January 26, 2013
Welcome to the Saturday meme hosted by Colleen at Thoughts on Grace. Join us for inspiration.
Fasting and abstinence on Fridays
Lucky for me I can lie in bed and meditate upon waking in the morning – most days – great Sabbath Moments. One day this week I was thinking about the American bishops calling for fasting and abstinence on Fridays to end abortion. I grew up in the time when one aspect of Catholic identity was to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays under pain of mortal sin. In fact, since the beginning of the Church, doing penance has always been highly emphasized, and fasting and abstaining from meat on Fridays was high on the list for everybody for centuries.
After Vatican II the 1966 constitution Paenitemini (III.II.1) of Pope Paul VI re-affirmed that failure to make “substantial observance” of the law of Friday abstinence is grave matter, i.e. constitutes a mortal sin. But then the 1983 Code of Canon Law, canons 1251 and 1253 gave each Bishops’ Conference the authority to substitute the universal law of Friday abstinence from meat with another local practice for the Catholics of their region. This practice had already been in effect since the end of the Council and was merely codified when Pope John Paul II approved this final Vatican II document.
In America the bishops said that some act of penance or mortification or some good work could be substituted for fasting and abstinence, and this in 1966. Worldwide after the conferences made their decisions to abandon the traditional Catholic practice of fasting and abstinence on Fridays, the bishops went dark on the whole subject of penance and mortification and a key aspect of our identity disappeared, yet the Pope never said “forget the whole thing” and technically speaking, neither did the bishops.
For centuries the Church called for us to fast and abstain from meat on Fridays to show our love, appreciation, and honor for Jesus dying on the cross to save us. It was a potent reminder in our bodies of the spiritual reality that we must unite ourselves to the Crucified and “take up your cross and follow Me.” It was a universal practice that called for humility and obedience to Church law – an aid to taming our defiant nature.
One day a week is all the Church mandated for this universal practice of mortifying our flesh to control concupiscence. To emphasize the seriousness of this command the Church, under the power of the keys of Peter, decreed it to be mortally sinful to deliberately disregard it. The sick were always dispensed from it, and others for good reason could be dispensed by their pastors. If a person accidentally forgot it was Friday and ate meat, it was not a mortal sin.
I remember well the Friday menus at our house. Today I can’t eat any of these meals because of gluten sensitivity, but back then it wasn’t an issue. We might have grilled cheese sandwiches and tomato soup; egg salad sandwiches and tomato soup; fish sticks with macaroni and cheese and a salad; salmon patties, lima beans (BIG penance for me!) and salad; or glop. Glop was my favorite. It was Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup with cut up hard boiled eggs and canned tuna mixed in served over a piece of toast and a side salad. Because of budgetary restraints we didn’t have shrimp or other more expensive items.
Some mommy bloggers have said how much they hate to deal with meatless Fridays in Lent. The best way to handle meatless Fridays is to make it a year round practice and draw up a variety of menus that will appeal to the family. The kids are saints in training. They need to learn self-denial and a graceful handling of inconvenience. If meatless Fridays become a habit in the family, nobody will think anything of it, especially if it is presented within the context of developing good spiritual habits and showing appreciation to Jesus for dying on the cross for us. And everything we do from the preparing of the menu to the cooking of the food and eating it we can offer with joy to our Father.
My husband and I have observed meatless Fridays for many years. It’s not always easy. I’ve had to get creative with the gluten free demands of my diet. Scrambled eggs with fresh green peppers and mushrooms topped with the cheese of our choice and home made killer salsa is a favorite in our house. A vegetable broth based soup with grilled cheese sandwiches made with Udi’s bread works well, too. Of course, if you are not gluten sensitive you can use the bread of your choice.
The most important thing, though, is to do it out of love and in unity with the suffering Christ and all the suffering people of this world. Getting hung up on whether it’s a mortal sin or not to eat meat on Friday is emphasizing the wrong thing. Are we trying to do the least possible in our relationship with God – being stingy with the One who gave us life and all that we have – or are we expressing the attitude of gratitude and growing a generous and loving heart? Our whole purpose in fasting and penance is to get us to that final encounter with Christ where we hear, “Come ye blessed of my Father.”
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