#FishFriday – It’s Not Just for Lent

If you’ve heard the buzz lately, you know that the bishops plan to readdress and reemphasize that the faithful abstain from meat on Fridays, but do you know why? I know that, for many of us, this can come across as “lotsa rules” or “how can the Church be so determined to focus on this {perceived minutia} when we have so many bigger fish to fry?” – pun intended. It’s simple when you understand the core of Christ’s love for us. It’s about the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law. Let me give you an example of both.

Letter of the law:

Days of Penance*

  • Can.  1249 The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.
  • Can.  1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
  • Can.  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 to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
  • Can.  1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
  • Can.  1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

*Pulled from the Vatican website

Spirit of the law:

  • Jesus has a particularly scandalous love for each one of us.
  • Jesus died on the Cross for you – yes, YOU!
  • Each Friday is an opportunity to unite our small sufferings to His redemptive suffering on the Cross.
  • Out of our love for Him, we offer something small {such as meat if that is a particular suffering for you} to show Christ that we recognize and appreciate His gift of salvation for us.
  • We are not limited to giving up meat, but can also offer up other acts of penitential suffering as well – this varies from person to person, depending on our particular struggles and sufferings.

When we break it down into two categories like this, we can see that the letter of the law is borne of the spirit of the law. Without the spirit of the law, it’s all just words. If your heart isn’t convicted to a love for Christ, all you will see giving up your precious meat on Fridays is just a mere inconvenience. It’s so much more than that. SO. MUCH. MORE THAN THAT. The next time you start to feel that way about the laws of the Church, look at the Cross and lay those feelings at His feet. Pray for Jesus to soften your heart to understand the foundation of the rules. They are all rooted in a love for Him. Promise.

7 comments
  • ElizabethNovember 20, 2012 - 9:17 am

    Thank you! I abstain from meat on Fridays, and my mother and her husband do, too. I hear all the time about how I don’t need to do that, and “that doesn’t count anymore.” People have forgotten the meaning and practice of penance.ReplyCancel

  • AlessandraNovember 20, 2012 - 10:35 am

    Thanks for this post! We abstain year-round…it’s a sacrifice and we love making it! <3ReplyCancel

  • KerriNovember 20, 2012 - 12:42 pm

    We abstain on Fridays all year long too. I didn’t always, but after meeting my husband (who has always done it) I was converted. I love this post, love the juxtaposition your set up of the “letter of the law” and the “spirit of the law.” Very clear!!ReplyCancel

  • AllisonNovember 20, 2012 - 1:31 pm

    What a wonderful idea, to put the letter and the spirit together like this (ditto Kerri’s comment!). Never thought about a penance every Friday; this is something to talk to my husband about . . .ReplyCancel

  • DiannaNovember 20, 2012 - 2:12 pm

    I am so grateful for this! I know why we abstain, but I know with the possible changes coming that many conversations (mostly unhappy) will happen in my family. Thanks for the words I can use now!ReplyCancel

  • MartinaNovember 21, 2012 - 8:07 am

    Thanks for all the comments. 🙂 I think it’s too easy for most of us to get discouraged and caught up in all the rules. I have more to say about the spirit of the law vs. the letter of the law and hopefully I’ll get up the courage to share that in upcoming posts. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • AlessandraFebruary 15, 2013 - 12:06 pm

    I, personally, LOVE all the rules…when you stand for nothing…lol, I like to know exactly what is expected of me! 😉ReplyCancel