Does Friday Penance Have to be Something Consistent?

For a long time I didn’t even know we were obligated to an act of penance on Fridays all year. At first I decided to just abstain from meat like during Lent. Then, one day I forgot to pack peanut butter and jelly for lunch instead of turkey and decided I would say the rosary as an act of penance instead. I decided to keep saying the rosary on Fridays instead of abstaining, because I don’t even favor meat over pasta and other foods, so it didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice for me. Then, my wife wanted us to try praying the rosary every night of the week, so I decided to give up video games on Fridays as my act of penance. There are weeks where we have gone without saying the rosary most nights, so in those weeks I make an extra effort to say it on Friday and regard it as my act of penance and play video games.

Now I wonder if that is okay, because I don’t think you can just keep switching what you’ve set out to do in Penance for Lent once Lent starts, so do I need to just pick a Friday Penance and stick to it?

In the US at least, it is ok to substitute a different penance during NON lent Fridays in place of abstaining from meat. You needn’t feel the need to be legalistic about it; it doesn’t have to be the same thing every week.

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Ok, thank you!

The general obligation to do penance is not optional. The Church prescribes what is really a very minor penance on each Friday of the year, and she allows bishops’ conferences in various countries (including our own) to derogate from this specific penance on non-Lenten Fridays — abstaining from meat — as long as some other penance is done in its place. The fasting requirements are very minor compared to times past — two days a year! Additional penances, of one’s own choosing, can and should be done. What you choose is up to you. It does not have to be consistent from week to week. Any suffering, self-denial, or spiritual discipline can be offered as penance.

On Fridays when I choose to eat meat (and I am really trying to get away from that, and stick with the Church’s prescribed practice), I will typically say an extra decade (or two) of the rosary, for the repose of the poor souls. An entire rosary would be better.

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Do whatever works for you on any given Friday (outside of Lent, of course — and assuming you’re in the US).

There’s no rule about this, either. Do what best leads you closer to God.

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Even if you don’t think abstaining from meat is much of a penance, I would really recommend doing it. For whatever reason, not eating meat for a day is very noticeable to people, and almost always leads to a positive conversation about Catholicism. There’s a lot more to be said in favor of it, too. It’s true that it generally isn’t a very big penance (some days are worse than others though), but it’s a good foundation to build upon.

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