Friday Penance ... mortal sin?

I was recently informed that it was a mortal sin not to perform the Friday Penance. Is this true?

Mortal sin: Full knowledge, grave matter, full consent of the will.

Can you find a solid citation from the Catechism of the Catholic Church that states that the Friday Penance is compulsory, grave matter, and that nonperformance, deliberately, is mortal sin? Can you find such a citation from your bishop?

That is where I would check, first. Not blogs, not even ‘other’ websites on Catholicism. I’d go right to the Catechism. And the USCCB (or your diocese website). If necessary, I’d e-mail your bishop or whoever is in charge of communications and ask outright.

From the 1983 Code of Canon Law:

Can. 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each 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 Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

And in 1966 (As per 1253) the Episcopal Conference for the Catholic Bishops in the U.S.A. were granted an indult that specifically limited the obligation for abstinence from meat to Lenten Fridays, and called upon Catholics to treat other Fridays as penitential days but with the given penitential practice up to each individual. It may be abstinence from meat; it may be something else.

Sir Knight, what exactly were you told the ‘Friday penance’ was?


I agree that one should seek out facts like this from direct sources such as catechism, and not opinion boards and things,

but I just wanted to add… all mortal sins won’t be listed in the catechism. The act of disobeying a practice prescribed by the church (such as fasting on a certain day), deliberately, makes the act serious…the act itself would not be listed in the catechism as an actual objective moral evil (because eating regular meals is not sinful, its the disobedience that is). and the rules of penance can change.

One should seek the canon law as stated here, because thats where the rules of penance would be.

Except that they’re not - the actual mandating of penances was left up to individual Bishop’s Conferences.

In America (as I believe in Australia) it isn’t binding on pain of sin to do ANY penance except on Fridays in Lent. Merely urged or suggested.

And the Bishops have every right to relax the rules in this way if they so choose.

Exactly what you said. That during Lent, we are to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent and that during the rest of the year we can pick our own penance to perform on Fridays. The 1983 Code of Canon Law quoted above seems to support this stating that we are OBLIGATED to perform acts of penance on Fridays.

Thus, my original question … is it a mortal sin if it is not done?

Full knowledge? Now, yes.

Grave matter? Apparently since it’s mentioned in Canon Law.

Full consent of the will? The “full” part may be questionable.

I’m not looking to disagree with you and I’m actually HOPING that you are right but doesn’t the 1983 Canon Law quoted above disagree with your statement?

Can. 1249 All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance.

ob·li·gate /v. ˈɒbɪˌgeɪt; adj. ˈɒbɪɪt, -ˌgeɪt/ [v. ob-li-geyt; adj. ob-li-git, -geyt] verb -gat·ed, -gat·ing, adjective –verb (used with object) to bind morally or legally**

  • Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year*

** to bind morally or legally**

  • Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year*

The flexibility lies in the fact that the Bishops conferences have not specified WHAT particular penitential acts fulfil the obligation - for example, prayer counts, but do you need to say more prayers than you would on your average day? It’s not at all clear anywhere that it’s necessary to do something ‘extra’.

So in theory pretty much anything, right down to saying the name of Jesus a single time, which is a prayer and need not be more than you say of an ordinary day, would satisfy the condition.

Of course if you understand the rule and deliberately choose to do literally nothing that’s a different matter, but provided you’ve done something, no matter how minor, you have arguably fulfilled the condition.

did this helpful nugget come from your priest in confession, or from someone qualfied to instruct you in living the Christian life? If not, ignore it. yes we are obligated by virtue of our baptism to do penance. yes Friday is a day set aside by the Church for special acts of penance, and for meditation on the Lord’s passion. the bishop’s have said how you do that is up to you, so I don’t think trying to out-think the bishop’s is going to help anyone grow spiritually, or attain the spirit of humility and obedience which is the purpose of penance.

IMHO the easy way out is to not eat meat on Fridays. As a family we do this and the kids can help by making suggestions of other foods and helping us cook while discussing why we don’t eat meat like the other people we know.

Now if we are invited out to eat or to a party we can choose another form of penance for that day and not be in mortal fear of our soul.

