A new Catholic with a question about Friday penance/ abstinence?

I am a new Catholic (confirmed this Easter vigil) and I only just read today something about Friday penance/abstinence. Doctrine was discussed in RCIA, but not disciplines. I didn’t know anything about Friday penance/abstinence. Is it true that we are supposed to abstain from eating meat every Friday throughout the year, or substitute some other form of penance (except for the Fridays during Lent, when abstinence is required)?
How can I find out about this and other spiritual disciplines that are required of Catholics? Also, I understand that some disciplines are encouraged but not required…so how do I discern between the two and where am I supposed to learn about all this? RCIA is over now, and will not start up again until the new class in the Fall, and besides, disciplines were not the focal point, doctrine was.
Any help or direction would be appreciated. I feel like maybe there are still so many things about being a Catholic that I don’t understand. I know it would be crazy to expect myself to perfectly follow all the rules/disciplines right off the bat, but I still need to know where to go to learn all this. Thanks!:slight_smile:

Welcome home!

and I only just read today something about Friday penance/abstinence. Doctrine was discussed in RCIA, but not disciplines. I didn’t know anything about Friday penance/abstinence. Is it true that we are supposed to abstain from eating meat every Friday throughout the year, or substitute some other form of penance (except for the Fridays during Lent, when abstinence is required)?

Yes, this is true.

This sort of thing is going to happen a lot during your Neophyte year - in fact, that’s exactly why you get to have a Neophyte year - it was simply not possible, in the space of a year or so, for your RCIA leaders to tell you absolutely everything that you need to know, to be a good Catholic.

How can I find out about this and other spiritual disciplines that are required of Catholics?

Start with the Precepts of the Church (which you will find in the Catechism), and ask your sponsor to clarify anything that you find confusing, or anything where you need more information.

I didn’t hear about a Neophyte year. How crazy is that? We had seven or eight other people confirmed at the same time, and even with such a healthy-sized RCIA class, I never heard anything about Precepts of the Church or Neophyte year. I have not finished reading the Catechism yet, though, although we covered enough ground in RCIA that I was confident that the Catholic Church is where God wants me. We have no more classes, so I feel kind of thrown into the arena with no preparation on actually living a Catholic life. :eek: But it is probably just my nervousness talking there! I will get back into reading the Catechism right away.

Hello Mommamaree,

That is a difficult question to find a common answer, for many opinions circulate that say you must substitute a penance of your choice if you decide to eat meat on Friday. That is not what the Bishops envisioned when the lifted the discipline for Friday abstinence.

Here is the article that helped me resolve the issue, and I think you’ll find it very helpful, especially these paragraphs:

Again, the language of exhortation (“we urge”) is used rather than the language of mandate (“all must”). Thus no obligation is created.

The norms—the part of the document that would create a legal obligation if there were one—thus do not do so. Moreover, the document nowhere states an alternative obligation.

As a result, there appears to be no legal obligation in the United States to practice penance on Friday, but Friday remains a day on which the bishops have urged all to do penance and, in particular, recommended the continued practice of abstinence.

There is also a dog that didn’t bark in this text.

The bishops were so concerned to avoid the impression that they were eliminating the practice of penance that, if they were creating an alternative obligation, then they could not have failed to underscore this point.

As my priest advised me in confession, if we choose to do a penance out of love for Christ to honor Fridays, it is “desirable” but not obligatory under pain of sin, as some have asserted.

Canon 1251 – Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

This canon is taken from Poenitemini, part III, 112. Poenitemini exempted holy days of obligation from Friday abstinence; this canon extends that exemption to all solemnities whether they are of obligation or not. The Code also gives the conference of bishops the power to substitute another penance to be observed on Fridays in place of abstinence from meat.

It is not the tradition of this country to observe the abstinence of meat on Fridays. That is what my priest has told me. My family and I do abstain from meat on Fridays throughout the year except on Solemnities - like this past year when Christmas and the Solemnity of Mary fell on Friday and we ate meat. We also eat meat on the Friday of the Octave of Easter. When it is a Friday like that and we get to eat meat, I remind myself why this day is different from all other Fridays. I like that.

As for RCIA, there is so much information on the Church that it is hard to know where to start. When I teach, I like focusing on the practical aspect of our Faith as much as the dogma. I think people get overwhelmed. But the initiation into the Church is not the end point; there is always more to learn no matter what stage of the game you are in. Be patient with yourself and let the Holy Spirit guide you.

Welcome home, mommamaree!

My personal practice is to abstain from meat on Fridays all year, taking to heart the encouragement of the bishops to do so. For me, it’s easier than trying to decide what penitential act I want to do THIS Friday.

Your other very important question is where to find all the little things about living the Catholic life. For this, I heartily recommend the book, Catholicism for Dummies. This book immerses you in Catholic culture and customs. Please distinguish it, however, from the Complete Idiot’s Guide to Catholicism, which is not a good guide at all.


Fridays of Lent …yes …we are to abstain from meat…and Ash weds (and fast on Ash weds and Good Friday)

As has been pointed out, the language of the Indult in the U.S. in the 1960s was rather. . .ambiguous.

