Rorate Caeli

Friday abstinence from meat to return in U.S.?

Timothy Cardinal Dolan, as president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, spoke yesterday to his brother bishops in America.  Much of the talk was on how wonderful the Second Vatican Council was, followed by how Catholics need to repent and reverse the decline of faith since the Second Vatican Council with a "new evangelization."

However, one line in his speech is quite noteworthy:

"The work of our Conference during the coming year includes reflections on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, including the possible re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year, not just during Lent."

According to the new Canon Law, all the USCCB has to do (like England and Wales's bishops did last year) is officially determine all Fridays are days of abstinence from meat, and it is binding on American Catholics (again).  Currently there is culinary ambiguity.  Quoting from #1251 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

"Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday..."

The speech by Cardinal Dolan is not the first time the USCCB president has mentioned Friday abstinence (in blog posts, he has also cited Ember Days, Lenten fasting and feast day vigils).  Taking action on these words would certainly be a big deal in the U.S., a move that would likely define Cardinal Dolan as a shepherd serious about restoring discipline within the Catholic Church in America.


Scott Quinn said...

It really is not too bad of a speech. He kept the nauseating references to how great VII was to a minimum, and at least he appears sincere that the Church needs to restore discipline. It would be nice to hear a bishop drop the effeminate sounding "reconciliation" with the clearer and more accurate term "confession."

Ron Casey said...

The City of Los Angeles is proposing a"meatless Monday." Why couldn't the archdiocese recommend a change to the city for a "meatless Friday?"

JTLiuzza said...

I recall when His Eminence mentioned this right in the wake of Friday abstinence being reinstated in the UK.

He seemed lukewarm on the issue and implied that it would be difficult to accomplish, likening it to "putting the toothpaste back in the tube" as I recall.

I'm glad to see him warming up to the idea.

Like most, if not all of you here, I already abstain on Friday. But I'm very happy at the notion of it being returned to general practice among the faithful.

Donnacha said...

I enjoy reminding fellow Catholics, who tell me that "Vatican II said we can eat meat on Fridays outside of Lent" that the 1983 Code of Canon Law states: [Can. 1251] Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday.

What a sad thing that the U.S. Bishops, as early as 1966, watered down this notion by speaking of "other types of penance" that could be done instead!

Give the sheep direction, shepherds, not "options"!

Francis said...

Dolan is a neocon. While he may be more "conservative" on some articles of faith than some bishops in the USCCB the fact is he's still a modernist. I personally don't eat meat on Fridays, yet if Cardinal Dolan and the USCCB "reinstate" meatless Fridays they should also explain in a clear and concise manner WHY Catholics should not eat meat on Friday.

Tom said...

In regard to Friday abstinence and the relaxation/destruction of additional "Catholic markers," Timothy Cardinal Dolan wrote the following last year:

Then-Archbishop Dolan noted that the Church had relaxed/discarded such "external markers" as Friday abstinence during the past few decades.

"A few months back, you might have heard, the bishops of England reintroduced the discipline of abstinence from meat on Fridays.

"Every Catholic mid-fifties and older can recall how abstinence from meat on all Fridays was a constant of our lives.

"In 1967, Pope Paul VI relaxed this discipline, decreeing it no longer obligatory, but voluntary, while highly encouraged, on Fridays (except during Lent, when it remained binding).

"This modification–the pros and cons still being debated–almost became the symbol of “change” in the post-Vatican II Church.

"Whether one agrees with that decision or not, all must admit that penance and mortification–essentials of Christian discipleship, according to Jesus Himself–have sadly diminished as a trait of Catholic life.

"Such was hardly the intent of Pope Paul VI, as is clear from his 1967 teaching, but, it is a somber fact.

"That’s one of the reasons the bishops of Great Britain have reintroduced the discipline, calling their brothers and sisters, faithful to the Gospel, back to external acts of penance, so necessary to fight the reign of sin so evident in our personal lives, in the world, and even within the Church.

He then asked "...what are the external markers that make us stand out? Lord knows, there used to be tons of them...but, almost all of these external markers are now gone. Some applaud this; some mourn it. I guess some were helpful, while others were not.

"Besides the black smudge on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, is there any way we Catholics “stand out” as distinctive?

"Debate it you may. But, the scholars tell us that, without such identifiable characteristics, any religion risks becoming listless, bland, and unattractive."

After having established the importance of external markers to religion, he then stated the following:

"I’m not saying we should re-introduce any or all of these markers. The toothpaste is probably out of the tube. I’m just suggesting that this is a conversation well-worth having."


