Regardless of the available options, there are at least seven reasons to keep the traditional sixth-day penance:
- It is corporate. Having everyone do his own form of penance lacks the marvelous unity of almost the entire Catholic world performing the same act on the same day. This is not only spiritually constructive, it is socially edifying, building up solidarity and deepening our awareness of joint membership in the mystical Body of Christ.
- It is ancient. A single practice unites all the living, but when it is ancient it also unites them to their forebears. If tradition is, as Chesterton put it, the democracy of the dead, then Friday abstinence is the veritable apple pie of Catholic life. In the words of the American bishops in 1966: We show "out of love for Christ Crucified... our solidarity with the generations of believers to whom this practice frequently became, especially in times of persecution and of great poverty, no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church."
- It is testimonial. Friday abstinence bears powerful witness to the distinctiveness of the Church. My Protestant friend whom I mentioned earlier knew little about Catholics when he was young, but he knew they stood for something when he watched his papist peers exercise self-discipline even away from the watchful eyes of their parents.
- Abstinence is efficacious. Ancient authors taught that abstinence from food and drink was useful in dampening "the ardor of lust." Bodily passions are not bad per se, but left untrained they can become the occasion of sin. Trimming the body’s food intake, as modern studies have confirmed, can lower lustful proclivities.
- Abstinence is appropriate. The Church still teaches that every human being is required to do penance by virtue of divine law (Can. 1249), and Friday abstinence is an especially appropriate way to do this. It was on a Friday in Eden that Adam and Eve transgressed the first law of abstinence. And, of course, it was on a Friday that our Lord was crucified in order to undo the effects of that transgression. It is therefore appropriate to make abstinence our Friday penance, in sober memory of the Fall and "in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ."
- Abstinence from meat is particularly appropriate. Catholicism ingeniously teaches both through presence and through absence. Usually, the Church employs physical signs to convey invisible realities; but sometimes, she temporarily withdraws something as a way of arresting our attention and heightening our awareness of what is missing.
Hence, the suppression of the Alleluia during Septuagesima and Lent effectively demonstrates that we are in exile from our true Home, where the angels sing Alleluia without ceasing. Veiling sacred images in church during Passiontide — when we would most expect to gaze upon a crucifix — paradoxically heightens our awe of Christ’s Passion. And prohibiting the sacrifice of the altar on Good Friday draws us in an inverted way to the sacrifice of the cross made that day.
Similarly, when we "make meager," we withdraw from our table the flesh of an animal whose blood was shed for us on the day in which the Blood of the God-man was shed for us. The absence of the former paradoxically reminds us of the latter; not having a bloody victual backhandedly alerts us to the Bloody Victim.
- It is Christ-like. Jesus Christ consumed nothing on Good Friday except the gall He tasted shortly before His death. With fasting or abstinence on the day of the Crucifixion, Catholics in some small way "suffer with Christ that they may one day be glorified with Him. This is the heart of the tradition of abstinence from meat on Friday."
Abstaining from Meat on Fridays
Was reading Musings this morning and came across a really well written post on why we abstain from meat on Fridays. The article is long, but well worth reading. I will re-post some of the article here: