ASK FATHER: Friday penance for a vegetarian

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I have a question and I think you are the perfect ossified manualist to give me the answers I need.

I am a vegetarian. When it comes to Friday Penance, am I covered because I am already not eating meat? I understand this likely violates the “spirit” of the law in that I haven’t really given up meat as a penitential practice, but I was wondering if you could shine some light if I have fulfilled the letter of the law.

You will certainly have fulfilled the letter of the law.

However, if you want to be more perfect in your devotion, you could find some other pleasant or good thing to give up on days of penance.  Also, remember that positive performance of good works is also good.

The giving of alms is a penitential practice.   In the ancient Roman Church there were very many more fast days.  People gave up foods, but the money they saved by not buying them they gave to the poor.

 

 

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23 Responses to ASK FATHER: Friday penance for a vegetarian

  1. Greg Hlatky says:

    Living on the Texas Gulf Coast, eating seafood on Friday is no real penance. But listening to and discovering classical music has been my joy and comfort for almost 50 years. So that’s what I offer in penance on Friday and during Lent: no listening, no shopping online, no working on playlists, not even touching a CD.

  2. acardnal says:

    Suggestions : A priest told me that attending the holy Mass is the greatest penance one can do. If you are a daily Mass-goer already, consider praying the stations of the cross or an extra rosary. Or fasting.

  3. APX says:

    Acardinal,

    I asked my priest if attending daily Mass on Friday counted for Friday penance, and he (a priest of the FSSP) said that attending Mass is not a penance or a substitute for Friday penance.

  4. Fr. Kelly says:

    Original Questioner: I am a vegetarian. When it comes to Friday Penance, am I covered because I am already not eating meat?

    It seems you are covered in the law by not eating meat, but if you wanted to do real penance, I suppose that, at least on the Fridays outside of Lent, you could offer up the penance of eating meat.

    It is my understanding that the original reason for the permission to substitute another penance was to retain the penitential character of Friday in regions where the eating of meat is not an everyday reality.

    I have a friend from the Pacific Islands for whom the eating of fish is a daily thing and eating of meat more rare. It would make more sense for him to give up eating fish on Friday.

  5. TonyO says:

    It seems you are covered in the law by not eating meat, but if you wanted to do real penance, I suppose that, at least on the Fridays outside of Lent, you could offer up the penance of eating meat.

    But only if eating meat would be felt as a penance. Most vegetarians, at least in their first several years, still yearn for meat now and then.

    I understand this likely violates the “spirit” of the law in that I haven’t really given up meat as a penitential practice,

    This may be true, but it does not need to be true. One might have multiple motives for doing any good thing, including not eating meat. Many a saint was a vegetarian, giving up meat as a lifelong penance. If one had given up meat as a daily life-long penance, ADDING ANOTHER penance to Friday is worthy, but hardly necessitated by the spirit of the law. The law asks us to remember penance at least one day a week, not to remember it EXACTLY one day a week. Doing penance many days does not dilute the validity of doing it Friday.

    On the other hand, if one gave up meat primarily for the sake of health, and only very minimally in pursuit of penance, then I think it would be appropriate to consider another penance for Friday in order to fulfill the spirit of the law.

    It is my understanding that the original reason for the permission to substitute another penance was to retain the penitential character of Friday in regions where the eating of meat is not an everyday reality.

    True, and for other reasons (such as the many persons who had no control over their diet (conscripts in an army, for example, and who are subject to extreme hard labor and just plain need the meat). However, I would ask Fr. Z and our other esteemed manualists (unreconstructed or not) to comment on the original reason for the penitential law in the first place: back in the middle ages there were sumptuary laws that regulated the richness of foods in a MUCH more extensive way – for the classes that could afford rich foods. (Read of the incredible variety of meats and dishes offered at a rich man’s table from those days.) But (if I recall correctly, and I invite correction) those sumptuary laws (regarding food) had very little to say to the poor who couldn’t afford meat to begin with. I have a suspicion that the Friday law as we had it before its relaxation post Vatican II was a relic of those sumptuary laws, and thus was not meant to stand for the thesis that those who could not afford to eat meat ANY day of the week were expected to find some additional way of practicing penance on Friday, because lacking meat altogether was “not enough”.

  6. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Liguori’s Moral Theology said that people like military guys eating rations did not have to obey fasting or abstinence laws, because they had no control over their eating, times of eating, etc.

    Same thing was true for the poor with no confidence in when it what they could eat.

  7. I thought the Latin text of the law on abstinence referred to the flesh of warm-blooded animals, and that that is the reason fish doesn’t count as meat.

  8. jaykay says:

    Perhaps, to avoid all doubt, we could make a real fast by just taking bread and water? Although toasting the bread would be ok, or having something like a toasted cheese sandwich? He said hopefully. But seriously, it’s all about abstaining from what pleases us, after all.

    Let’s remember that not all that long ago, meat would have been a luxury for a lot of people, and in peasant societies (which most were) the man, the breadwinner, was usually given whatever of the best was available, which meant whatever bit of meat might be around – and that not often. The wife and kids just had a sort of vegetable pottage, with bread, or maybe just bread – it was the staple. Bread riots in times of scarcity were a reality. That’s what brought Louis XVI and family back to Paris from Versailles – involuntarily. When we think of the sort of fasting our mostly very poor, by modern standards, ancestors did we really should be a bit humbled.

