Friday Penance - Only for Lent?

Penance on Friday, isn’t that just during Lent?

Deacon Gary Perrydore

In the homily this past weekend I talked about several moral teachings and Church practices or disciplines that are taught and promoted by the Catholic Church.  Over several weeks we’ll be highlighting various teachings and practices in the bulletin and Flocknote to help gain insight into these teachings.  I encourage you to take time to read these.  They may aid your understanding of why we do and believe what we do or help you in discussions with someone who has questions about Church teaching and tradition.

This week we explore something the Church doesn’t talk much about, Friday Penance.  It’s well known that Catholics are obligated to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (and not eat meat) and to abstain from meat on each Friday of Lent.  Church practice used to be abstaining from meat on all Fridays, but this obligation changed in 1966 when, by its authority to do so, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops allowed for each person to determine their penitential observance for Friday.  For some Catholics, they still abstain from meat as a traditional practice, others choose an alternative penance while others abstain from meat for dietary reasons.

On Good Friday we recall Christs’ death on the cross, but this is to be observed with personal piety each Friday of the year by an act of penance as we suffer with Christ who redeems us by His passion and death.  The US Bishops allow for us to abstain from meat (the preferred choice) or to make some other observance. 

The bishops’ document says, “…as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.  We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law.  Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified.  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.”

There are several ways to make this observance and it is good to prayerfully consider your response of self-denial.  Some abstain from meat, social media, television, alcohol, caffeine, or other favored food or beverage.  Some perform corporal works of mercy, such as visiting the sick, taking communion to the homebound or to nursing homes, etc.  It is important to note that even though the bishops point to abstaining from meat as the preferred observance, they caution those who observe meatless Fridays to not pass judgement on those who choose an alternative act of self-denial.

For more detailed information on the bishops’ statement, follow this link as it provides more detail about Lent, Advent, and all Fridays:

And for those interested, the Code of Canon Law has something to say about this practice.

Can. 1250 — The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

Can. 1251 — Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

Can. 1253 — It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Developing a habit of penitence and self-denial is an aid to us in the Christian life.  We unite ourselves with Christ, we acknowledge our sinfulness, we recognize unhealthy attachments and we gain clarity of vision.  In my own life I’ve recognized that when I PRAYERFULLY abstain (fast) I am more in tune with the will of God.  I relate it to the AM radio on a car.  Some stations need to be fine tuned on the dial to hear them, one turn to the right or left and there is noise, but when dialed directly on the station, there is clarity (do cars have a radio dial knob anymore?).  Fasting and prayer tune our spiritual radio to “Christs’ frequency” so we are docile to the Holy Spirit and are more disposed to make a right response to our Lord.

Peace and God bless you.

Deacon Gary Perrydore




  • Jonathan Brumley

    Catholic Answers teaches that in the US the bishops exhort the faithful to do penance on Friday, but it’s not actually required (under penalty of mortal sin).