Q: Many years ago the Church decided that Catholics could eat meat on Fridays outside Lent. As I remember, there was a slight catch: We were to give up something else.
I and probably many others soon forgot about the “something else.” Are we in danger of neglecting the sacrificial aspect of following Jesus? We never hear anything about this from the pulpit.
A: On Feb. 17, 1966, Pope Paul VI issued Poenitemini, an apostolic constitution that established Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days of fast and abstinence worldwide and allowed conferences of bishops to establish other days and/or practices. Nine months later, the U.S. bishops issued a statement urging Catholics to observe all Fridays as a penitential day but without the obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays outside Lent; that statement is available at usccb.org. The bishops pointed out that Christians can claim no exception from being sinners and can claim no exemption from the obligation to do penance.
This could mean abstaining from something or it could involve engaging in some work of mercy, such as visiting the sick or working in a soup kitchen, at a homeless shelter or with a similar group. Sections 1434 through 1439 in the Catechism of the Catholic Church address the many forms of penance in the Christian life.
Pope Benedict XVI’s 2012 Lenten message was based on Hebrews 10:24, “Let us be concerned for each other, to stir a response in love and good works.” Doing penance is part of our living truthfully before God and in relation to other people.