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WHERE’S THE BEEF ? Brian A. Graebe An Examination of Friday Penance T he reign of Pope Benedict XVI may well come to status-quo position and removed the burden of change be known as the Age of Restoration in the post- from those championing the hermeneutics of continuity. conciliar Church. To the delight of some, and the Such leadership has undoubtedly opened windows in the scorn of others, practices that had fallen by the wayside Church, allowing for discussions and developments that have been dusted off and given new prominence in this only a few years ago would have been unthinkable. This is papacy. While much of this restoration centers around a most uniquely Benedictine aggiornamento. matters liturgical, Benedict’s steady if cautious program One area of the Church that has perhaps suffered of reform occasions a more encompassing look at the cur- more than its share of neglect is the penitential nature of rent state of the Church. Fridays. Not just Lenten Fridays, but all Fridays of the From the outset, one ought to be clear what the year. And not just penance in general, but specifically ab- Benedictine restoration is not. It is not an effort to “turn stinence from meat. What might seem like a rather re- back the clock.” Rather, Benedict has restored prominence mote and insignificant corner of the contemporary Church to norms that had, over time, become dulled by excep- becomes, on closer inspection, a trove of spiritual riches tions, permissions, and general neglect or confusion. Ex- of which the faithful have largely deprived themselves. A amples abound, but the most famous must surely be this victim of confusion, poor catechesis, and general disre- striking line in Summorum Pontificum, Benedict’s 2007 gard, penitential Fridays can play a significant role in the motu proprio: “It is, therefore, permissible to celebrate the renewal of our times. Sacrifice of the Mass following the typical edition of the The first question to arise in considering this sub- Roman Missal promulgated by Bl. John XXIII in 1962 and ject would be, Why abstinence? Granting the natural-law never abrogated, as an extraordinary form of the Liturgy of obligation to do penance for sin (Summa Theologiae, II-II, the Church” (emphasis added). 84, 7, ad 1), abstinence presents itself as a time-honored Masterfully avoiding any volley in the liturgical wars means of fulfilling this obligation. (For clarity, fasting of the past decades, Benedict has changed the entire scope generally refers to quantity, limiting the amount of food of the debate by claiming precedence or rightful promi- one eats; abstinence to quality, restricting the type of nence for norms and practices that had never been abro- food). By forgoing certain foods and drink, one makes an gated in the first place. In so doing, he has claimed the offering to God, a sacrifice of repentance, while emphasiz- ing one’s total dependence on God alone. The physical hunger and deprivation underscore our spiritual hunger for the heavenly banquet, which alone can nourish and satisfy. Certainly the practice of abstinence dates at least Brian A. Graebe is a seminarian of the Archdiocese of as far back as the Levitical laws of the Old Testament, and New York, studying at St. Joseph’s Seminary, Dun- was present even in Eden (Gen. 2:16-17). Following Our woodie. A summa cum laude graduate of New York Uni- Lord’s own counsel (Mt. 6:16-18, 16:24) and His example versity in philosophy, he pursued graduate studies in in the desert (Mt. 4:2), the Apostles continued to recog- classics at the American Academy in Rome. nize the importance of abstinence, most notably at the 26 New Oxford Review Council of
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