Brit Fish

I see that the old/new abstinence from warm-blooded meat takes effect today for the observant Catholics of England and Wales. It’s been a generation since they’ve been given an open-ended choice to abstain in some way. Of course, the USCCB counseled Catholics in the mid-80′s to abstain or fast on Fridays. But peace is not a very sexy cause in some corners, is it?

My own thinking is that vegetarian Fridays would be a better sign. But again, that wouldn’t get much traction in conservative quarters. They’ve probably been abstaining all along. After some time, it becomes part of the background hum of life: no thought is put into it. Heaven forbid someone ask some true believers to dig deeper. Or make it optional for the prodigal in spirit.

For the record, I think a weekly day of abstinence–outside of the seasons of Christmas and Easter–is a good idea. I would favor adding Wednesdays during Lent. I would favor offering specific options for believers:

  • television, computers, and other media
  • alcohol
  • sugar, or perhaps chocolate
  • tobacco

… with the caution that Friday abstinence should be taken seriously.

Fasting is good, but the Scriptures also advocate prayer and almsgiving. Would you think that lauds or vespers might be a laudable addition to Friday observances? A parish fish fry is nice, but what if it were preceded or followed by the Liturgy of the Hours?

The prophet Zechariah had some questions in his day:

Say to all the people of the land and to the priests: When you fasted and lamented in the fifth and in the seventh month these seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted?When you were eating and drinking, was it not for yourselves that you ate and for yourselves that you drank?

Thus says the LORD of hosts: Judge with true justice, and show kindness and compassion toward each other. Do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the resident alien or the poor; do not plot evil against one another in your hearts. (Zech 7:5-6, 9-10)

So let’s not be all pom-pommy about the British fishy Fridays. It’s probably a good development, and much good might well come of it. But it’s a step to a more holy and spiritual Body. Not the end result of some nostalgia kick.

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About catholicsensibility

Todd and his family live in Ames, Iowa. He serves a Catholic parish of both Iowa State students and town residents.
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2 Responses to Brit Fish

  1. Liam says:

    An interesting thing about this development is that it’s not so much the fruit of a desire to deepen conversion through penitential/ascetic disciplines (after all, the bishops are not in a great position to insist that it’s the flock that needs discipline more than the bishops do…(cough)) but from a great deal of noise about strengthening Catholic identity. Which isn’t bad, but it’s pretty lame.

    Another interesting thing is the guidance given about the nature of the preceptual obligation. In a (helpful) shift from preconciliar legalism, the Q&A offered notes that failure to abstain on a particular Friday is not necessarily grave matter – the precept is, in essence, to develop the discipline/habit, more so than 100% compliance therewith, as it were. (The thought that long obtained was that all precepts of the Church bound gravely unless otherwise indicated, falling under the 4th Commandment (Church is Mommy)). As you may imagine, this shift has been disagreed with in traditionalist quarters.

    Personally, I think it was precisely the formal legalism of the preceptual obligation that made it brittle and shallow; the Eastern Churches, by contrast, avoided the legalism and their culture of discipline was much more resilient for that lack. Still, it’s instructive to see that there remain Catholics for whom there’s a deep concern that, if we don’t classify preceptual disciplines as grave matter (and threaten people with mortal sin), well, then they might not bother. Which to my mind is an indication of an entirely misbegotten focus.

    Abp Dolan has chatted this idea up for the USA. I’ve tried to note the issue of avoiding a reprise of the legalism aspect, but for some reason, my comments don’t see the light of day. Hmm.

  2. Jason says:

    There’s a movement around called “Meatless Mondays,” its goal is to improve personal health and the health of the planet. http://www.meatlessmonday.com/

    I’ve often wondered if the Catholics could adopt Meatless Fridays again as a commitment to the Church’s social teaching (care for the poor, care for the planet, etc.)

    Meatless Monday’s claims to be galvanizing an American tradition, but really, Catholics have already had a handle on it.

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