. . . .and this from just this year also from EWTN:
"Hello, There still is some confusion about whether Catholics are required or just encouraged to perform an act of Penance on Fridays. the following are two excerpts from the Q and A archives:
Father Echert wrote: First, let me remind Catholics–in accord with what you note–that Catholics are obliged to do penance EVERY FRIDAY OF THE YEAR. The universal form of this penance is abstinence from meat; however, the bishops of the U.S. petitioned the Vatican some decades ago—unfortunate, in my opinion–for an indult, by which Catholics of the U.S. could substitute some other form of penance, if that would be more of a penance for the individual. But Father Donovan wrote: On the Fridays outside of Lent the U.S. bishops conference obtained the permission of the Holy See for Catholics in the US to substitute a penitential, or even a charitable, practice of their own choosing. Since this was not stated as binding under pain of sin, not to do so on a single occasion would not in itself be sinful. However, since penance is a divine command, the general refusal to do penance is certainly gravely sinful.
So according to one priest the Church requires a catholic to perform an act of penance each Friday, but according to the other priest the Church rally only encourages an act of penance—not a sin if you forget every now and then!
Clarification on this point? Not that it should matter since we should desire to do more than the bare minimum!
Answer by David Gregson on 6/21/2018:
From the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence 1966.
“23. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.”
Note the word “urge” rather than “require.” I take it from this that the determining factor in whether omitting some act of penance on Fridays of the year is sinful is one’s attitude in the omission. If it reflects a lack of concern to honor the day of the Lord’s Passion, then it would be sinful. Otherwise not, as in forgetting to observe the day.
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I also believed for many years that an 'alternative penance" was required, as Fr. Hardon wrote in 2000. More recent careful analysis of the USCCB’s language has (quite reluctantly) persuaded me to the contrary.