Now here's a curious thing. In much of what I've read regarding the re-introduction of the meatless Friday in England and Wales, including the odd pastoral letter, the impression is given that the situation the bishops are attempting to reform- i.e. the failure on the part of large numbers of the faithful to perform any act of self-denial on Fridays- dates to 1984 or thereabouts. This is an error. The loosening of the law on Friday abstinence actually came about in around 1970. I clearly remember being in school when the change occurred. I also recall my difficulty, soon afterwards, of trying to explain to the priest in confession that I had failed to perform any (alternative) act of self-denial on the previous Friday. Within a few short years, however, I came to the view that sticking with the tradition of going without meat was the easiest way of ensuring that I did something rather than nothing. It isn't a particularly maccho penance, I grant, but, as I have long told myself, it can be added to and one of these days I may just do that. It is interesting to see that the bishops appear to have come to something like the same view. But what about circa 1984?
As I've mentioned the law on abstinence- and its application in England and Wales- changed back around 1970.
What happened in the eighties was an attempt by the bishops not wholly unlike what is happening at present. Someone seems either to have twigged that the looser interpretation of the law, brought in a decade or so earlier, had resulted in most of the faithful not performing any Friday penance at all or else had been shaken up by the publication of the new code of Canon Law. At any rate the bishops issued an instruction insisting upon the necessity of Friday penance. It was one of those documents that was bound to stick in the memory owing to a most curious- and, I felt, unsatisfactory turn of phrase. Their graces and lordships while insisting upon the duty of Friday penance said that failure to perform the chosen penance on a particular Friday was not to be seen "in the light(sic) of sin". Now, I could see the point they were making but the use of the term "light" as applied to sin seemed regrettable at least and evidence, I felt, of a collective"brain disorder". Schizophrenia, perhaps...or dementia?
Given the collective amnesia regarding the earlier instruction, the latter begins to look more likely!