  9. Tinidril says:

    My husband is a vegetarian. On Fridays, he goes “vegan”; no animal products at all. That’s far more of a sacrifice for him than it is for me to give up flesh meat! We both try not to eat between meals on Fridays.

  10. Lucas says:

    I’m a chef, I’ve tried to be off on Fridays, but it doesn’t work all the time.

    I always end up tasting food and forgetting it’s Friday. *face palm* I then end up moving my no-meat day to Saturday or Sunday.

  11. Rob83 says:

    I am using the chaplet of Divine Mercy as a penitential work. I am also abstaining from drink aside from water, but since I am doing that daily at the moment (excepting Sundays), it feels a bit like cheating if I don’t do something besides on Friday.

  12. excalibur says:

    I would think that a Big Mac would do the trick.

    I know, I know.

  13. IngridAiram says:

    Since my husband is a vegetarian, I also hardly eat any meat or fish. Since I love chocolate, I have it my penance to give that up on Fridays. My husband only eats bare bread for breakfast and lunch during the Fridays. So we try to make a foodly substitute for the no-meat. I have tought about going vegan on the Fridays, but haven’t made it to that point yet. Still struggling with the chocolate or other sweets during the day.

  14. Gab says:

    “I am using the chaplet of Divine Mercy as a penitential work.”

    I understand abstinence and giving alms as a penance or doing some form of charity that you really don’t want to do but do it anyway out of love for God but I still don’t understand how saying extra prayers is considered penance.

    It’s the same after Confession when saying the prayers Father has given as penance. Telling me to do something I love is a penance how? Truly, I’d be much obliged if someone could explain, please.

  15. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Liguori specifically says that cooks can taste food without violating abstinence.c

    And if you are a cook who is moving his body a lot in the course of work, making several meals or serving lots of folks, you are specifically excused from fasting laws as needed, because they don’t want you to get exhausted.

    Liguori’s Moral Theology is the bomb. I love him. Accept no summaries.

  16. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I guess my point is that canon law always had all these pastoral exceptions when needed, to the point that almost everybody who was working hard at a job or at home was technically excused from all, or part, of the various fasting and abstinence laws. The full rigor was only going to fall on clergy and religious, or on laypeople of leisure. Everybody else was doing voluntary penance by doing fasting, whether they knew it or not. (And I think a lot of people did.)

    So I think Vatican II tried to make the “messiness” and “legalism” of the exceptions disappear — by making things easier across the board, and by proclaiming voluntary penance as the way. But people either did not like it, or never heard that penance was still a desired thing. They just stopped.

  17. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: how can prayers be a penance if you like to pray?

    How can medicine that has a sweet taste be good for you?

    The content of the medicine is a healthy treatment for what ails you. If it tastes good, that is fine, because you are more likely to remember to take it.

    Some penitential acts are supposed to be annoying, etc., so you discourage and mortify away your bad habits and sins. Others are meant to help encourage good habits and remake you in a healthy way. Others are just offerings to God, and they can be pleasant or unpleasant to give Him, or just neutral work. Spiritual directors have to “prescribe” this stuff more exactly, but a lot of this stuff is applicable to everybody.

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Actually, I looked it up, and the point is that taking a taste in order to make sure the food is okay does not break a fast, if you are not doing it for the wrong reasons. But there is a snarky comment too.

    I think there might be something about abstinence also, but I cannot find it. I do not know if it is my search terms messing up.and

    Anyway, coqui, culinarii, and servers all seem to have a lot of leeway under the body agitation rules.

    [This is correct. Cooks can taste food.]

  19. MrsMacD says:

    Father, if a man is a vegetarian by necessity and not by choice. (Say, for example, he’s allergic to meat. Beef is the second highest allergenic food after milk.). Isn’t that a penance imposed on him, by chance/by God’s permissive will, and if accepted with love and resignation, is that not more meritorious than had he chosen to forgo meat out of love for God? Penance has more value when we’re doing God’s will, correct? It doesn’t matter how it feels, only that we do it out of love for God. All crosses when carried with love (ie the person who loves to pray) become not a cross.

    [We are obliged to do penance. If not one thing, then another. We can choose responsibly.]

  20. Gab says:

    Suburbanbanshee, thank you, that explanation helped a lot.

  21. drmc says:

    I’ve struggled with this question too and settled on eliminating both dairy and eggs on Fridays. It seems there is some precedence for this in the fasting laws of the Church. See: https://taylormarshall.com/2018/02/medieval-lent-harder-islamic-ramadan.html

  22. Nan says:

    If you do go vegan fridays, look for Orthodox fasting recipes. Strict fast is vegan. In my church it’s no meat, eggs, dairy, oil or alcohol.

  23. Nan says:

    Traditionally, Christians fasted on Wed and Fri year round and it was the strict fast, no meat, dairy or eggs. In my particular Church, no oil or alcohol either.