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Abstinence and dating

Secondly, the canon states that abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Absolutely — in fact, we have had a Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence on the books here in the US since 1966. The Statement contains many beautiful statements about the purpose of penance, which are theologically sound and thought-provoking, but it is decidedly non-specific about what exactly we are not supposed to eat on Fridays: Changing circumstances, including economic, dietary, and social elements, have made some of our people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance.

It is true that these norms were in place many years before canon 1251 of the 1983 Code of Canon Law gave Bishops’ Conferences the obligation to provide them; but the Conference has rightly noted that since they fulfill the requirement, and are not contrary to any provisions of the 1983 code, they can remain in force even though they were made before that code even came into existence (cf. Meat was once an exceptional form of food; now it is commonplace.

Of course each diocesan bishop can, and should, be teaching the people of his diocese about these subjects himself; but when important moral issues are relevant nation-wide, it is often useful for American bishops to be united in making a single public statement.