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Scott P. Richert

Meatless Fridays to Return in England and Wales

By May 20, 2011

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On Saturday, May 14, 2011, the Catholic bishops of England and Wales released a brief statement that William Oddie, the former editor of the U.K. Catholic Herald, rightly calls "historic." After decades of allowing the Catholics of England and Wales to decide on their own what penance to practice on Fridays, the bishops have decided to reinstate the traditional Friday abstinence from meat.

The decision will likely come as a surprise for many Catholics, who think that the practice of Friday penance was abolished at Vatican II. That was not the case, however. In 1966, Pope Paul VI, in his Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, allowed the bishops' conference of each country to "Substitute abstinence and fast wholly or in part with other forms of penitence and especially works of charity and the exercises of piety." In England and Wales, as in the United States, the decision was made to allow individual Catholics to decide whether they would continue to abstain from meat on Fridays or substitute some other form of penance.

In practice, however, many Catholics simply abandoned Friday penance altogether; they did not abstain from meat, but they also did not substitute another form of penance. The decision to reinstate Friday abstinence in England and Wales is prompted in part by that (the statement mentions the need "to remind all Catholics in England and Wales of the obligation of Friday Penance"), but the bishops point to another reason as well:

The Bishops wish to re-establish the practice of Friday penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity. They recognise that the best habits are those which are acquired as part of a common resolve and common witness. It is important that all the faithful be united in a common celebration of Friday penance.

In other words, the return to Friday abstinence is designed not only to call individual Catholics to repent but to support one another and to witness to others, both Christian and non-Christian. For Catholics in England and Wales, Friday abstinence will return on September 16, 2011, the one-year anniversary of Pope Benedict's visit to the United Kingdom.

What do you think? Will the bishops' decision make a difference? What penance do you practice on Fridays? Take our poll, and leave your thoughts in the comments!

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May 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm
(1) Brenda says:

I wish the US Bishops would do this. I love my Catholic faith and I love the idea of us all practicing with a “common resolve and common witness”! Plus, I love fish (although my husband jokes that he wishes Jesus and the disciples were a ranchers:)… BTW, Thank you, Scott, for your excellent CATHOLIC blog! Peace and God bless. Brenda

May 20, 2011 at 7:13 pm
(2) Barbara Wells says:

I’m with Brenda! I was always unhappy withe the doing away of this rule. As a matter of fact, I was so unhappy with the way the Church was going in general that at least twenty years ago, I went back to not eating meat on Fridays. I remember learning as a child that the Church was “One” in so many ways – you could go anywhere in the world and the Mass would be the same, wherever you went and no meat on Friday was a rule (with some exceptions where meat was scarce) . . . isn’t it interesting that we seem to be going back in that direction? The NewChurch of the past 40 years hasn’t done too well.

May 24, 2011 at 4:45 pm
(3) Saoirse says:

First part!

Hello Barbara, Scott and everyone…Greetings from England!

I too was unhappy with direction the Catholic Church took. I went to Lourdes many many times and also Italy, as a child and young adult. I loved the feeling that when I went into any church or indeed any service or Mass at Lourdes we were all one family, our language was universal; just like our faith, and church it’s self! I didn’t need to understand every single word to understand and feel the connection…though later I did. I was still a child/young person when everything started to change, the Friday Abstinence, women covering their heads…many things. As I grew up, these things taught me that I belonged to something so special. It taught me reverence and respect for many things not only those associated with Our Lord and with the church. My mother and all her friends all carried a mantilla in their bags…with a spare for a child or some poor soul who didn’t have anything. The moment these came out of her bag and covered my head; I feet an unbelievable state of reverence and mindfulness. It reminded me; along with the hushed tones that I was in a Holy place.

When all the changes came in bit by bit, I fell away. If it was the one true faith how could they make all these changes, what was the point in the abstinence and fasting that I millions of others had previously done? When I was at school… a convent school… we often fasted, donated the money for the missions, and offered up the ”penance for the sins of the world that hurt Jesus so much” If this was part of our faith – how could it suddenly not be?

