Friday penance

Hi :slight_smile:

I was wondering about the Friday penance… I read that before VII, it had to include abstinence from meat. Today, it can still be abstinence for meat, or you can substitute another penance instead, if you have a good reason to.

I was thinking, if you can’t escape eating meat on a given Friday, what other type of penance would be proper?

also, is abstinence from meat still* preferrable*?

During the year, my friends usually plan ‘get togethers’ on Fridays and go to a restaurant or a cafe… and now that I’m Catholic, I don’t know what to do about that :confused: it’s funny how in the Church, Fridays are a day of penance, but in the world, they’re like a holiday before the weekend :shrug:


There is no longer a legal burden for the faithful to make Friday penance.

Traditional pious practice may include penance on Fridays–abstinence, fasting, reflection or contemplation, etc.–but such are private devotions on the sole initiative of the individual.

Except for those Fridays in Lent on which the faithful are legally required to abstain from meat, you shouldn’t feel like you can’t have fun with your friends on Fridays or go out to restaurants because because of an “obligation.” And even during Lent, you can always order a vegetarian or fish dish.

Jimmy Akin provides an in-depth analysis of the law here:

Since Tomorrow Is Friday…
More On Friday Penance

I hope that helps.

“Friday remains a day of special penitential observance” according to the Catholic calendar in my house.
This doesn’t have to be abstaining from meat but for me it does. I simply extend the Lenten observance to year round.

This question may be of use to you - I think it applies here although they are speaking of a Lenten Friday.
Can I eat meat on Friday if I abstain another day?

This explains why Fridays are a day of penance for us Catholics.
Why is Friday for not eating meat and not another day of the week?
This may especially be of interest to you.**
Is Friday Penance Required?
From the immediately above link - “As a result, there appears to be no legal obligation in the United States to practice penance on Friday, but Friday remains a day on which the bishops have urged all to do penance and, in particular, recommended the continued practice of abstinence.”

You can always ‘escape’ eating meat because you don’t have to have meat at that moment to survive - meat isn’t your only source of nutrition.

Hope all of this helps.

I can’t see the problem of going to restaurant on a Friday evening with friends. Most menus have a number of meatless dishes offered – fish, salads, pasta, etc. There is no reason to make a big deal out of the fact that you are now Catholic. Just order a meatless dish and enjoy it.:shrug:

The OP said if he/she cannot “escape” eating meat. How in the world can one be “forced” to eat meat on any day of the week.:ehh:

People who have medical conditions, e.g., diabetics, can easily find meals on a restaurant menu that is suitable for their restricted diet and there is no need to make an issue out of being diabetic. The same would go for a Catholic who wishes to abstain from meat on a Friday.

Abstaining from meat on a Friday is a simple act of love for our Lord’s suffering on the Cross.


I think the only real time this kind of thing occurs is if you’ve been invited to a barbecue or something where much expense has been paid for meat (tri-tip, ribs, burgers, etc.) Some might feel the obligation to eat this, since it may have been specifically purchased for them.

Now if you have the ability to, you might want to pre-empt the host and ask if you can bring your own dish as you don’t eat meat on Fridays (like - “Can I bring a salmon fillet - I don’t want it to go bad over the weekend”…or something.)

Of course, there is no legal obligation like there was prior to Vatican II, so you needn’t fear out of scruples if you eat meat on a Friday - it’s not a sin.

Occasionally I’ve eaten meat on a non-Lenten Friday; in cases of heavy physical labor (though those times are pretty much over for me), or when we had restaurant leftovers we did not want to throw away.

Usually I will pray an extra Rosary, or make an extra charitable donation. I wonder if there are other suitable penances.

I am so glad someone brought this subject up today. I was thinking a little earlier that I wish someone would bring this up every Friday because so many Catholics are completely ignorant of what is required on this day.

I know Jimmy Akin says that no penance is required, but I believe he is wrong on this one. Code of Canon Law 1250 says:

Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Link for this:

Very good article about it here:

. . .

the US bishops encourage all American Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays — but if we can find a more effective type of penance to perform on Fridays, we are invited to do so. Our bishops have given each of us the green light to decide for ourselves how best to make our Fridays penitential. How sad, therefore, that most Catholics have wrongly interpreted this as meaning simply that “we don’t need to abstain from meat on Fridays anymore,” without replacing that abstinence with another form of penance! It is just as sad to realize that most of our diocesan clergy do not remind the Catholics under their care of this important obligation.

How many Catholics are genuinely unaware that they are actually required to perform some kind of penance every Friday? Sincere, practicing Catholics who honestly do not know of this obligation are of course not culpable for failing to follow it; but the fact remains that they should be made aware of this disciplinary rule.

Why wouldn’t we want to do some sort of penance on Friday, the day our Lord died? I think that to mark each Friday in a special way helps bring to mind, at least in a small way, the price that was paid to give us life.


Attending Mass, if you normally don’t (or even if you normally do, with the special intent of doing penance)
Praying anything, really, but specifically anything that calls to mind Our Lord’s Passion.
Volunteering at food/homeless shelters
Visiting a cemetery and praying for the dead

I think the important thing is that whatever you do, it’s done as an offering for Jesus’ sacrifice on Good Friday.

