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									WHERE’S THE BEEF ?

                                            Brian A. Graebe
                       An Examination of Friday Penance

          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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