Making meatless Fridays a year-round observance

A new family tradition to prepare for the celebration of Sunday

By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick

The year I married was the year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued the mandate that required employers to pay for their employees’ contraception, sterilization and early abortifacients in their health care plan.
Exceptions were given to churches, but not other religious organizations, including Catholic Charities, Catholic schools and the Little Sisters of the Poor.

 In moments apart from newlywed bliss, I was livid. I rehearsed arguments to myself: pharmaceuticals that alter the body away from a healthy state, fertility, to render it infertile, is not health care, as it is not maintaining health; if the government really cares about the poor and vulnerable, they should allow the social arm of the Church to work freely; the Little Sisters of the Poor are clearly religious, so they must be allowed their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.
Despite repeating these arguments to myself and, occasionally, to others, there wasn’t much I could do. So, when the U.S. bishops, as part of their initiative titled “Call to Prayer for Life, Marriage and Religious Liberty,” asked the faithful to abstain from meat on Fridays as our weekly sacrifice, I obliged.

My husband and I were forming the habits and rituals of our shared life together. It was easy to adopt the traditional Catholic practice of meatless Fridays throughout the entire year. Neither of us had grown up with the practice; I hadn’t even known it was a pre-Vatican II tradition until I was in college. As a young adult, I inadvertently fell into the practice by participating in Friday night pizza at a friend’s house, where the pizza was always consciously vegetarian.

Spurred by the bishops’ request and without too much discussion, my husband and I decided to follow in the path of the Church, and observe this tradition. It was a simple yet profound decision. It quickly became a way to mark the week, to set Fridays apart. Every Friday, the uniqueness of the day pervades my consciousness as I choose what foods to prepare and eat.
At each turn, I remember the reason for choosing to abstain from meat: Christ’s sacrifice. It also is “a way of acknowledging that there are holy boundaries around our lives and our behaviors,” as Melissa Musick points out in her book,“The Catholic Catalogue.”

The observance of meatless Fridays leads to greater celebration on Sundays. It seems wrong to keep Fridays without keeping Sundays. Sundays are now, more than ever, a day of joy and thanksgiving grounded in the liturgy of the Eucharist.
The simple practice of meatless Fridays has changed the experience of the week. With the adoption of this practice, we stumbled upon what the bishops explained in their pastoral statement on penance and abstinence, “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.”

Now, each Friday is a day of sacrifice and self-control, preparing the way for the rest and celebration of Sunday.
Four years later, as we see continued threats to life, marriage, the family and religious liberty – so much so that our society is confused about who is male and who is female – it has become even clearer that the traditions of the Church are the only constant to which we can adhere. The traditions are what we must cling to.

We have Fridays, the weekly day of prayer and sacrifice, to practice self-control. We have Sundays, the weekly day of praise and thanksgiving, to remember the true source of comfort and joy. Every week, we prepare for the trials ahead, grounded in the ability to sacrifice and keep in mind our priorities in the face of a world so obsessed with self-satisfaction that the real self – the person oriented to God – stand in ever-greater peril of being lost.