Friday Penance Questions


Hi there! So I suffer from a lot of scrupulosity and I’m pretty sure this is another one of those cases, but I want to confirm it and maybe these questions will help in the future. So last Friday I abstained from meat as a Friday penance, but out of need to catch up on sleep and out of laziness, I slept from 2 in the morning until 1:30 pm. I abstained from meat and also stayed away from sweets just because I felt like it would be kind of against the spirit of things to stuff myself with a bunch of deserts. Often, I break the abstinence at or after midnight and feel fine about that, but since I got up so late I felt like I should probably continue it through. Anyway, shortly after midnight, I bit into a Milky Way bar and felt like that was kind of against the spirit of the abstinence. I know it’s technically not against the letter of the law because I wasn’t technically abstaining from sweets anyway, and it was Saturday technically as well, but still I felt bad. That night (after midnight so technically Saturday morning), I said a Chaplet of Divine Mercy. The following Saturday, I wondered if I should do almost a make-up penance, so I said a Rosary, and Sunday, I called a friend whom between we had some tension, and tried to resolve things between us. I know this is odd because it’s like I’m trying to do my Friday penance days later, but what do you guys think? Am I being scrupulous or was this honorable to be kind of doing make-up penances?

At the core of my question is this: is following the letter of the law, but breaking the spirit of the law a sin? and would it invalidate your penance? Also, does what I did sound like breaking the spirit of the law? and if so, should I feel worried about kind of “making up” that penance?

Also, I’ve always been confused by this: can your Friday penance substitute be pretty much anything charitable/penitential? Or should that substitute be an act equal to or greater than the act of abstaining from meat?

I know that’s a lot of questions. Thanks for any help!



There are many things here to address but I think I can suggest another perspective…
I suggest you perform your acts of penance when compelled by the Holy Spirit. This is a statement that is both simple and complicated at the same time. St. Benedict has taught that we are not to be anxious about missing one of the liturgical hours if stuck working in the fields because even work can be a form of prayer when we serve others for Love of God. In this light, if you overslept then perhaps you needed the rest and if compelled to continue a form of mortification for penance then yes, by all means continue.

To answer your question directly: Yes, the spirit of the law must be present for the law to be efficacious. We are taught in scripture that we are saved by grace through faith and that faith without works is dead, but also that Holy works are the fruit of faith. Don’t get wrapped up in the law if not focussing on why the law exists for the psalmist tells us to praise God with all your heart, with all your mind, and with all your strength. Hope this helps, Pax Christi!


What law? If there is a law against Milky Way bars, I must have missed it.


Consider a spiritual director if you suffer from scrupulosity, before you embrace too many penances.

God wants a loving heart. It’s not how much you pray or what you give up, but how much love you put into it.

And if you forget one day, remember that Christ loves you so much that He died on a cross for you. He won’t mind your Friday snack. :wink:



Any of the Spiritual or Corporal Works of Mercy could suffice for a Friday penance. Rather than give up something, one could do something charitable. Reading Scripture would be a good practice, too.

Remember that God knows the heart of every person. He knows all sincere intentions even when they sometimes don’t match the actions. Recall how the Pharisees, who strictly adhered to the letter of the law but were uncharitable, were chastised by Christ.

A favorite, short parable given by Christ relates to this. It’s the story of the two sons (Matthew 21:38-31).


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