What to Do When You Haven’t Abstained From Meat on a Friday

What to do on Friday if you’ve already had that pepperoni pizza or Big Mac?

(photo: Benson Kua, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

I’ve written in these pages before that Catholics are still supposed to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year (cf. Canons 1249-1251)—or at least “devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves” (Can. 1249).

However, many Catholics still (erroneously) think that, since the Second Vatican Council, this “Fish on Fridays” rule applies only to Lent, and not the rest of the year.

So, at the risk of being overly-scrupulous: what to do on Friday if you’ve already had that pepperoni pizza or Big Mac? Fortunately there are lots of positive options:

​​(1) Fast: Fridays are days of penance and one of the most ancient penitential practices is fasting. So even if you had a ham sandwich for lunch, you could fast until midnight.

(2) The Stations of the Cross: they are not just for Lent! There are literally dozens of pamphlets on the Via Dolorosa which you don’t have to make at a Church (though to do so would carry an indulgence). The habit of performing the Stations of the Cross every Friday is a laudable one—and a great spiritual practice to get into, especially on Fridays.

(3) The Chaplet of Divine Mercy: working with the assumption that many readers already make a daily Rosary, going from that pious practice right into the Chaplet of Divine Mercy is almost second nature once you get into the habit. You can even use the very same beads!

(4) A half-hour of reading Scripture: sometimes we become so used to the readings from the Bible that we become almost numb to them. After the first few words it can turn into a sort of “Name-That-Tune”: “Wait! I KNOW this one: this is the story of the two men who lower their sick friend down through the roof so that Jesus can cure him” And then we sort of tune out. A couple of ways around this: 1. Buy a new Study Bible—two excellent versions with copious notes are The Ignatius Catholic Study Bible: New Testament (Revised Standard Version), and The Catholic Study Bible (New American Bible, by Oxford). The notes really teach the reader about the context of the Scriptures—and in the case of the Ignatius Bible, are often linked to the Catechism of the Catholic Church. If you already have one of these Bibles, The Jerome Biblical Commentary is an indispensable aid to a deeper understanding of Holy Writ.

(5) A half hour of Holy Reading. As Catholics we have been blessed by so many incredible books to edify our faith they are too numerous to list. If you haven’t read Thomas à Kempis’s Imitation of Christ, that’s a must. Another option: read the latest teachings of the popes: from Francis’s Laudatio Si’ to Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth to Pope St. John Paul final book-length work, Memory And Identity, there are plenty to choose from.

(6) A half-hour of silent prayer: this isn’t as easy as it sounds. First of all, finding a quiet place for 30 minutes is no small feat. But it’s a prayer practice worth undertaking. You’ll need to silence your phone, and tell the family that for the next half hour you can only be disturbed if the house is on fire or ISIS invades. Otherwise it’s meditation time.

(7) Give up something licit: again, this sounds a lot easier than it actually is. A deacon friend of mine once said that everyone should have to give up for Lent the one licit thing that they can’t imagine going without. His example: “A co-worker once told me, ‘I simply cannot function until I have my double espresso from Starbucks!’ When I suggested he give THAT up for Lent, he acted as though I’d told him to go on a 40-day diet of locusts and honey in the desert.” On the plus side: caffeine (and all that sugar) is, generally speaking, not good for one, so whether it’s coffee, tea, or Coke, perhaps forgo it on Fridays, if you can’t abstain from meat.

(8) Litanies: there are some wonderful Litanies that reward a slow, meditative recitation. The Litany of Loretto (especially at the end of the Holy Rosary) is a favourite. Others (and most of these can be found in any decent Missal, let alone online, include: The Litany of the Most Holy Name of Jesus, The Litany of Saint Joseph, and, of course, The Litany of the Saints (and here I’m thinking of the full, extended version, not the truncated one used at the Easter Vigil). And why not go that extra mile and try the litanies in Latin (they are often printed en face): after all, Latin is still the official language of our Church.

(9) Start A Novena: Here’s one that can carry you through a couple of Fridays. Begin a short Novena—again there are lots of excellent resources—on a Friday, and try to keep it going for the full nine days. Don’t think you can make nine days? Try truncating it to nine hours on a particular Friday: the Novena to the Divine Infant of Prague is built on this very premise of praying every hour for nine hours.

(10) Send a Prayer Card: Who among us does not have a friend or relative with some chronic illness? A Mass-For-Healing Card (these are available at your parish rectory, but if your mail is anything like mine, you are probably inundated with them at least twice a week) can really brighten up the day of one who is suffering. For further credit: add a hand-written note. Hardest part about this act of charity? Finding a stamp.

(11) The Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy: since we’ve just wrapped up the Extraordinary Year of Mercy, keeping the Works of Mercy going on Fridays is not only worthwhile, it’s what we are called to do.