What’s wrong with fish? I was always made to believe that for Catholics, Fridays almost always meant eating fish as part of abstaining from meat. Fish is quite tasty, and doctors say that people don’t eat enough–a perfect example of how penance can be good for you.

If possible, Friday is also a good day to go to confession if one goes on a weekly basis, as I have resolved to begin doing. Praying the way of the Cross in your church is also an excellent way to be penitent of Fridays.

The U.S. Bishops specifically limited abstinence from meat as a mandatory obligation to the Fridays of Lent.

Then they recommended penance on the other Fridays of the year, but didn’t say just what penance.

So I don’t know just what might constitute a mortal sin for non-Lenten Fridays.
And I don’t think anyone else does either.

A mortal sin on Fridays would be NOT doing any form of penance.
We are obliged to do penance on Fridays whether it is abstaining from meat or some other form of penance (examples of which are given in the CCC.

CCC 1438 The seasons and days of penance in the course of the liturgical year (Lent, and each Friday in memory of the death of the Lord) are intense moments of the Church’s penitential practice. These times are particularly appropriate for spiritual exercises, penitential liturgies, pilgrimages as signs of penance, voluntary self-denial such as fasting and almsgiving, and fraternal sharing (charitable and missionary works).

It is hard to see how this would practically evere be a mortal sin. If you don’t do it, it’s likely because you either didn’t know it was required (our Bishops aren’t very clear on this) or forgot. To be mortal it would seem to require an active decission of “I know I’m supposed to do penance today, but I refuse”.

God Bless



[/list]So you are saying that it IS a mortal sin if it is not performed?

Is it on the same level at missing Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of obligation?

I was told that Saturday was a good day to go to confession. Didn’t Our Blessed Lady promises certain graces to those that went to confession on the first five Saturdays in a row?

Funny you should ask how this came about :o

We were having our monthly Knights of Columbus meeting and it was suggested that we perform a weekly religious activity as a group. It was suggested that we do the rosary as a group after the Tuesday evening mass. Then somebody modified the suggestion that we do it on Friday evening because we can then fulfill our Friday Penance as well.

That’s when a big discussion broke out about exactly what the Friday Penance was. Things went back and forth leaving more questions unanswered.

However, I walked away from that meeting with the impression that I wasn’t doing something that I should be doing. A few days later, I went to confession and confessed my failure to perform the Friday Penance for MOST of my life due to not being aware of it.

The priest said that it was fine since I didn’t know about it but that in the future I should perform the Friday Penance.

**should ** auxiliary verb - must; ought (used to indicate duty, propriety, or expediency)

I guess that I should :wink: have asked if it was a mortal sin if not performed but it didn’t occur to me until I was well on my way home.

Thus, the question is, is it a mortal sin not to perform the Friday Penance? Is it on the same level at missing Mass on Sunday or a Holy Day of obligation?

No - that’s to those who on Five First Saturdays a) receive Communion b) pray 5 decades of the Rosary and c) spend another 15 minutes ‘meditating on the mysteries’ (an extra few decades should do it). Confession can be anywhere up to a week before or after.

Well, in the U.S, it doesn’t seem like the requirement to do penance has been clearly defined. I personally try to abstain from meat, or do something else (pray a rosary). However, since the Bishops have not defined the requirement, I think it is not a mortal sin, actually not a sin at all.

From Catholic Answers

The fact that the bishops nowhere state an alternative obligation thus indicates that one does not exist. Legal obligations do not exist if they are not legislated.

Thus we conclude that the American bishops have exercised their competence, later acknowledged by canon 1253 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law, to “determine more precisely” the observance of abstinence by restricting the obligation to do it to a few days a year (Ash Wednesday, the non-solemnity Fridays of Lent, and Good Friday—the last being part of the Triduum rather than Lent) and by recommending the continued practice of abstinence and other penances on other Fridays.

In doing so, they did not completely eliminate the legal obligation to do penance on Fridays. They restricted the legal obligation to certain Fridays of the year and replaced it with an exhortation to penance on the remaining Fridays.

God Bless

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