A realist said...

Despite being someone who makes every attempt to observe the traditional practice myself, I am of two minds on this.

On the one hand, it is most unfortunate that this practice was abandoned, and I hope that it will someday be restored. On the other, in the present circumstances, I worry that very few Catholics will even be aware that the law has been restored, and fewer still will accept it.

The pessimist in me wonders, with the typical Catholic already disregarding so many of the rules, whether it really changes matters much to add one more rule? It seems like mending the barn door after the horse has gone.

The optimist in me, however, says that we can't worry about that. If the Church must become smaller in the short term, to retain its integrity, then so be it. If the restoration of discipline means we shed some of the dead weight, then it will improve the health of the Church, not impair it.

Matthew M said...

I grew up a non-religious protestant but I loved that our public school until 1963 served fish on Fridays in the cafeteria. We all all knew it was for Catholics but almost everyone enjoyed the fish sticks. I still have fish on Fridays most of the time!

Truth Searcher said...

FWIW, the Byzantine Churches (Catholic and Orthodox) NEVER stopped the tradition of abstaining from meat and other foods, not only on most Fridays of the year, but on Wednesdays as well.

And the formula of absolution contains the words "reconcile and unite him/her to Your holy Church." Everyone has commented on how most converts to Orthodoxy are men, so there's nothing "feminine" about the word "reconciliation", unless one is pre-disposed to think it is.

GQ Rep said...

They should never have discarded this.

Then again, the Catholic Church should never have discarded:

The Tridentine Latin Mass
The Sedia Gestatoria for the Pope in processions
The Cappa Magna for Cardinals and Bishops
Traditional habits for nuns
Latin in all seminaries,monasteries and religious houses
Purple veils over statues during Lent
First Friday special liturgical observances
Eucharistic Adoration (40 Hrs Devotions....largely gone in USA)
May Processions
The Confessional (get rid of "Reconciliation Rooms")
etc, etc. etc.

I think what one generation saw fit to discard/destroy (people now in their late 60's, 70's 80's and even 90's), the younger generation of Catholics (20's, 30's, 40's and perhaps into 50's) are seeking in large numbers to restore.

I read once that when the Vatican II generation is all gone, what they put in place in the Church will be increasingly questioned and then repudiated.

It's already happening.

Manfred said...

This discussion reminds me of the old canard that we would go to Hell if we ate meat on Friday. In order to make Catholicism viable, we must return to the ONLY REASON It exists: to save souls! It has been suggested from the very top of the Church (JP II, and others) that this has already been accomplished for EVERYONE by Christ's death on the cross. Are we doing this just so other people in the restaurant will know we are Catholic? My family and I are meatless on Friday as a very mild PENANCE.

Ora et Labora said...

I sinceraly pray to Our Lord that little by little the devotions and diciplines that belong to our Holy Catholic Church be return to us.

Let's pray and why not, email, and even phone the Bishops Conference for the re-institution of abstinence on all Fridays of the year.

In the end all we can do is pray, hope, and voice our opinions on the this issue;but most importantly let's us keep ourselves the traditions and diciplines that help our souls and the souls of others.

Mary Help of Christians pray for us!!!

Kathleen said...

Cardinal Dolan could sorely benefit from being kept, by name, in the regular intentions of some of the good souls here.

There is more merit in praying for priests that make it hard to love them, then in praying for those that are easy to love.

alan said...

Interesting quote from canon law. I was under the impression that episcopal conferences were a convenience, had no enforceable power, and that, despite their appearance of collegiality, the bishop was the only power within his own diocese.

GMMF said...


That is true generally, although the Holy See can give them the authority to make certain decisions. This is one case.

For more info, see this motu propio of Pope John Paul II, especially paragraphs 19 to 24:

Patrick said...

I am sure that if abstinence is reinstated that there will be penitents joining the already long lines for confession in our parishes when they transgress. Not.

Maynardus said...

This ancient and hallowed discipline should indeed be restored in the U.S., but the bishops will need to do some serious catechesis so that it is properly understood by the faithful. It is fine to talk of it in terms of penance - I don't in any way deprecate the penitential aspect (nor its necessity in this day and age)- but the concept of a "marker", i.e. an external sign to the world of Catholic identity, needs to be emphasized as well.

Consider *why* the Church observed this practice for so many centuries: we abstain(ed) from consuming flesh on Fridays because Friday is the day Our Savior's human body - his flesh and bones - was put to death on the Cross. I find that younger Catholics - and protestants - tend to grasp the signficance of this quite easily when it is fully explained to them in this sense. Rather than simply a "traditional" means of penance, it is clearly seen to unite us more integrally with Christ's sacrifice and, indeed, His Mystical Body...

