Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Friday Penance (what does it mean?)

Here is a link to the question and answer document released by the Conference of Catholic Bishops in England and Wales. I am greatly disappointed with it. My reasons are simple, and I say this with great respect to the bishops. Firstly, as most people will agree, abstaining from meat - in itself - is not penitential. As far as Friday meals go, there is a long tradition in the North of feasting on fish 'n chips. This is certainly no penance. I speak as a devoted fan - indeed, a veritable gourmet of the fish 'n chips emporia (is this the plural of emporium?).

The idea that abstaining from meat becomes penitential simply because we say it is, is nonsense. Sorry, but there it is. As a gesture towards declaring our allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church it has some merit - this is agreed. However, as an act of witness to the reason behind Friday penance (remembrance of the Passion of Christ) it fails - even dismally.

Let's construct what is not an unusual scenario. The devout Catholic male, invited out to a slap-up party where the wine and beer are flowing freely says, "Yes, I'll be there, but just so you know - I cannot eat meat because it's Friday". Is this, in any way, a remarkable test of faith? Is it a witness to faith of any depth? Is it, in fact, an act of penance? The answer, I think, in each case is painfully obvious.

The whole idea of Friday penance, surely involves refraining from parties, pub dinners, celebrations etc. It must at least include the possibility of abstaining from TV and the cinema. What on earth does "penance" mean? Sorry, but - and with respect - I must, in conscience, tell my parishioners what I think Friday penance means. Abstaining from meat certainly, but not in the context of a slap-up do.


  1. I abide by the original abstinence rules; abstain from meat but do not feast on fish either (if you like it). Let me spring to the defence of the Bishops, Father (very unusual for me).
    It is hard to be prescriptive; some people abhor fish, some love it. The point is surely to abstain from a food type that you enjoy greatly.
    You may still drink and dance and sing (if that is your passion) - the vital thing is that Friday abstinence is achievable. It is not a huge penance, just a nudge that Our Lord died for our sins on that day.

  2. Richard - your defence is good, based on what I now believe the bishops were trying to do. However, it does not make Friday a penitential day. I am going to refer to the original document issued by Pope Paul VI to see what he said then. As far as I know, that instructions still stands. Call it Friday abstinence for sure, but I cannot, in all conscience call it a day of penance.