Friday, May 26, 2017

Make Fridays Meatless Again

Portions of this post were taken from an article by Steven Greydanus at the NCR.

I love my bacon as much as the next guy. I also hate tofu and would rather die than become a vegetarian. One of the hardest parts of Lent for me (besides the fasting, which isn’t nearly as extreme now as it was before Vatican II) is not eating meat on Fridays. I usually forget, for one thing, and remember my obligation to abstain right as I'm taking my first juicy bite of bacon and eggs.

Lent before Vatican II sounds like torture to us modernists. Today, we are only required to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these two days, we can only eat one full meal and two smaller meals that don’t add up to one full meal. Think this is hard? Well, before Vatican II, you were required to fast like this EVERY SINGLE DAY OF LENT (except Sundays). Can you imagine going 40 days with only eating 1 full meal? Hardcore!

Another interesting thing about pre-Vatican II Catholicism is that EVERY Friday (not just Lent) was meatless. It was a mortal sin (yikes) to willfully disregard this stipulation. It sounds cruel to us fat-ass Catholics today, but there is profound wisdom behind it. Allow me to explain.

First of all, as Catholics, the entire focus of our lives should be on Jesus Christ and His sufferings for our salvation. If this sounds a little macabre, a little sobering, it should be. Jesus gave up everything, even His Life, to save us from Hell, and we should spend our short time on earth praising Him for His Mercy and generosity.

How do today’s Catholics praise and thank Jesus for all He has done for them? Well, we show up to Mass for one hour a week and leave after Communion. Phew, glad that’s over with. Time to get back to living our lives….

Since the days of the ancient Church, over 2000 years ago, the Church has asked that Catholics spend their short lives on earth doing penance and thanking Jesus for His sacrifice. There can be no greater purpose in our lives. How do we do this? By fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, not just during Lent but all year long. And one of the easiest ways we can do this is by giving up meat on every Friday, not just the Fridays in Lent.

Yes, it is true that the bishops allowed a relaxation of the “meatless Fridays” rule. But they didn’t say that you couldn’t or shouldn’t continue to practice what the Church has taught for millennia. For most Catholics, even churchgoing Catholics, Friday is no different from any other day, and this is tragic. But the Church has traditionally maintained the observance of every Friday as Good Friday and every Sunday as Easter Sunday. Why disregard that beautiful reminder of our faith for the sake of a cheeseburger?  The abolition of year-round Friday abstinence has been devastating to Catholic cultural identity, to the penitential character of Friday, and to the broader practice of penance in general.

The crucial point is that every Friday is a day of penance. Don’t let it be just like any other day. Whether or not you choose to abstain from meat — though I heartily recommend that you do — do something. It could be something positive: Pray the Liturgy of the Hours or the rosary, go to Adoration or Mass, or do some extra spiritual reading. Whatever you do, do it in a prayerful, penitential, Christian spirit. Do it to honor God, to remember Christ’s crucifixion, to discipline your appetites, to obey the Church, to express solidarity with your fellow Christians living and dead, and to prepare for Sunday Mass.

Avoiding meat on Friday matters simply because it makes us different. It tells the world that we are Catholic. If you were out for lunch with friends from work on a Friday and someone ordered the fish sandwich, it was a good bet they were Catholic. Fish on Fridays was a small but meaningful weekly reminder of one’s religious identity: a concrete way in which one’s heritage impacted one’s life. It was a small sacrifice; just as importantly, it was a small obedience. To obey simply because it’s the rule, even in those cases where the sacrifice in itself might not otherwise be meaningful to you personally, has a meaning of its own. It was also a silent witness to others. Just as importantly, when you ate that fish sandwich, you knew countless other Catholics were giving up meat as well. The shared cost of membership fosters a sense of belonging, of connection to others. It’s a way of telling yourself and others: This is our thing. These are my people. This is what we do. This is part of what makes us Catholic. (The same principle applies in other religious traditions: keeping kosher; praying five times daily facing Mecca; etc.)

Many faithful Catholics are entirely willing to embrace Friday abstinence if someone invites them to do so. This is a delicate business because you don’t want to go around loudly proclaiming your own spiritual disciplines to the world; here, too, we are constrained by our Lord’s words. There’s a right way and a wrong way to share with others what’s been helpful to you. Look for the right ways. (If you found this article helpful, consider sharing it with others.) There’s nothing wrong with respectfully asking your priest or deacon if he would consider preaching about Friday as a day of penance, and perhaps even recommend Friday abstinence.
Jesus gave up everything for you. What will you give to Him?

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