Under this heading I hope to introduce another new (and ideally) regular feature, the Lost Practices File. Since the Second Vatican Council there has been much confusion about what is still part of our Catholic life, many things have sadly been forgotten, things which contributed not only to our spiritual lives, but to our identiy as Catholics, I hope to offer some insights.
resolution which the bishops of the UK took last month. Fairly early on in Lent some parishioners made a startling discovery in our bulletin. We had printed the rules for Lenten fast and abstinence, but had accidentally printed the American rules, which includes mandatory abstinence from meat on all the Fridays of Lent. The reaction was actually quite predictable, "Give up meat on Friday, I thought we didn't have to do that anymore."
Well, in fact here in Canada, according to Note 29 in the Liturgical Calendar, "Fridays are days of abstinence from meat, but Catholics my substitute special acts of charity or piety on this day." Observing Friday as a day of special penance has been a part of Christian life since the beginning. It is even mentioned in the Didache, a first century document of Christian teaching (look at Chapter 8). Meatless Fridays did not disappear after Vatican II, they didn't disappear after the New Code of Canon Law came in either in 1983. However we are given an option, we can perform some other penance. Of course, it seems that allowing this option has given many the impression that the obligation simply does not exist. Even for someone aware of it, you might ask on any given Friday, "Have you eaten meat today?" After the answer comes back "yes", you might ask, "Oh, what do you usually do instead?" The answer often, sadly is, "Well, nothing."
I would surmise that this is very much a manifestation of the pervasive notion that faith and religion are something that are best left in church, that our faith doesn't spill out into the rest of our week, or the rest of our lives. Being Catholic, being Christian is not something we do on Sunday for an hour, it must be a part of who we are each and every day if it is to have true meaning, true significance, in our lives. Penance as a spiritual discipline is one way we enact and embody our love for God (ask any parent, any spouse, and they will tell you that love means sacrifice), it is our way of uniting ourselves to the sufferings of our Lord on Calvary, the ultimate sign of his love for us. Penance is part of our Christian life, Friday penance is part of our Catholic life. So this Friday, put some fish on your fork.