--abstaining from meat on Friday.
Like with the head covering law, this disciplinary practice has fallen into disuse, and the great majority of Catholics (at least in the US) believe it is no longer required. Jimmy Akin also takes the position (like on the head covering issue) that no abstinence or other penance is strictly required on non-Lenten Fridays. I respectfully submit that as on the other issue, he is wrong on this one. Due to changes in the law, the Bishops' Conferences can allow some other penance instead, but some penance is still obligatory.
Now, UCLX would undoubtedly have something to say on this issue, and UCLX has expressed to me a certain amusement at my attempts to construct a syllogism, but let UCLX speak for UCLX's self. I'd like to plunge ahead.
So, let's take this one step at a time. First, what do the relevant Canons in the Code have to say? Remember that the first codified Code of Canon Law dates from 1917, and the current Code was published in 1983. So, from the 1983 Code:
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can. 1253 The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.
This seems very straightforward. The 1983 Code continues the law that Friday penance is required of the faithful. Canon 1251 does list abstinence from meat as the penance to be observed OR some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference. Canon 1253 goes still further to allow the Episcopal Conference to substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance.
Now, of course, dating from the end of the Second Vatican Council there have been some events that have caused confusion to the faithful, and which beg for clarification. The 1917 Code, as usual, is wonderfully clear on the subject:
Canon 1252 (CIC 1917). 1. The law of abstinence... must be observed every Friday.
Why cite the 1917 Code at all? Because the 1917 Code was in force when the National Conference of Catholic Bishops came out with norms "On Fast and Abstinence", which contains the following paragraph:
3. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence as binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law. (emphasis added).
Now, Jimmy Akin points to this document, and primarily to the paragraph immediately above, to support his contention that although the USCCB continues to urge abstinence and other penance on Fridays, it has lawfully dispensed with any obligatory prescription of abstinence or other penance, pursuant to its lawful authority under Canon 1253.
This position is erroneous for several reasons:
1. The US Bishops' document was published in 1966, seventeen years before Canon Law gave the Conferences the right to change the fast and abstinence rules in their territories. Such a document was not legally sufficient to alter the abstinence requirements of the 1917 Code, and if read to amend the canonical prescriptions was ultra vires-- in other words, beyond the power of the Conference. Even if the document is viewed as a dispensation, the language of the Code was unchanged and the law was in force, whether or not it was applied by the Conference.
2. Akin argues that the 1983 Code's permission for Conferences to specify the abstinence regulations stands as a recognition, tacit or otherwise, of the USCCB's decision. This is a not highly likely reading of the act of the promulgation of the new Code of Canon Law. However, even if Akin's premise were correct, the very terms of the new Canon 1253 disallow the type of alteration made in the "On Fasting and Abstinence" document.
Canon 1251 states the Episcopal Conference can name some other food instead of meat for the abstinence requirement. Canon 1253 allows the Episcopal Conference to substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance for the abstinence requirement. Nothing in either Canon allows the Episcopal Conference to substitute nothing in place of abstinence from meat on Fridays. Therefore, even if we adopt the Sherman-and-Peabody Way Back Machine approach to canon law, the 1966 NCCB document is not effective to alter the canonical obligation for Friday abstinence.
3. Now, the USCCB promulgated a memorandum in 1983 to all Diocesan Bishops reaffirming the 1966 document. This document claims that the 1966 norms "continue in force since they are law and are not contrary to the code (canon 6)." However, with all due respect, this is demonstrably incorrect. To the extent that the 1966 norms make the requirement of Friday penance completely voluntary, it is certainly contrary to the 1983 Code, which we have already established only allows the Episcopal Conferences to substitute other forms of penance for abstinence. It does not give the power to nullify the requirement.
Giving the 1983 Code and the USCCB 1966 and 1983 documents their most liberal joint reading in favor of relaxation of the traditional abstinence rule, one can only conclude that at least some form of penance must be substituted for abstinence from meat on all Fridays of the year except those upon which a Solemnity falls. If the USCCB documents cannot sustain this reading, then they are ultra vires and leave Canon 1251's prescriptions unaltered. Take your pick.
4. The final argument against the abrogation of the abstinence or other penance requirement comes from immemorial custom. As you may recall from the veiling article, this is a complicated area to explain. Because the first three reasons above are sufficient for purposes of my position, I won't delve into all the details here, but rather cite the general rule that an immemorial custom obtains the force of law and cannot be abrogated by a generic revocation.