This week the Irish bishops urged the faithful to take up Friday penance again. They suggest abstaining from meat or alcohol, but also visiting the Blessed Sacrament, making the Stations of the Cross, or helping the sick, poor, old or lonely.
The English and Welsh bishops, meanwhile, considered whether to restore the Friday Fast at their plenary meeting last month.
They have asked Fr Marcus Stock, general secretary of the bishops’ conference, to investigate ways of revitalising Lent as a penitential season.
Of course, Catholics are meant to do some kind of penance on Fridays; the practice, though, is no longer widely observed. Should the bishops put more emphasis on it? The Friday Fast would be another way for Catholics to commit publicly to their faith. It would be an opportunity to remember Christ’s Passion and death, and, in a small way, to share in his suffering.
On the other hand, Friday Fasts, making the Sign of the Cross, saying grace before dinner – these are all external actions. What matters is our interior faith, our interior relationship with Christ.
So, should the bishops restore the Friday Fast? Or should it be left to individual Catholics to observe voluntarily, rather than being imposed?