AdventResolutions said...

"The WORK of our Conference during the coming YEAR INCLUDES REFLECTIONS on re-embracing Friday as a particular day of penance, INCLUDING THE POSSIBLE REINSTITUTION..."
(1) My mother who only gradually stopped abstaining on Friday - about 20 years ago she stopped remarking, "the church says its okay now" every time we were going to fail to abstain - began abstaining again w/out any remark in 2008after she and my brother were told by Catholic hospice that if her sister-in-law (my father was deceased) wanted to eat she wasn't supposed to be on hospice, but the Catholic nursing home where my aunt had been living for 16 years (150 miles away from us) said my aunt had to be on hospice "to get the care she needed". Since we have done so, I must say that it is not so much an act of penance to me, as a reminder of the passion and that Sunday mass is coming up for me in 2 days. I suppose for a Cardinal/ priest this would not be the case. To me Friday abstention would also be a check to the Friday & Saturday weekend party excess mentality for so many young people.

(2) Now I will paraphrase Cardinal Dolan's sentence in light of the "new evangelization" via my neice who is very nice and sweet and has her two children going to swimming lessons at 10:30 am on Sunday & then ballet for the girl in the afternoon. But she doesn't want to offend anyone and every time going to mass is mentioned even though her last child isn't baptized she will say, "we really have to find a parish; maybe we should think about going back to _____" or to put it as Cardinal Dolan (to make it really sound like she's serious & doin' somethin' besides pandering to baby murderers for money): "The WORK of our family over the coming YEAR will include REFLECTIONS on re-embracing Sunday as a particular day of worship, including the POSSIBLE REINSTITUTION of attending Mass..."

newguy40 said...

Like most here, I already follow the traditional fasing and abstinence rules.

But, as others note, taken as a single action with no explanation for why this is not only important but necessary, will fall on deaf ears. Not only fall on deaf ears but create a storm of complaints about "trying to turn back the clock to the 15th century" or some similar tripe.

What I'd like to see is a dedicated clear plan that would be rolled out to local parishes. With strong personal involvement and presence by the local bishops.
When was the last time you saw your bishop take part in a procession?

Fatima said...

There is absolutely no way for Cardinal Dolan to appear to be anything but phoney after inviting Obama to be a guest of honor at the Al Smith dinner right after the Bishops denounced the HHR mandate.

Long-Skirts said...

"Friday abstinence from meat to return in U.S.?"

It's amazing what good Priests' examples will do. After 7 children and finally getting back to the True Faith and Mass in the SSPX I was ecstatic to give up meat on Friday once again. Our souls so often follow our bodies.


How I remember...

Apple-pie cobblers
Candy-corn gobblers

Chewing waxed lips
Wax bottle sips

Smouldering leaf piles
Autumn smoked miles

Friday night pancakes
Thick syrup Mom makes

Skinned knees hard
In school yard

Nine at night give thanks and pray- For tomorrow's a November

Peterman said...

If no meat on Fridays "returns" it will only serve to further the legion of poorly or no catechetized Vatican 2 Catholics. These ones know nothing of their faith nor do they appear to care at all based on their recent voting record.

GMMF said...

Does anyone know, even anecdotally, how the Church in the UK has been doing with a retrun to this discipline?

Also, I think Catholics will embrace this. Even the most Catholic-in-name-only Catholics I know, abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent. They'll break every Commandment without second thought, but for some reason they want to follow this precept.

I think if people think about being Catholic every week rather than a few Fridays a year, only good can happen.

Donnacha said...

Manfred said...
This discussion reminds me of the old canard that we would go to Hell if we ate meat on Friday. In order to make Catholicism viable, we must return to the ONLY REASON It exists: to save souls! It has been suggested from the very top of the Church (JP II, and others) that this has already been accomplished for EVERYONE by Christ's death on the cross.

Just two points here: (1) The Pre-conciliar "it's a sin to eat meat on Friday" was properly understood that one was breaking a disciplinary law of the Church in doing so; and (2) Christ's death on the Cross "redeemed" - not "saved" - all of mankind. There's the big difference between Redemption and Salvation; the true doctrine and the error of Protestantism.

saveamericasunday said...

The bishops should bring back fast and abstinence on December 7, the eve of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, Our Lady's patroness.

Matt said...

We'll see where this goes. I doubt all the bishops are of a collective mindset, not to mention the Faithful just may howl away at the idea of one more obligation observe. Great start though.

