Friday Penance


I’ve heard so many conflicting answers on this one. Is Friday penance (during the year), that is, abstaining from meat or substituting some other pious act, binding under pain of sin? I realize that it’s strongly encouraged, and we certainly should do it, but I need to know if it is actually binding (for the sake of telling others if nothing else). Often I don’t even think about it and just do my normal daily mass and rosary without adding anything additional…
Please provide documentation for your answer. I also realize that the answer may differ between Canada and the United States (I’m in Canada), so an answer for both jurisdictions would be helpful. Thanks.


In Canada it is required that we do penance of some kind every Friday of the year. The only days when abstinence from meat is required are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; however it is considered “normative” to abstain from meat on every Friday of the year.

If you deliberately neglect to do so (ie: didn’t just forget about it) then yes you need to take it to Confession.

In the US they are required to abstain from meat every Friday of Lent in addition to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday; with regard to the other Fridays of the year, I am not certain whether they are required to do penance of some kind, or whether it is just highly recommended.

In Canada, though, it is required.

This, I got from my Bishop, in an e-mail - I can hunt it down for you, if you like. It should also be on the CCCB web site somewhere.


jmcrae: Thanks, I would like you to hunt it down…because I was told by a very orthodox priest that it is not binding under pain of sin in Canada. (Excluding Ash Wednesday and Good Friday of course).


My understanding is that failing to fast or abstain on appointed days is a grave sin but for the moment can’t lay my hands on where I read this.
Similarly not fasting minimum one hour before receiving Communion would make the act of receiving Communion a grave sin.


Unfortunately I seem to have deleted it in my last OS upgrade. :o :frowning:

I will see if I can track something down on the CCCB web site.


Could you show me support for that? A quote from canon law or the catechism or something? I’m not denying it’s true at all. It’s just that since I’m beginning to follow Catholic practices, as I’m in the process now of becoming Catholic, I don’t want to bind myself to behaving in certain ways unless I know that this is the official church position.


Canon Law:

Can. 919 §1 Whoever is to receive the blessed Eucharist is to **abstain for at least one hour before holy communion **from all food and drink, with the sole exception of water and medicine.


CCC 1387 To prepare for worthy reception of this sacrament, the faithful should **observe the fast required **in their Church. Bodily demeanor (gestures, clothing) ought to convey the respect, solemnity, and joy of this moment when Christ becomes our guest.


The law, which pertains to the external forum, generally does not treat matters of sin, which pertain to the internal forum in which matters of conscience are treated. There is something of a separation of the two fora.

Notice that the Eucharistic fast can be dispensed. It does not bind in the cases of the sick or infirm or their caretakers.

The obligatory fasts and abstinence of Lenten observance can also be dispensed, and would not bind when health is involved.

However, while these canons are disciplinary laws of the Church in this regard, what underlies them is a long tradition of suitable spiritual preparation for the reception of the Blessed Sacrament, and similarly in the case of Lent, the divine precept to do penance. Therefore, there is a seriousness, a weight, and a gravity behind them. We do these things because of their underlying purposes and values.

The code expresses this: All members of the Christian faithful in their own way are bound to do penance in virtue of divine law; in order that all may be joined in a common observance of penance, penitential days are prescribed in which the Christian faithful in a special way pray, exercise works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their responsibilities more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence according to the norm of the following canons (c. 1249).

So the discipline of the Church adds a communal dimension here, which is obviously appropriate since we form the one Body of Christ.

All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and time throughout the universal Church c. 1250). On Fridays outside of Lent, abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities (c. 1251). Therefore, we would look at the individual bishops’ conferences. Not all conferences set forth the discipline of abstinence from meat or another food on Fridays outside of Lent

However, abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ (c. 1251). There it is a matter of a universal law.

Remember that law sets forth minimums, and that love seeks far more than that. It sacrifices.

That a person would willfully and knowingly neglect the discipline of penance may say something distressing about the state of his or her relationship with God and the Church. That a person would blithely ignore the Eucharist fast may say something about the reverence with which he or she approaches preparation to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.

The Church, drawing from its Tradition and traditions, recalls what Jesus says, “repent or perish,” and “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” It takes him seriously when he says, “Take and eat, this is my body”, etc. Then it offers its members these fasts and abstinences as spiritual and practical supports to grow in holiness.


Thank you, Deacon Cameron; that makes it very clear. :slight_smile:

Twf: This is just about word for word what my Bishop wrote to me, as well, so now you have it - yes, we are supposed to observe Friday penances.


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