Lent raises the spotlight on Fridays. It is a day of abstinence from meat for all those age 14 and older.
In many parishes it is a day of special devotions such as the Stations of the Cross or adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. Fridays hold a prominent place in the hearts of Christians.
Spiritually, Friday ranks behind Sunday, the first and most important day of the week. Sunday is set aside to commemorate the central mystery of our faith, the joyful aspect of the Paschal Mystery, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.
After Sunday, the next most important day of the Christian week is Friday, the day to remember the other half of the Paschal Mystery, the somber part, the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross on Good Friday.
Why no meat on Fridays?
Friday is a solemn weekly memorial of the crucifixion, a day to praise and thank God for his son, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, our Savior, who freely laid down his life for us.
Over the centuries, traditions and devotions have emerged for Fridays to give respect and tribute to Jesus for all that he endured on our behalf and to venerate his saving cross.
Abstinence is the best-known and longest-standing spiritual practice associated with Fridays.
Since Jesus sacrificed his flesh on the cross on Good Friday, Catholics refrain from eating flesh meat on Fridays in his honor. Flesh meat includes the meat of mammals and poultry.
This spiritual practice began in the First Century, and for a long while it was mandatory for every Friday throughout the year. Mandatory abstinence was discontinued in 1966.
The 1983 revised Code of Canon Law makes Ash Wednesday and Good Friday days of abstinence for those 14 and older (C. 1251 and 1252), and the U. S. Catholic Conference of Bishops extended abstinence to all Fridays in Lent.
Because Jesus died for our sins on a Friday, that day stands out as a special day for contrition and sorrow for past wrongdoing, as well as the day to perform acts of penance and abstinence is a form of penance. While abstinence is required only on the Fridays of Lent, it is both optional and highly recommended throughout the rest of the year. Other forms of penance for Fridays include prayer, fasting, other forms of self-denial, almsgiving and good deeds.
Mass is ultimate prayer
The ideal way to pray on Fridays is to attend daily Mass.
Other Friday devotions include the Stations of the Cross; the rosary, particularly the Sorrowful Mysteries; Scripture reading, particularly the Passion Narratives; litanies, particularly the Litany of the Sacred Heart of Jesus; and prayer before a crucifix.
In many parishes, Friday is the most popular day of the week for Masses or prayer services at hospitals or nursing homes. It is also a common day to bring Communion to the sick and shut-ins, distribute food and clothing to the needy, and perform other works of mercy.
Friday has spiritual significance because we remember that we are saved through the wood of the cross. The tree of our defeat has become our tree of victory; where life was lost, there life has been restored (former Preface for the Triumph of the Cross).
In our hearts we sing, “Lift high the cross, the love of Christ proclaim!” In the cross is our salvation!
Father Michael Van Sloun is pastor of St. Stephen in Anoka.