It seems slowly but surely the Old ways are--and have been--the better ways.

Tom said...

"...not to mention the Faithful just may howl away at the idea of one more obligation observe."

I doubt that the Faithful would howl at the above.

Unfaithful "Catholics" will do what unfaithful "Catholics" have done since the founding of Holy Mother Church: that which they please.


AS said...

I am learning more about the faith and what is pleasing to God from Long Skirts than in all of RCIA.

Peterman said...

As I think more about this initiative by the US Bishops I think it's pretty much re arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Theo said...

As a post Vatican 2 Catholic born in 1972, can anyone tell me what motivated Church fathers to undertake this disaster in 1962?

The more I research the catastrophic declines in vocations, mass attendance, donations, etc. the more I'm convinced V2 will be judged by history as gigantic mistake.

Ren said...

This would definitely make us think more about our faith. I know that when I received my first Holy Communion in 1963, we were taught that eating meat on Fridays was definitely a mortal sin.

MIKE R. said...

There is no reason to blame Vatican II for anything.
The problem is with the USCCB and the judgement of the majority of Bishops who vote.
Violations or Ignoring the Code of
Canon Law and the "CATECHISM of the CATHOLIC CHURCH, Second Edition" are not uncommon.

Code of " Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday."

" Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

CCC: " 2043 The fourth precept ("You shall observe the days of fasting and abstinence established by the Church") ensures the times of ascesis and penance which prepare us for the liturgical feasts and help us acquire mastery over our instincts and freedom of heart."

For a good site on the CCC on the net go to:
or search: "What Catholics REALLY Believe SOURCE".

Gregorian Mass said...

Certainly it will not work for everyone and everyone will not obey, however it will create an initial stir in the media. This will alert Catholics who don't even know about it or know about Friday abstinence in general to "look up"..If several thousand, or even million decide to follow it and I am sure quite a few will it is far better than what we have now. Reinstatement will bring the whole thing back to the surface of people's minds and thoughts. At least before the removal of the obligation people were aware of it and talked about it on a Friday. Some would go together for lunch with coworkers simply because they were going to a fish place on Friday. Point being is that the abstinence was on people's minds. It should be reinstated and in 5 years we will all see people getting this back into their daily lives and week. It is a good thing.

Michael Elohim said...

U.S. Catholics have re-elected a president who wants to force tax-payers, employers, insurers, nd church-run facilities to pay for abortions, sterilization, and birth control. America has thousands of priests, deacons, and nuns campaigning for gay marriage. The nation's recession spirals on, and North Africa and the Mid-East has fallen into the hands of anti-semetic extremists thanks to recent U.S. policies. So this is the best the bishops can do? I might as well forbid my child to eat cookies in response to him burning down houses...

DJ Hesselius said...

I don't think abstinence from meat (up to and including any animal product like milk, cheese, eggs, or even honey) would have much impact. One need only look at all the tasty (and expensive!) fish in the stores. And yes, there are some very nice cheeseless pizzas and veggie burgers out there. If the bishops really wanted to make on impact, No Facebook or 4G device Fridays would probably get people's attention a bit better.

JTLiuzza said...

I must admit that I am surprised to see some of the commentary dismissing this move. It is a small step for sure but certainly one in the right direction in a time when so many leaps have been taken in the wrong direction. Let us not discount even the smallest of gains.

In an age where the secular powers who are on the march against the Church wish to see the exercise of our Faith be diminished to the point of it being a quiet and private matter, we should applaud any measure that encourages or even better requires us to engage in practices that announce to the world that we are faithful Catholics.

LeonG said...

Meatless Fridays are the least of the modern church's problems. Perhaps it should also try The Roman Catholic Faith.

Hidden One said...

And if His Eminence celebrates a Solemn Pontifical High Mass on the Feast of St. Pius X in St. Patrick's Cathedral, will I find comments on Rorate complaining that he didn't do it earlier?

(Meanwhile, if His Eminence had said nothing about Friday abstinence, how many complaints would I have read about that?)

In the end, Friday abstinence will return in the US of A. Cardinal Dolan's remarks have ensured that it will not be such a surprise to the laity, have begun to give many Catholics time to warm to the idea, and have probably already triggered some good catechetical efforts on the subject of Friday abstinence. Some things are best done slowly.

Anonymous said...

I believe that, unfortunately, too many Catholics will take the return of Friday abstinence from meat as an excuse to pig out on lavish fish meals, as many do during Lent now. The word "abstinence" should be stressed, and people should understand it's not a food celebration.