1970: Irish Bishops Abrogate Friday Abstinence

The Irish Episcopal Conference issued the following statement on 3rd July, 1970:

As from tomorrow the only days in the year on which meat will be forbidden will be Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

We are aware that many Irish Catholics will be saddened by this decision, for historical as well as religious reasons.

We ourselves share this regret. We have come to our decision only because it has become more and more difficult to retain here a law of Friday abstinence which no longer binds in so many other countries.

Needless to say, the basic Christian duty of penance and self-denial remains. The difference is that in future Catholics will have to make up their own mind as to how they will fulfill that duty.

We sincerely hope that a great number of Irish Catholics will continue to observe Friday abstinence as a purely voluntary penance. This has happened to a considerable extent in other countries, and it will be surprising if it does not happen also in Ireland, where the tradition of penance for the love of Christ is so strong.

Whether we continue to observe Friday abstinence or not, however, the obligation to do penance remains. We may decide to make personal sacrifices in the matter of food, or alcoholic drink, or smoking or amusements — perhaps giving what we thereby save for the relief of the needy at home or abroad. We may choose the sacrifice involved in special service to the poor, the sick, the elderly or the lonely — or the special effort which is often involved in the practice of daily Mass, daily visits to the Blessed Sacrament or the Stations of the Cross.

What we have got to remember is that we must practice some form of penance if we are to be true to the spirit of Christ.

We are confident that the Irish people as a whole will take this obligation seriously and we would suggest that each person should now decide for himself some form of penance for each Friday, in memory — as was Friday abstinence — of the passion and death of Our Lord.


Posted on October 25, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Recently English Bishops have ask the people there to return to meatless Fridays. In the wake of all the scandals hitting the church in recent years,penance is an obligation we should all share.

    When I was over visiting (my father`s family are from Donegal and Meath) we were told by a few priest and sister`s the bishops there had instructed everyone to do penance on Fridays.This however was in the wake of the child abuse scandal,for reparation.

  2. Chris — yes, the Pope mentioned the need to do penance in his Pastoral Letter.

    The Irish Bishops would later issue a statement after the promulgation of the New Code of Canon Law restating the requirement for Friday abstinence as normative but making it optional, and listing a number of alternative penances to substitute for abstinence from meat. (This is predictably ignored.)

    The Bishops of England and Wales were right to reinstate the requirement; it’s a pity they stressed that it would not be sinful to ignore it, effectively making it voluntary. (In the old days it was viewed as a mortal sin to eat meat on Friday.)

  3. “it has become more and more difficult to retain here a law of Friday abstinence which no longer binds in so many other countries.”

    As the late John Healy used to remark: “There goes the mob. I’m its leader. I must follow”. That statement on the part of the Bishops actually reveals how much they had lost basic confidence by 1970. A confident institution would have followed its own instincts or sense of rightness, and paid no heed to what other countries were doing. It might even have actually used this as a teaching moment. Yet we see here the “snakin’ regard” for The World and the beginning of the cringing before the altar of public opinion. And we all know just how that’s working out for us, don’t we?

    In fact most people carried on with the fast on Friday regardless, perhaps more out of habit but I’d like to think it was genuine. In my mother’s case it certainly was. In our area we had a door-to-door fish delivery on Friday mornings, which lasted well into the 80s. The reason it was given up was because of the advancing age of the man himself and changing patterns with most households being out working, rather than a sudden decline in demand due to the ending of the fast requirement.

    Even today the canteen in my workplace always includes a fish option on Friday but on no other day of the week (the staff are actually Muslim and the cook Chinese!!). Amazing how the ripples of the tradition still linger.

  4. Jaykay I agree but I didn’t find their purported motive very plausible. They also issued a wishy-washy statement on Humanae Vitae after its release, which was widely interpreted as allowing for contraception when the married couple found it impossible to assent to the encyclical. Mgr Cremin speculated that Abp McQuaid issued his own statements on the matter because he was unhappy with that of the Irish bishops.

    I believe McDonald’s in the US originally introduced the ‘Fillet-O-Fish’ because the company was loosing significant custom every Friday as a result of Catholics abstaining from meat.

  5. Shane: I would guess that Abp. McQuaid was a less-than-willing signatory of that fasting statement! Of course by 1970 he must have been seeing how sidelined he was becoming so perhaps he just threw up his hands? What a sad end for such an unjustly maligned man.

  6. Jaykay, I suspect you are right and the end of his life is indeed very sad. In retrospect, I would argue that his hostility to change has been entirely vindicated by what has happened. The Irish Bishops of the early 1960s were, in many respects, outstanding pastors and implemented reform more conservatively (at least initially) than most other countries (think of the radical Dutch Church, which effectively collapsed in a few years). I think we owe them a lot for avoiding the worst of the excesses.

    The more I study what has happened the more nostalgic and angry I become. Nostalgic for what we’ve lost (which, contrary to what I originally thought, is a vast amount) and anger at the people who are responsible for destroying it. To be honest the people who infuriate me most are the misguided ‘conservatives’ who uncritically parrot the liberal analysis of Irish Catholicism, either by seeking to impugn its orthodoxy or indulging in a reckless search for its inherent ‘defects’ (eg. Fr. Vincent Twomey’s disappointing book The End of Irish Catholicism). Old-style Irish Catholicism is vastly underrated IMHO.

  7. If you want to keep your blood pressure low avoid at all costs Eamon Duffy’s “Faith of our Fathers”!! A good, even outstanding, writer in other respects but a real Spirit of you-know-what man.

    In many ways what we’ve lost in terms of our faith heritage, if I could put it that way, is similar to what we managed to do to a lot of our architectural heritage during the same period. At least there was a backlash against that and it is now unthinkable that such schemes as e.g. the devastation wreaked by the roads engineers in Dublin could happen, similarly the ripping down of traditional shop facades etc.etc. As you know it’s now got to the stage where reproduction is almost de rigeur (although to wildly inconsistent standards!).

    When you think about it, a similar process happened at exactly the same time to our liturgical traditions, with the equivalent of plastic, formica and carpet replacing the old carved wood and marble. Who was it who described it as a “banal, manufactured”?

    At least they’ve got over that phase of “architecture” for quite some time. Unfortunately, as we know only too well, the equivalent process is only beginning on the liturgical front, with many entrenched interests still firmly in place, along with the brainwashing about “the bad old days”.

    If I could pay a tribute to your site, which shows the resources that were actually in place back then, I would say that it is a very hopeful sign of the stirrings of a re-appraisal of what we’ve been force-fed for too long. In the same way, those who founded the various conservation groups in the early 60s were faced with a large measure of public indifference and even vilification (e.g. Kevin Boland’s infamous “belted earls” slur). But within two decades the landscape had changed.

    I hope it won’t take that long on this particular front!!

  8. Jaykay thanks for a spirited and encouraging comment. I do indeed hope that Lux Occulta could prompt reassessment of much of the received wisdom. How we see the past is very important because it affects how we see the present, and is therefore an influence on future policy. Irish Catholics today have much to learn from their forebears.

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