Minimalist Catholics or More?

Fr. Jerabek, at his blog, has a good reminder about Lenten penance, and Fridays, and fasting and abstinence.

All Fridays of the year are days of penance.  Fridays of Lent are more specific. All Catholics who have completed 14 years of age are to abstain from meat on Fridays of Lent.

Does this bind the Catholic on pain of sin?

The bishops – who were given authority to adjust the universal law for this regions – have so relaxed the obligations that there is barely anything there to move the Catholic to do penance.

The idea back in the 1960’s was that people should want to do penance.  That would be better than doing penance out of obligation.  They, with Paul VI, were optimistic.  They weren’t, however, realistic about human nature.  Once the laws were relaxed hardly anyone did penance after.

The same thing happen among the clergy.

In the older, traditional form of Mass, in the Missale Romanum, there were indications that certain defects in the celebration of Mass were mortal sins.   Among a few priests (especially those tainted by a kind of Sulpician/Irish jansenism) this prompted scrupulosity.  However, once the clarity was removed, priests started doing what they wanted.

Laws are helpful when the spirit and flesh are weak.

In any event, don’t be minimalist Catholics, just getting away with things within the strict bounds of law.

It seems to me we are living in a time when, as the Church is being slowly flayed and broken and diminished, even by her pastors, we need more prayer and more acts of penance and reparation, not fewer or the minimum.




About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JustaSinner says:

    Bigger question: Is God minimalist? Or does He go the extra mile for us? The answer is front of our face everytime we enter a church and gaze up at the Crucifix!
    Christ died a horrible death—taking many hours to die, and we’re inconvenienced if the Mass takes lonher than 45 minutes!

  2. Fallibilissimo says:

    I’m happen to be tired right now so maybe that’s why, but now I’m just confused. Forget the matter of abstaining from meat: according to the letter of the law today, are Fridays outside of lent penitential days or not? I was under the impression that St Paul VI reforms made it possible to substitute meat with something more meaningful (like acts of charity and or prayer)? Under this understanding, I found the reforms more challenging, not less.

  3. APX says:

    Laws are helpful when the spirit and flesh are weak

    Indeed they are.

  4. jaykay says:

    As regards the “Sulpician/Irish Jansenism” canard, could I just posit this, from an excellent blog that unfortunately isn’t current anymore but is a great archive:


  5. Sword40 says:

    My wife is 75 and I’m 79 and we still do the Lenten fast. Plus abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year. It’s our choice and by the Lord’s Grace, we are still healthy enough. This year has been a little tougher than last year but we are still doing it. Along with all of that we still pray the complete Rosary every day and drive 80 miles each way every Sunday to our FSSP parish. I would encourage everyone to try harder to follow the Fasting laws.

  6. John Gerardi says:

    Fr. Z touches on a very modern idea that possibly infected the reformers: the idea that penance is more valuable when you choose do it “freely,” without being compelled to do so by the Church’s authority. St. Thomas Aquinas actually taught the opposite: that fasting is more valuable when you must do so under obedience, rather than when you don’t have to do it. Here’s how he explains it in “The Perfection of the Spiritual Life,” Ch. 12:

    “Secondly, granted that a deed performed under vow, or under obedience, be in a sense involuntary, nevertheless, he who accomplishes such a deed, does so from the necessity of his vow or of obedience, which he has no desire to violate. Hence he acts in a more praiseworthy and meritorious manner, than if he were performing a good work at his own pleasure and without a vow. And, even if he have not a will to do some particular thing (e.g. to fast), he, nevertheless, desires to accomplish his vow, or to practise obedience, which is much more meritorious than fasting. Hence, he who fasts out of obedience performs a more acceptable work than he who fasts by his own desire. And the will to fulfil a vow, or to practise obedience, is held to be so much the more perfect in proportion as the deed accomplished for the sake of obedience, or of keeping a vow, is repugnant to nature. Hence St. Jerome says to Rusticus, ‘My principal exhortation to you is, not to be guided by your own judgment.’ Then he adds, ‘Nor should you act according to your own will; but you shall eat as you are bidden; you shall have as much as is given you; you shall wear the raiment appointed you; you shall perform the whole task allotted to you; you shall be subject to him to whom you would rather not submit; you shall go weary to bed; you shall fall asleep on your feet and shall be forced to rise before you have slumbered your fill.’”

  7. Jerome Charles says:

    Giving up meat on Fridays isn’t so difficult– REMEMBERING that it’s Friday can be a challenge at times! Occasionally I’ve had a hamburger half eaten and find myself gasping out loud when it occurs to me that it’s Friday! Perhaps the bigger sacrifice is to NOT, in lieu of meat, feast on shrimp or eggplant parmesan or other delicious meatless dishes– because that feels more like a treat than a sacrifice, even though technically it meets the abstinence requirement. The spirit of the law, as I understand it, would more align with eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches or scrambled eggs– something that’s ok, but not so enjoyable. (I’m feeling slightly guilty and privileged to even have such a plethora of choices… fortunate and blessed indeed, and all the more reason to sacrifice.)

  8. aiello01 says:

    Repentance may be a better option instead of doing acts of penance and reparation. Repentance is a turning to God with humility towards Him (1Peter 5:5-7). Acts of penance and reparation can be done without real repentance.

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