says a lot of important things:
The ritual observance of dietary rules—fasting and abstinence from meat in Lent, and abstinence from meat and meat products every Friday, as well as the eucharistic fast from midnight before the reception of Communion—were as much defining marks of Catholicism before the council as abstention from pork is a defining characteristic of Judaism. The Friday abstinence in particular was a focus of Catholic identity which transcended class and educational barriers, uniting “good” and “bad” Catholics in a single eloquent observance. Here was a universally recognized expression of Catholicism which was nothing to do with priests or authority. …
…The Church has always linked personal asceticism and the search for holiness with this demand for mercy and justice to the poor; the Lenten trilogy of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving is both fundamental and structural. By making fasting and abstinence optional, the Church forfeited one of its most eloquent prophetic signs. There is a world of difference between a private devotional gesture, the action of the specially pious, and the prophetic witness of the whole community—the matter-of-fact witness, repeated week by week, that to be Christian is to stand among the needy.
For what it’s worth, I barely remember RCIA because I was constantly hungover but my vague memory is that they told us that abstinence from meat on Fridays was an expectation (not a requirement, but like, a guideline or general best practice) and we were supposed to consider adding additional penances esp if abstaining from meat would be pretty easy. So like, don’t just eat lobster. Or in my case, since I eat about 90% vegetarian all the time anyway, fast from an additional thing so you actually notice it. On the other hand, I don’t remember being instructed in the connection of fasting to almsgiving and I really wish I had been.