Sabbath Moments

January 26, 2013

Awareness of God

Awareness of God

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.

fish on a plateI 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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V. Praised be Jesus Christ!

R. Now and forever!

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Saturday, January 26th, 2013 Catholic culture, Sabbath Moments

7 Comments to Sabbath Moments

  1. Great article! Being a convert, I did not know the whole history of meatless Fridays. I especially like the ending paragraph about where to put our emphasis!
    I would looovvvve to be able to take a few minutes in bed in the morning to meditate. However, I am a night person and I usually have to rush around in the morning! I would fall asleep if I stayed in bed.
    Thanks for joining me every week in Sabbath Moments!
    Colleen recently posted..Sabbath Moments – Retreat and Reflections

  2. Colleen on January 26th, 2013
  3. You raise so many good points here Barbara.

    The thing is, over the years, our Church has caused confusion on this and many other matters. It’s true that “in the old days” it was a mortal sin to deliberately eat meat on Fridays, even though there’s nothing in the Bible to say so. It was a Church commandment rather than a God Commandment, just like fasting before taking Communion, women covering their heads in church, and so many other rules.

    Over time, rules got relaxed or forgotten or ignored. I know not which. The Church did not re-iterate the rules and ensure UNIVERSAL adherence.

    About a year ago the Bishops in ENGLAND asked that Catholics do not eat meat on Fridays. This does not apply in Wales, Scotland or Ireland … nor indeed in Europe or elsewhere.

    I asked my priest at the time about the mixed-message this sends. Technically, someone living on the border between England and Scotland can be in Scotland on a Friday and eat meat. I asked the priest whether eating meat was a venial or mortal sin.

    He said it’s no sin at all. Just a request from Bishops in England. Other Bishops in Scotland, wales, Ireland or elsewhere may or may not follow the same way.

    We’ve also had some feasts declared Holy Days of Obligation in some country but not in others.

    This confuses not only Catholics but also other denominations looking on.

    God bless.
    Victor S E Moubarak recently posted..E=MC2

  4. Victor S E Moubarak on January 26th, 2013
  5. Yes, Victor. Ever since the Council, many things have been left up to bishops’ conferences of different countries. Here in the USA certain Holy Days of Obligation have been moved to Sunday celebrations. Very confusing, especially when the biblical meaning of the feast is obscured by that move as in the feast of the Ascension. Forty days has a biblical meaning. There is too much compromise with the world and the bishops are now reaping what they’ve sowed for the last fifty years.

    The Church has always, under the keys of Peter, been able to legislate precepts that aren’t in the Bible, which is why She could make laws about fasting on Fridays. The question for the people of England should be, if I’m not observing the fast and abstinence because I will not bow to Church law, am I sinning? The answer is yes. The question of whether it is mortal or venial is the wrong question. The real question is, “why am I even asking this question? Do I think that deliberate venial sin isn’t a serious matter? What does that say about my relationship with God?”

    I agree that in the British Isles it would make sense for all the bishops’ conferences to get together on this and other precepts. Sometimes I wonder how much worldly politics plays a part in the lack of standardization.

  6. barb on January 26th, 2013
  7. I’ve always been a morning person but since my body is all screwed up I’m neither a morning person nor a night person. And many were the years when I shot out of bed very early and was on my way. That seems impossible now.

    Personally I would like to see the return of fasting and abstinence to all Fridays for the good of souls.

  8. barb on January 26th, 2013
  9. Yes-
    all spiritual practices MUST serve one purpose- to open ourselves and surrender everything we are to God or we are in danger of becoming Pharisees. As St. Paul says so eloquently we can pray, fast, speak wisdom, heal but if we do not have love we are as empty as a clanging bell. All shall pass away. Only love lasts foreve.r

  10. melanie jean juneau on January 27th, 2013
  11. I agree too much has been compromised. The reality is that the many customs that folks abandon as “not essential” to the faith are indeed very important. These customs pull us together as a community, present us the habit of making sacrifice and are very important in transmitting the values and way of our faith. Its a great tradition, in Irish Gaelic Friday – Dé hAoine means the day of the fast. Friday fasting is an integral part of Catholic culture.

    At our home the regular practice has made it normal to my kids, all 5 and under. They’ve learned to love eating Tilapia!

    Thanks for posting on this.
    Michael Maedoc recently posted..An Irish Session – Reily’s Pub

  12. Michael Maedoc on January 27th, 2013
  13. It’s great to know that many Catholics are still observing our ancient practices and teaching their kids the true spirit behind them.

  14. barb on January 28th, 2013


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