My Friday Obligation

My Friday Obligation December 7, 2012

The best derogatory term for Catholics is pretty obviously “mackerel-snapper.”  (The best derogatory cartoon is the bishops’ mitres as alligator jaws one)

The slur comes from the Catholic practice of fasting from red meat and poultry on Fridays (and therefore eating fish instead).  In Catholic tradition, every Friday is a little Lent and every Sunday a little Easter, so there should be some remembrance of fasting and feasting as appropriate.  (I should add that every time I explain this, I immediately get “Every Day a Little Death” stuck in my head).

In the United States, Catholics aren’t required to fast from meat on Friday, but that’s not because the penitential requirement has been dispensed with.  Catholics are just free to choose their own practice according to their circumstances.  Unfortunately, this turns out to be a lot harder to remind people about or to do on your own.  For that reason, the bishops of England and Wales restored the meat-specific obligation last year, and the American bishops are perennially considering following suit.

But, even if they did, that doesn’t clear up what I should do, as I’m vegetarian (or, more specifically, a picky eater who dislikes meat among oh so many other foods).  And being a picky eater makes it hard to do a different food-related abstinence, since I don’t have that many categories I can drop and still reliably have something around to eat.

When I poked around for advice, I was told that it’s acceptable to take on an additional discipline instead of abstaining from something.  So, for a while, I made sure to say a rosary on Friday.  However, this turned out to mean that I ended up saying it only on Friday, and ended up feeling a little unbalanced contemplating only the Sorrowful Mysteries.

So, what I’ve hit on for now is spending some time each Friday reading Augustine.  After all, I picked him as my confirmation saint in part so I could come to know him better through his writings.  Today, I’m taking a look at the Rule of St. Augustine that was foundational for some monastic communities.  I won’t necessarily be blogging about all this reading, but I wanted to note it, since the Friday obligation can slip by unnoticed.

Plus, today is the feast day of St. Ambrose, the teacher of St. Augustine and the saint-name of my baptismal sponsor, so it seemed apropos.

As you instructed St. Augustine, so may I be instructed by your pupil’s writings.  Amen.

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