That canon does not, however, suggest an obligation of any sort.

I’m not sure why anyone would argue that we don’t have to observe some sort of penance on the day our Lord died, but here is the Canon Law:

Can. 1250 The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every 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.

I do believe that this “suggests an obligation.” I don’t think trying to see how little we can get by with is quite the right attitude. Our Lord gave everything.


But look at Canon 1253, which you omitted:

The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.

This means we have to look at what our US conference of Bishops has to say, their competence exercised in the document On Penance and Abstinence.

This is what Jimmy Akin goes on to explain on his blog and in the article that was cited earlier.

It’s not about seeing how little we can get by with. It’s a matter of understanding the law and what it requires of us. The faithful are by no means discouraged from personal devotion.

A person could give up some other food item that they regularly enjoy. For a vegetarian, giving up meat would be a rather meaningless gesture. Other things might be eggs, dairy products, oil, wine…

Also, giving up should always mean extra prayer.

A person on a very strict diet could use some other way of “denying the flesh”. No sex comes to mind, or no cigarettes for a smoker. Or one could give up one’s time.

I honestly don’t understand what you are saying. I totally understand that our Bishops have the final say in this matter, and it is my understanding that the American Bishops have left it up to each individual to decide how to observe Friday penance. I am a vegetarian. For me it is meaningless to give up meat, so I eat only one meal on Friday.

Are you saying that we are obligated to do Friday penance or not? If you say there is no obligation for Friday penance, then I would have to say you are wrong, and you are hurting people if you are telling them that.


Amen to that!

I think what is being said is that there is no longer an obligation under pain of sin to observe nay penance on Friday. So we are still obligated under the Canon Law, but non-observance isn’t a mortal sin as it used to be. It very well may still be a venial sin, but not something required to confess…I think. :shrug:

That is incorrect. We are no longer required to abstain from meat, but there is still a requirement to do some sort of penance, and there have been some very good suggestions on this thread. But Christ still died on Friday, and we are still required to observe that in some way.

Certainly if someone is unaware of that, they have not committed sin. But if a person just chooses to ignore it, that would be a sin.


I am saying that we are not obligated to do Friday penance because the law does not require us to. I am only telling people what the law says.

Please read the following tract:

Is Friday Penance Required?

You are absolutely wrong. Jimmy Akin is incorrect. I have already given one reference. I assume you trust EWTN. Here is a post from their website:

The general law of the Church is that abstinence be observed on every Friday of the year (Code of Canon Law, can. 1252), but gives authority to the conference of bishops to substitute another form of penance (esp. works of piety and charity) for the Friday abstinence rule (can. 1253). Thus the U.S. Conference of Bishops has permitted the substitution of other forms of penance on Fridays of the year except in Lent. In Lent the general law of Friday abstinence is upheld, in the U.S. as elsewhere. Individuals may, of course, be dispensed by the local bishop for good and serious reasons, or even by the local pastor, but not a whole diocese.

Here is the link:

I really don’t know why you are arguing on this one. It is a beautiful law, a way to honor our Lord on the day he died. Why would the Church ever rescind something like this? It makes no sense, and it hasn’t happened. The only change is the Church is not as specific in how we observe it, but just that we observe it.


I’m not really arguing, as I do agree that penance on Friday is beautiful and worhty of our Christian calling. But I don’t think that Jimmy Akin is incorrect - I don’t know that he is correct either. I think the language of the USCCB document is somewhat ambiguous, basically along the lines of what Jimmy explained. He interprets the document to have two tones - one of a legal nature one of “exhortation” - and I can see his point. I think the document can be read both ways - that is DOES bind under sin at least SOME form of penance, or that it abrogates the obligation but still urges its former practice.

Is there anything else fromt eh USCCB that clarifies this?

I agree that Jimmy Akin’s analysis is lacking and inaccurate. I’m actually surprised to see this coming from him – it does remind me of year’s ago when new guidelines for architecture came out and people took great liberties with their word games and making the documents say what they didn’t explicitly say and was against the intent.

That is the gist of it – Fridays are a day of penance and all Catholics are obliged to practice penance under pain of sin. What our Bishops have done is left it up to us as to what that penance shall be, with abstinence from meat being the default.

It should be noted that Penance and Abstinence was promulgated in 1966, 17 years before the new Code of Canon law was published and still under the 1917 Pio-Benedictine Code - so I don’t know where the Bishops thought they got at that time the authority to dispense from abstinence on Friday even if substituted for another penance.

Also, that is not the latest document on the subject. The latest that I’m aware of for the United States is Penitential Practices for Today’s Catholics. In it they state:

  • Fridays Throughout the Year—In memory of Christ’s suffering and death, the Church prescribes making each Friday throughout the year a penitential day. All of us are urged to prepare appropriately for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday.

As every Friday is a prescribed day of penitence, it falls under Canons 1251-1253. The document also lists categories of penance that can be selected from and some examples.

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