Starting today, Friday, September 16, 2011 (the one-year anniversary of Pope Benedict’s 2010 visit to the United Kingdom), the Catholic faithful of England and Wales are once again bound to observe the traditional Friday abstinence from meat.
Since the late 1960’s, in the wake of Pope Paul VI’s Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini, the bishops of England and Wales have allowed the Catholics of their dioceses to determine their own form of penance to be practiced on Fridays. (The bishops of the United States have done the same.) While some Catholics continued to abstain from meat, most did not; and over time, as Catholics who had never experienced the Friday abstinence came of age, much misunderstanding of the practice, and of what Paul VI actually decreed, arose.
Many, perhaps even most, Catholics today think that the obligation to practice penance on Friday was abolished at Vatican II. Rather than substitute some other form of penance in place of abstinence, those Catholics simply don’t practice any form of penance on Fridays, even though they are required to do so.
That is the backdrop of the decision by the bishops of England and Wales to reinstate Friday abstinence. By making one form of penance mandatory, they hope to install penitential practices in a generation or two of Catholics who aren’t used to the idea. Moreover, Friday abstinence has a public aspect to it. As the bishops noted in announcing their decision in May 2011, when the faithful abstain from meat it serves as a “clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity.”
Such a mark of Catholic identity will help encourage all Catholics in England and Wales to abstain, but it will also serve as a witness to their fellow non-Catholic Christians, as well as to non-Catholics.
(Article taken from About.com Catholicism)
What is your opinion? Do you abstain from meat every Friday, or practise other forms of penance? Feel free to share with us your thoughts.