[quote="Tantum_ergo, post:3, topic:187814"]
Right. The universal norm is abstinence from meat. The U.S. Bishops have an indult for U.S. Catholics (since I believe 1965) where (the language being ambiguous) it is strongly 'urged' that a person choose a particular penitential action on non-Lenten Fridays (it can be abstinence or it can be something else).
Now if you want to know "why abstinence", it is multifaceted. of course, Our Lord became 'flesh' for us, and we eat His Flesh and drink His Blood in the eucharist so abstaining from 'flesh' is symbolically something that makes sense; also for many centuries meat was rare and precious so abstaining from it meant a real 'sacrifice.'
And as the other poster notes quite correctly, it is Church discipline. Scripture itself notes that prayer, almsgiving and FASTING are historically gifts that we offer to God.
Pity the poor bishops. In 1965, with so many of their flock clamoring (or so it seemed) for 'greater sacrifice', in the "spirit of the times" the bishops thought that this indult would lead to U.S. Catholics becoming even more deeply attuned to God and more 'sacrificial'. Unfortunately (and likely not foreseen by the bishops) through a combination of poor catechesis and imperfect understanding on the part of ALL people (Lay and clergy alike), it has led to a situation whereby a great majority of Catholics think that it is not even necessary to do a penance on non-Lenten Fridays (though they SAY that it is a 'nice idea' for those who CHOOSE to do so but that it is totally NOT A PROBLEM if people "CHOOSE" NOT to do anything at all.) Ponder THAT for a while. :shrug:
This is why we do some penitential act on Fridays:
Christ Died for Our Salvation on Friday
18. Gratefully remembering this, Catholic peoples from time immemorial have set apart Friday for special penitential observance by which they gladly suffer with Christ that they may one day be glorified with Him. This is the heart of the tradition of abstinence from meat on Friday where that tradition has been observed in the holy Catholic Church.
At our home we find it's just easier to not eat meat on every Friday than to think of something else to do in it's place. That doesn't mean you have to eat fish. We had mushroom pizza this past Friday. Sometimes we have macaroni and cheese or spaghetti without meat etc..
Bishop R. Daniel Conlon of the Diocese of Steubenville asks that Catholics abstain from meat every Friday in his diocese.