I’m not going to tell you that you ‘must’ or ‘must not’ do anything simply because right now it IS ambiguous and I am not a bishop. I do though believe that in the next 5-10 years we are going to see something ‘definitive’ return as it should never have become ambiguous in the first place. . .much as the EF (the Extraordinary Form of the Mass) was erroneously thought by many to have been ‘abrogated’ when it most certainly was not. It took nearly 40 years to clear that up. . .

But what I will tell you is this. The universal norm for the Church–that is, what is ‘normal’ for the Church and what was given the ‘indult’ to ‘change’ in the U.S.–is for all Catholics to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year.

Now, I try to look at things logically and reasonably.

I figure to myself, ok, I can still remember when abstinence on all Fridays existed in the U.S.

Now, I look at the U.S. Are we noticeably ‘holier’ than other people? I mean, so holy that we don’t ‘need’ penance?

Am I a vegetarian? No. IF I were a vegetarian it would make sense for me to choose a ‘different’ penance. WHY would it make sense if I thought that penance was something that I didn’t have to do? Why was there an indult in the first place? Because people were saying that it was not a ‘penance’ for them to abstain; either they were vegetarians and didn’t eat meat any day, or they liked fish more than meat, or they wanted to do MORE penance, not LESS. Here we abstain on Lenten Fridays and it is supposed to be a good thing.

So why on earth would we choose only a FRACTION of the Fridays of the years to do a good thing and IGNORE the other Fridays? Isn’t that silly? Isn’t that a total misunderstanding of the nature of penance?

Now, if I’m a meat-eating Catholic, and if abstinence from meat on a LENTEN Friday is a good thing. . .you tell me. Would it be a good thing to abstain on non-Lenten Fridays, or to do a penance? It would, wouldn’t it?

If I’m a meat-eating Catholic, and I abstain in Lent, because it is a good thing. . .why on earth would I think that it is ‘just as good’ not to do a blessed **THING **on non-Lenten Fridays?

It’s like saying to a person: Exercise is good. So you can exercise on Lenten Fridays. But on other Fridays, you needn’t bother.

I think you’d get a lot of fat, lazy people with that strategy. And on the Lenten Fridays when they did exercise, I would think they’d run more risk of hurting themselves, and on the non-Lenten Fridays I would think they’d run more risk of turning into slugs and couch potatoes, with that strategy.

But if exercise is good, and you know that you do it on Lenten Fridays, and you COULD do it on non-Lenten Fridays, doesn’t it make sense to do it on all the Fridays? Don’t you think if you did it year round that you’d be in better ‘shape’ all year round instead of trying to cram all the exercise into a few weeks and then lazing around the rest of the year?

I did not see any ambiguity in the bishops’ statement, and that is the very reason Jimmy Akin clarified it for people who mistakenly read ambiguity into it. The obligation to abstain and/or perform an alternative penance is non-binding under pain of sin. What is “desirable” is to undertake either practice voluntarily.

We need to remember that these are “disciplines” the Church may impose or remove from the faithful. No one would assert that the removal of the fast from midnight before receiving Holy Communion is an “ambiguous” change in discipline. Nor would anyone imply that it is better to observe the former practice rather than be thankful for the one-hour fast that the Church observes today. Many would be unable to keep that lengthly time of fasting, and communions would be just as scarce as they were in the former days when the discipline was in place.

I realize there are some persons who are able and willing to keep a longer fast out of personal devotion and sacrifice. However, it would be a great disservice for them to inform all other Catholics that they “must” do an alternative penance if they choose to observe the one-hour fast.

Similarly, I believe it is an error and great disservice to instruct Catholics with regard to Friday abstinence that they “must” do an alternative penance, as I have seen EWTN promote.

Okay, I think I understand it better now. Thanks to everyone who tried to clarify this for me. I just found out today that while RCIA is now over, Adult Ed will restart in the fall and it is meant for RCIA graduates and other adults to grow in the faith and learn more about what it means to be a Catholic. Unfortunately, I am due with baby #3 around the same time as their first series of classes in the fall, but they do a new series every so often, so I will be able to join in at some point. Yay!
With regards to Friday abstinence, I know I am going to have trouble making a new habit to not eat meat on Fridays, but the reasons for it make so much sense. At least I know I will not be under the pain of sin if I forget. I just never had to consider such a thing before when planning grocery trips or meals. But I will do my best and pray that the Holy Spirit will help me be aware of the practice while I am meal planning! :slight_smile:
It’s no wonder I heard so much growing up (not so much anymore) about Fish Fridays. I never knew what it was all about until I starting learning about Catholicism. But I am betting that a decadent Crab Alfredo dip with crostini at a swanky restaurant would not be considered as abstinence, right? :wink: Or maybe I getting abstinence mixed up with fasting or austerity of diet? :shrug:
[Sigh] I have so much to learn…:stuck_out_tongue:

Now is a good time to form habits, of prayer, fasting and penance. Set aside time and place for prayer. Read scripture and/or join a Bible study group. Pray a rosary every day. Observe Friday as a day of abstinence.

You don’t have to eat fish on Friday. Abstain from red meat is what we do. :slight_smile: There are many good resources for vegetarian recipes.