Rethinking Meatless Fridays

Over at First Things, today, I note that the bishops of England and Wales are re-introducing the notion of the Friday Fast — which actually never went away, but that is not how Catholics, or the world, came to understand things “in the Spirit of Vatican II.” Specifically, the bishops are looking to re-establish meatless Fridays.

Wrapped as I am in nostalgia, I rejoiced to read this. My mother was such a dreadful cook that our Fridays, with or without meat, were as penitential as any other day of the week, but as a child I had always liked the cultural commonality that set Fridays aside and made them feel oddly, wonderfully safe and homey. In our working-class neighborhood the Sunday dinners might vary widely from roast beef to braciola, but on Fridays we were all taking cozily meatless meals. If my mother was heating up cans of tuna and cream of mushroom soup, my neighbors were having home-made pizza or scrambled eggs.

There was something comforting about these less-than-formal suppers where the modesty of the meal meant that food became incidental to the companionship and conversation which was brought to the fore. If company was coming, all the better—the sense of unity was broadened as our guest dug into the same simple fare as the rest of us.

Within a culture as poorly catechized as our own, though, most Catholics are not even aware that they have always been expected to sacrifice something of a Friday. For these people nostalgia alone may not be enough to re-establish obedience to the Friday Fast. I was a grown woman before a priest told me that the lifting of the Friday ban on meat was not—as I had come to think of it—the equivalent of a doctrinal tooth extraction that replaced something with nothing and left a gaping hole in my understanding. Who knew that the Council’s intent was to free the faithful to choose their own, more personally meaningful, sacrifice in remembrance of Good Friday?

This is about more than being retrograde; it is an attempt to re-ignite a sense of Catholic identity and unity, built around a rather small but culturally powerful obedience. I think it’s pretty interesting, and perhaps even bold. Perhaps if the ideas of the Second Vatican Council had been well-taught by the bishops and pastors, rather than being left for the media to frame and define, this wouldn’t be necessary, today, but sadly it is.

Show of hands — how many who remember meatless Fridays were ever taught that, while the specific sacrifice on meat had been lifted — we were still supposed to embrace some sort of sacrifice on Friday?

Or did you, like me, discover this sometime in your adulthood, and then struggle to re-adopt the sacrificial practice into your increasingly secular-minded week, with uneven results?

And what do you think about this notion of a small common obedience, or do you — like some — find the very word “obedience” to be repellent?

Read the whole thing, and I hope you’ll comment. The tread at First Things is already pretty interesting.


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