Are Fridays Still Days of Penance?

Q: Now that Lent is over, does that mean that we don’t have to do anything special on Fridays?

A: No it doesn’t. Friday is still a day of penance, even when it isn’t during Lent. Here is what the Code of Canon Law has to say on the subject:

1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

This is the same as with worship. All the faithful are also obliged by divine law to worship God and, so that all may join together in the corporate worship of God, days of worship (Sundays and holy days of obligation) have been instituted. The flip-side of this is penance. All are obliged to repent, and so that there may be corporate repentance toward God, days of penance have been set up, as in the Old Testament when the Jews proclaimed a national fast to do repent of their sins against God. Today, Friday is the chief day of penance since Christ died because of our sins on Friday, and Sunday is the chief day of worship, since Christ rose for our salvation on Sunday. Thus . . .

1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

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 o be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority [i.e., 18 years old; cf. canon 97:1], until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to enure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the rue meaning of penance.

1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more precisely the ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Thus the law of abstinence from meat is still binding unless one’s national bishops’ conference has changed this. In the case of the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has obtained permission from the Vatican to have other forms of penance substituted for abstinence, and so today in the United States Catholics are still obliged to do some form of penance on Fridays and keep the day as per canon 1249 (above), however they can now pick the form of penance they wish to do.

Some my personal favorite forms of Friday penance besides abstaining from meat are (a) read several chapters out of the Bible (especially the gospels), (b) don’t watch any television, (c) put off until Saturday doing a fun thing that I am looking forward to and want to do, and (d) spend extra time answering people’s questions about the faith — such as writing questions of the day!

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