Philip Kosloski – published on 04/21/17 – updated on 04/01/21
Even though it’s Friday, you are free to find a steak and dive in!
Throughout the year, Catholics are asked to practice a form of penance each Friday.
Traditionally this was abstaining from meat, but after Vatican II the US bishops wrote a pastoral letter explaining a change, though still reiterating the point that Fridays, even outside of Lent, should still be a day of weekly penance.
Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.
While “meatless Fridays” are still the recommendation in the United States (and a precept in some other countries), the US bishops have stipulated that some other form of penance or even an act of charity can substitute.
However, today, even though it’s Friday, you are free to find a steak and dive in!
Why is that?
Because Canon Law stipulates that this penitential rule does not apply to days in the Church’s calendar that are meant to be days of feasting.
Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday (Can. 1251).
A solemnity in the Catholic Church is a day in the liturgical calendar that is marked with the highest importance and celebration. It is a day to rejoice!
While certain voices in today’s society might accuse the Church of being strict and authoritarian, demanding fasting and penance all the time, in fact the Church actually instructs the faithful to feast more than fast.
For example, the Easter season lasts 50 days; 10 days longer than the 40 days of Lent! The US bishops explained in their pastoral letter how they hoped “the liturgical renewal and the deeper appreciation of the joy of the holy days of the Christian year will … result in a renewed appreciation as to why our forefathers spoke of ‘a fast before a feast.’” This is in recognition that our life of sorrow on earth is much shorter than the eternal joy of Heaven. We are not meant to fast forever!
Connected to this idea of feasting is the institution of the Easter Octave. After the great feast of Easter, the Church decided to extend the “solemnity of solemnities” for a period of eight days, until the following Sunday. This means that every day this week is technically Easter Sunday, a solemnity!
The Catholic Encyclopedia explains how “In the fourth century… Easter and Pentecost were given octaves. Possibly at first, this was only a baptismal custom, the neophytes remaining in a kind of joyful retreat from Easter or Pentecost till the following Sunday. Moreover, the Sunday which, after the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, fell on the eighth day, came as a natural conclusion of the seven feast days after these two festivals.”
So today, relax a little and rejoice! Let’s take to heart the words of the Exsultet that was sung at the Easter Vigil.
Rejoice, let Mother Church also rejoice, arrayed with the lightning of his glory, let this holy building shake with joy, filled with the mighty voices of the peoples.