Another Lenten Friday, which means another day without meat. Just a few more and then its ok to dig into that Friday night steak, right?
Well maybe not. Present disciplines on the rules for fasting and abstinence are rooted in Pope Paul VI's Paenitemini, and the rules imposed by your local episcopal conference. In the United States, during Lent all Roman Catholics 14 years and older must abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays in Lent. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday all Roman Catholics who are 18 to 59 must Fast. Fasting requires that only one full meal be eaten along with two smaller meals (collations) which do not equal one full meal. There are a number of other rules, such as abstinence is not required on a solemnity (The Feast of St. Joseph and the Annunciation often occur during Easter, and sometimes are on Friday,) and the local bishops often, in the United States, at least give dispensations on St. Patrick's Day (March 17) if falls on a Friday. Members of the Eastern Catholic Churches are obliged to follow the discipline of their own particular church, which are often still much more strict than now followed by the Western Church.
Paenitemini requires that Fridays outside of Lent are penitential days. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops do not require Catholics abstain on these days, but by canon law individuals are suppose to do some form of penance on these days. That few seem to is unfortunate.
Obviously the responsibility of the catechist in this case is obvious. Many Catholics believe that the penitential aspect of Fridays were abolished when the mandatory abstinences were. As can be seen this was not the case. It is important that teens understand this.
So what to do? Abstaining from meat on all Fridays is probably the easiest way to meet this penitential requirement, but perhaps not the best. Most other forms of penance require more thought and effort. Organize an alternative to abstinence might actually be more engaging to your teens. Have them commit to taking an extra half hour to pray on Fridays. Scriptural meditation or saying the rosary also apply. Substitute Fasting for Abstinence on Fridays and collect the money they save for food for alms to go to the poor box or to a food bank or other charity. These are all penitential acts which meet the requirement.
Above all remind them that the penitential nature of Fridays and their adherence to Church practices in this matter are part of living a Catholic life. Its part of their heritage, as well as part of their obligations.