May 24, 2011 at 4:46 pm
(4) Saoirse says:

Second Part…

I really believe the Catholic Church lost many of its faithful because of this. Were they afraid to upset people, to stand for something? I don’t see the Jewish, Muslim, Hindi faiths bowing to popular opinion…their faith is their faith, end of story.

I have struggled to regain my faith and return to the Catholic Church. I used Lent to prepare for this and went to the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil, I wanted to take the Blessed Host on my tongue…at this very point the priest said this was not necessary but my hand would do fine!

I feel very strongly that I am being ‘guided’ to cover my head, but I can only imagine what this would bring, no-one else covers their head. I actually believe that if the covering of women’s heads was officially reinstated many women would be pleased. I don’t see it as subservient at all. If we as Catholics accept Jesus Christ as our risen Lord, would we not drop to our knees if we were to recognise him amongst us? He is amongst us at Holy Mass surely…isn’t he?

I want a Catholic Church that stands by its teachings and traditions. It is not about making it easier for the ‘faithful’! My Father used to tell me…If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything!

I am sorry to have written so much. I hope at least some have stayed with me this far. Thank you for this site Scott, It has been valuable in my journey home. I am still on a very rough road and I would ask all here to keep me in their prayers…and maybe even light a candle for me and others in the same situation.

God’s choicest blessings to all of you. Saoirse

May 21, 2011 at 5:18 pm
(5) Sharon says:

I gave up meat on Fridays during Lent, and am happy to continue to do this. It is good for all Catholics to have a common practice, and to do something if only once a week to remind us all of how well off we are, and to remember those who are not so fortunate.

May 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm
(6) Vince A. says:

Although I would take absolutely no exception to the restoration of meatless Friday’s, I would much prefer that our Bishops would point to (as holy examples) the Sacrifice that is being made by the Faithful in England and Wales and instruct the Faithful in this country, on the actual teaching and practice of the Universal Church. As a teacher of the faith in the RCIA, I can tell you that good and faithful Catholics I have come in contact with throughout the years, simply do not know the truth about the 1966 allowance. What is needed is better catechesis and not as much a change back to a former way of doing things.

As St Paul says, it is time for us to be weaned off of milk and time to take in solid food. If Holy Mother Church dictates in lieu of catechizes, we are no better off, and maybe worse. May our brothers and sisters in Wales and England be our light and example of faithfulness.

BTW: Meatless Fridays has nothing to do with the Apostles being fishermen.

May 24, 2011 at 2:53 pm
(7) Angela says:

I am very happy to hear that the Friday abstinance has been re instated, as the fact is that the vast majority of Catholics just dropped the Friday penance. Eating meatless food is not a big deal but its a discipline that we undertake in common and a sign of unity. I think many will start now even though the official date is 16th September.

June 10, 2011 at 6:04 am
(8) Ken Byerley says:

As I understood the situation at Vatican ll Archbishop Dennis Hurley of KwaKulu asked that, as many of his flock were paid on Friday, and that if they did not buy fresh meat on the way home, all the money would be used by Saturday and the families would almost never have meat.
It was then suggested that black people could be excluded from the no meat on Friday thing, as I understand Spain was in thanks for the battle of Lepanto.
Archbishop Hurley said that he would have no truck with apartheid in the Church and it was then decided that no Catholic would be forbidden meat on Fridays.
This was, and is a good thing. As far as I know no country on Earth now includes this man-made (not God made) law.
It is clearly no penance for those who enjoy fish or are vegitarians.
If we wish to remain an intregal part of the Universal Church we should abandon this stupidity right now.

September 5, 2011 at 5:18 am
(9) Angela Ireland says:

I think the return to clear guidlines is a good thing. Even though your pole indicatied that most did abstain I think that is not a true picuture from my experience. It is difficult to privide family meals when some are doing one thing and one another and the fish haters complain that it is not compulsory. Many think that Catholics have to eat fish on Friday rather than that they just have to abstain from meat. There has been little advertising of the fact that abstinence is to return in England and Wales. The date is nearly at our door and no mention of it at church.

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