Beginning on September 16th 2011, the Bishops of England and Wales are re-introducing the obligatory practice of abstaining from meat on Friday as a weekly ascetical discipline. That date is the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s state visit to the UK. A new CTS booklet will look at the history of abstinence and fasting in more detail; here its author, Sister Mary David Totah OSB, answers a few questions concerning the practice.
Catholic Compass: What is the history of this practice?
From the dawn of Christianity, Friday was kept as a day of abstinence, in memory of Our Lord’s passion and death on that day of the week. The fasting in Paradise consisted of abstaining from certain food — namely of “the fruit of the tree.” For centuries, most Western Christians, in common with their brethren in the Orthodox East, abstained during Lent – and at other times – not only from meat but from animal products, such as eggs, milk, butter and cheese. Today the practice and idea of fasting and abstinence is largely ignored and the meaning of food restriction is less and less familiar to Christians in the West, though it exists in other religious traditions, and even outside them, for example in some therapies or medical treatments.
Catholic Compass: What is its meaning?
Meat is one of our chief sources of protein and therefore to abstain from it is to make us just a fraction weaker for one day, so that we feel ever so slightly less well fed without doing ourselves any harm. Meat, to become food for humans, involves the killing of a living creature. This was permitted to human beings in the Book of Genesis. Nevertheless, on the day when we are remembering the cruel way in which Our Lord was killed, by our abstinence from meat we are saying: Christ died for me, out of love for me and the whole world; today I do not want any blood shed for my mere enjoyment. The poorest in the world cannot afford meat. On this day, when I remember that I owe everything in this world and in the next to Christ and his love, I make this tiny sacrifice in solidarity with them.
Catholic Compass: Why now?
Archbishop Vincent Nichols said the decision was inspired by Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Britain last September and the enthusiasm showed for abstaining from meat during Lent. The papal visit had given Catholics “a fresh expression of self-confidence and identity”. “We observed there was a greater enthusiasm amongst many Catholics to observe the penance in Lent,” he said. Vegetarian Catholics are being encouraged to give up another food on Fridays.
Watch this space for news of Sr Mary David’s booklet!
Of related interest:
|Spiritual Warfare – This booklet enlightens the struggle by searching the wisdom of the scriptures. It gives hope to everyone, because Christ is always by our side to help us in every battle.|
|Lent and EasterSpanning the seasons of Lent, Easter and to Pentecost, this booklet describes the rich heritage of customs and traditions long practiced by Catholics down the ages, up to today.|
|Prayer, Fasting & Almsgiving – The three traditional “weapons of the spirit” used by Christians particularly during Lent.|