I was baffled as to how I had lived 19 years as Catholic without knowing this. The priest had just given a homily on the Church’s requirement to do penance every Friday, not just in Lent. After Mass as I walked across my college campus to the cafeteria I asked a friend about it.
"Oh yeah, I have know that for years," he told me. "It does not have to be abstinence from meat, but it has to be some sort of penance. It is in canon law, you know." (see Canons §§ 1250-1254) I had been taught the rules about Lent, but this every Friday thing was news to me. My first instinct was to try to excuse myself and discount it as not a big deal. But after looking at Canon Law and much prayer, I have found the healing depths of purposely doing penance for my sins every single Friday.
Even during Eastertide, the highest, happiest season of the Church, Jesus reminds us, "You will weep and mourn while the world rejoices." (John 16:20) All Fridays (except for solemnities) are days for doing penance, and remind us that even though He is risen we are not in Heaven yet. "[Y]ou will grieve, but your grief will become joy." (John 16:20)
A priest once explained to me that as Jesus’ flesh was torn and blood shed for us on a Friday, we honor Him by not cutting the flesh of animals. We make a sacrifice showing our sorrow for our sins united to His One Sacrifice for all sins. Just as every week we have the little Easter of Sunday to rejoice in the Resurrection, we also have the little Good Friday of every Friday to remember Christ’s passion.
This weekly day of penance helps me to feel true sorrow for my sins, strive to change my bad habits, and thank God for His sacrifice. When I think about it this way, one day a week to offer to the Creator Who gave me all I have is not too much for Him to ask from me.
Sisters, whether this is news to you or not, take some time this Friday to ask God how He wants you to live penitentially today. Perhaps you feel called to do a social media fast or give up your favorite drink. Or maybe you are drawn to the tradition of abstaining from meat every Friday. Bring your heart to God and ask Him to give you true contrition for your sins.
Susanna Spencer is the Theological Editor for Blessed is She who studied theology and philosophy in her earlier life. She happily cares for her three adorable little girls, toddler boy, and her dear husband in Saint Paul when not writing and editing. She loves beautiful liturgies, cooking delicious meals, baking amazing sweets, reading good books, raising her children, casually following baseball, and talking to her philosopher husband. You can find out more about her here.