Have you heard that the Bishops of England and Wales have decided to reinstate the ancient penitential practice of the Friday Fast?
…the Bishops’ Conference wishes to remind all Catholics in England and Wales of the obligation of Friday Penance. The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat. Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake. This is to come into effect from Friday 16 September 2011 when we will mark the anniversary of the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom.
This is surprising news! For those who do not know the history: the Friday Fast fell into widespread neglect after Vatican II, not because the requirement of penance was lifted, but because people were given the option to replace the fast with a penance more personally meaningful. An unintended consequence was that the communal practice disappeared, and today most Catholics do not observe either the communal or the personal penance. Even for those who did continue to observe the Friday Fast, its character was changed: it was no longer an act of filial obedience and religious identity, but almost a personal idiosyncracy. I have often thought that reinstatement of the fast would be a good step toward rebuilding a sense of Catholic identity and cultural presence, but I confess that I have not actually expected it to happen. I am delighted to see that the Bishops of England and Wales have taken this step.
I will make time this week to write to our Canadian Bishops asking that they do the same. I wonder how good our chances are?