Sunday the 18th of September is the First Anniversary of the Visit of Pope Benedict to our country. Who can forget the sense of pride and a renewed spirit of our Catholic identity as we gathered around the successor of Peter setting foot on our shores, listening to his words of encouragement and direction, and witnessing the event of the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman? That sense of a “Catholic Identity” is something which the Bishops of England and Wales wish us to discover once again as we celebrate this First Anniversary of the Holy Father’s Visit.
And so, our Bishops are re-introducing the traditional discipline of Friday Penance for all Catholics. In reality, it was never really removed since previously Catholics were still invited to choose some personal form of penance each Friday to mark the day of the Lord’s passion and death and to express sorrow for our sins. It’s just that quite a lot of Catholics didn’t seem to remember to do it! But now, in re-introducing meatless-Fridays, the bishops wish to make once again the practice of Friday Penance to be a clear and distinctive mark of our Catholic identity, recognising that the best habits are those which are acquired as part of a common resolve and a common witness, and a simple way of handing on the practice of faith to our children.
Of course many Catholics may wish to go beyond this minimal act of common witness by spending some extra time in prayer each Friday, or attending Mass, or some other act of self-sacrifice. But as far as possible, as a mark of our common identity, Catholics are once again asked to abstain from eating meat on Fridays.
However, if you honestly forget on the occasional Friday, or some genuine good reason crops up which means you can’t avoid eating meat, or you’re a vegetarian or vegan who doesn’t eat meat in any case, just choose an alternative act of Friday Penance to perform instead for love of the Lord and as an outward sign of your Catholic identity