Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Moment With Brother: Friday Penance

From time to time, readers of our humble publication, The Little Troubadour, write in for advice of the friars. Their questions or troubles often concern things that affect us all. Over the past year I have dedicated some space in our magazine to answer these questions. I thought it might be helpful to share them here as well.

Barbara from Sydney wrote and asked:

“Brother, are we still supposed to give up meat on Fridays? I thought this was now optional except for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”

Dear Barbara,

The canon law of the Church states in Can 1251: “abstinence from meat, or some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays unless a solemnity should fall ...”. This means that the Church has given the responsibility to the bishops of each country determine whether abstinence from meat is obligatory or optional. In a country like ours, where the bishops have indeed made Friday abstinence optional, Catholics who do not abstain from meat are still obliged to perform some form of penance. Except when Friday is celebrated as a solemnity (such as Christmas, All Saints, the Assumption etc.), each Friday is a day of penance. The Church through the Catechism teaches that “the seasons and the days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (lent and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice” (CCC, 1438).

Some countries still prescribe abstinence from meat products on Fridays, while in Australia (as we have mentioned) it has become optional (other than Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and ember days – special days of prayer and penance on the first Fridays of March and September). Many Catholics in Australia still observe the praiseworthy practice of meatless Fridays including religious orders such as our own. The practice points to the fact that on Fridays we are called to remember the sufferings (the Passion) of our Lord for our salvation and to offer up a sacrifice out of love for Christ. It is an act to show that we are sincere in our sorrow for sins, our own and those of the world. It is an act of reparation, such as what we offer to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus on First Fridays. Our Lord suffered and died for each one of us. Our acts of penance show our love and our gratitude to Jesus, as well as our sorrow for sin and humanity’s indifference towards our Lord’s suffering for our salvation. Sadly, it seems, many Catholics have forgotten this.

The bishops of Australia therefore remind us: “Friday is a traditional day of penance and should be marked by:(1) Prayer – participating in the Eucharist, family prayer, visiting a Church, reading the Scriptures, making the Way of the Cross (Stations), praying the Rosary; (2) Self denial – abstaining from meat, sweets or dessert, giving up entertainment to spend time with the family, limiting food and drink in support of the poor; (3) Helping others – giving special attention to someone who is poor, sick elderly lonely or overburdened.” Personally, I think it would be good to try something from each category. Let’s remember that these beautiful practices of our faith are given to help us to draw closer to Christ our Lord, so that we can grow in love of Him and our neighbor, and come to salvation.

Finally, I offer some beautiful words from St. Clement of Rome: “Let us fix our eyes on Christ’s blood and understand how precious it is to His Father, for, poured out for our salvation, it has brought to the whole world the grace of repentance.”

God love you,
Br. Louis Mary

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