as the general public remember). The Church has done the most convincing auto-demolition I’ve ever seen in the last 50 years.

    Yet, most of the people who have it in their power to fix this are either politically involved (CTA etc and they need to be fired), or in paralysis because they can’t stomach admitting they screwed up totally in the period 1965-1985, which they did. In spades. With bells and whistles and horns blaring.

  173. elliot says:

    “The Church has done the most convincing auto-demolition I’ve ever seen in the last 50 years.”

    Paul VI said as much…in any case, sounds about right to me( your take on it) but I fear we’ll still have to put up with our naked emperor for a while to come, as there are still many who think he’s wearing nice duds! Pride, way too much pride…

  174. Latekate says:

    I never “got” the ideas behind fasting and abstinence at all. I did not know that Catholics were supposed to be undergoing some kind of penance on Fridays, I was not told this in RCIA. I did observe the Lenten rules (except for eating half a baloney sandwich as soon as I got home from Mass Ash Wednesday before I remembered what I was doing, which I did confess and will never hear the end of!) this past season and now I “get” it. The gnawing hunger I experienced the first week was a constant reminder of the reason for the fasting. After the first week it was easier, but having to continually remind myself not to eat whenever the urge struck was also a reminder. The meatless Fridays are viewed by my family as a welcome diversion because we have beef cattle and have meat all the time. So in that sense it is not really a sacrifice to give up meat. But it is a kind of chore to come up with an alternate meatless menu, which is a thing that keeps one mindful.
    I’ve come to see that fasting and prayer are a powerful combination as well.
    To me, it’s not about doing something under threat of sin, but doing something to become more holy. Either you want that or you don’t.

  175. michigancatholic says:

    That’s correct, Latekate. When you choose it and understand what it’s for, it can be very powerful.

  176. Liam,

    I think your thoughts mirror my own in many ways, although they are better articulated by you! The Church’s identity is that of Christ, and insofar as she “puts on Christ” she fulfills her apostolic mission in the world. Minor traditions and disciplines like periods of fasting and abstinence must emphasize our participation in the redemptive action of Jesus Christ, and individually form part of the vast mosaic that causes the Church to more perfectly image her Lord. Any effort to promote such a discipline apart from this Christological dimension makes it little more than stale legal leftovers from times past.

    I think the restoration of the legal penalty for the faithful in general would be a disservice to this end. So biased by centuries of legalistic minimalism (which can manifest itself in both traditionalist and modernist settings; e.g., the exclusive concern over sacramental validity to the exclusion of the pleroma that should define the liturgical action of the Church…we see this with such abuses as the use of the Low Mass on Sundays and Holy Days and the Giant Puppets and twirling dancers….”at least it was valid!” they both say!), many would focus on the penalty and not the authentic spirit of the practice. For many, abstinence is purely a negative thing. In Christ it is rather a radical affirmation and positive thing! We unite our sacrifice to and participate in Christ’s sacrificial kenosis and through Christ in the perichoresis of Trinitarian life!

    Bishop Daniel Conlon seems to have struck the right mix. Teach the faithful. Encourage them to fast and abstain…to make sacrifices out of love for Christ and the innocent unborn. Do not make threats of moral penalties for things which are not intrinsically sinful.

  177. Tod says:

    I’m a convert, and in reading the above I took my first Fish Friday last night.

    Thank you for putting new wine into old skins Father,

  178. Matthew says:

    “When Pope Paul VI changed the Church’s laws on penance, he did so from a sense of optimism about the identity of the Catholic people. He did so from the hope that we, knowing the value of penitential practices, would embrace them willingly on our own … without an obligation under sin. After all, love of God is a more perfect motive to go to confession than fear of hell, right. Similarly, it is better if people willingly embrace their penances from well-informed choice than it is to do so simply because if you don’t, it’s a sin you have to confess.”

    This isn’t really correct, though, is it, Father? Is it not true that involuntary penances are always better than voluntary penances, since involuntary penances come immediately from God (in this case through the Church) and voluntary penances always involve self-will? What is more, by following the laws of the Church, one practices the virtue of abstemiousness but also of obedience. All virtue requires a certain habit. If an individual can choose based upon whim each Friday what to do, then it doesn’t seem that he is really practicing virtue (not to mention that he can just choose whatever he didn’t happen to eat/do that Friday).

  179. Danny Mary-Joseph says:

    Look at it this way: You would be getting an opportunity to practice virtue. Whats so bad about that? One of the main reasons you would be practicing virtue is the very fact that you would be doing something that your not very comfortable with. Think about it. Those who would sin by ignoring this practice are probably sinners headed for Hell and dont care for repentance. Esau comes to mind…

  180. Sal says:

    Michigan Catholic,

    Don’t make my statement what it’s not. You talk about when one
    genuinely “puts on Christ” then one assumes Catholic identity.
    That’s not all there is to it, even though many would like to
    make it that way. A big amorphous nothing, but “putting on
    Christ,” which is beginning to sound a lot like “personal
    relationship with Jesus.” In other words, it means nothing,
    really, except in the eyes of the beholder. What you are
    talking about is faith, but one also needs religion, which is
    the way faith is expressed and Catholics have a certain way
    of doing that, as opposed to other groups of Christians. And
    many of the disciplines, such as fasting and abstaining on
    Friday, while they don’t rise to the level of dogma, have been
    immeasurably helpful for Catholics in reminding them of the
    Sacrifice of Christ, in forming them in ascesis, in aiding
    them in attaining a true friendship with God. So it’s not as
    simple as just “putting on Christ,” whatever that even means
    to most people, it’s also about being formed in the faith of
    the Catholic Church.

  181. Marcin says:


    Sin is already in disrepute.

  182. Marcin says:


    “[…]There’s plenty of tension on the marital bond already. […] Those of you who already have a joyful and united Catholic household should not be so quick to assume that all can bear this burden equally.

    In Catholic families it can be easily not so rosy, either. Like the tensions over “how much church is too much”. Even among faithful Catholics, the appetites for worship and tolerance for time spent in the church quite varies. Not to mention ascetic practices.

  183. lavatea says:

    Thanks for giving me something to think about. I’m in the process of converting, and I only had a vague notion of year-round meatless Fridays (and then only because I read something about it on fisheaters while learning about Lenten practices). I had no idea of the reasoning behind it. I don’t care if it’s under pain of sin or not (and if it is, I don’t think it should be mortal sin), but I definitely think it should be encouraged and better catechized.

    I have to agree with the post from another convert who said they were disappointed that many of the things they had associated with the Church were no where to be found when they actually became Catholic. Praise God my friend (and sponsor) is a pretty traditional Catholic. She even found an EF parish near me that I will be visiting soon!

    I also praise God for this blog and for other little ways He has helped me discover traditional practices and devotions I wouldn’t have found otherwise. I pray for the Church that she overcomes this identity crisis, and that Catholics are even stronger for it.

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