If you’re like most Catholics, you’re probably thinking, “Thank goodness Lent is over! Now I can eat a hamburger on Friday!” Well, you’re only partly correct.
Before Vatican II, Catholics had to abstain from meat on every Friday of the year. This was a form of penance to honor Good Friday, the day Our Lord died for our sins. In 1966, however, the US Bishops Conference requested and obtained permission for American Catholics to substitute another form of penance on Fridays outside of Lent. The requirement for Friday penance didn’t disappear, but was simply modified so that US Catholics could find a more personal way to honor Jesus’ ultimate sacrifice. Unfortunately, the change was viewed by most as a relief from the “burden” of having to think about what they ate on Friday.
With Lent and Good Friday still fresh in our thoughts, why not make a commitment to honor EVERY Friday with some sort of penance or good deed? If you want to eat that hamburger, go ahead. Just find another way to make a small sacrifice on this day that Jesus suffered and died for you. Penance is good for the soul. It is pleasing to God, helps us practice virtue, win grace, and leads us to be more Christ-like in our everyday lives.
Here are a few ideas:
- Abstain from meat, continuing the habit you formed during Lent
- Attend daily Mass on Friday
- Pray the Stations of the Cross, either in church or privately
- Pray the Rosary for the intention of someone who is suffering
- Pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet, especially at 3:00 p.m.
- Spend some time praying in front of the Blessed Sacrament
- Fast and pray
- Donate food or clothing to the poor
- Visit a nursing home, prison or hospital
- Spend some time with a neighbor who seems lonely
If you have children, include them in this practice. Even though Canon Law states that this practice is not required for children under the age of 14, parents are encouraged to educate their children in the importance of penance and self-sacrifice. Even the youngest child can be shown a crucifix with the simple explanation that Jesus suffered so much for us, so we are making a small sacrifice to make Him happy. Perhaps you can pray a Friday evening family Rosary, read from a children’s Bible, donate money to charity, or serve only meatless dishes on Fridays.
Note: The rules of penance and abstinence do not apply if Friday is a Solemnity, such as Christmas, the Feast of the Assumption, your local parish feast day, etc.