Q. "Why does it say 'Abstinence from meat or other penance' on the Fridays of the Catholic Chapel Calendar" (page 2)?
A. A lot of Catholics think that abstinence (“fish on Fridays”) has been abolished. But it hasn’t! The Church’s official law—called Canon Law—governs all the Catholic faithful throughout the world. Let’s take a look at what it says concerning abstinence:
˜ “Abstinence from meat … is observed on every Friday of the year, unless it [the Friday] coincides with a feast of the rank of Solemnity”: canon 1251;
˜ “The Bishops’ Conference [of each country or region] may determine the observance of abstinence … in more detail … especially substituting works of charity or acts of piety in whole or in part for the abstinence ….”: canon 1253.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops early on (in the 1970’s) allowed Catholics, if they wished, to replace the usual abstinence from meat with some work of charity: e.g. helping the poor (as on a COMREL), nursing the sick, etc. Also, one can perform an act of piety: reciting all or part of a Rosary, making the Stations of the Cross, etc.
Q. So, is there still an obligation on Fridays?
A. Yes, a serious obligation: either abstinence from meat (which is easy), or charitable work, or prayer.
-- Thanks to Father Charles Johnson, CHC, USNR, aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt.
(Art: El Greco (Domenikos Theotokopoulos) (Greek, working in Spain),The Penitent Saint Peter, 1595-1600, Toledo, Spain. Oil on canvas. San Diego Museum of Art, Gift of Anne R. and Amy Putnam, 1940:7)
* unless, as we read, some other form of penitence is observed.