From the Pastor: 1966 Document Still in Force
In 1966 Pope Paul VI issued an Apostolic Constitution, Paenitemini, on Fast and Abstinence. (Written as Poenitemini by our Bishops as cited below. The spelling with an “a” or an “e” are both correct versions of the same Latin word.) The world’s various Bishops’ Conferences were to issue their own guidelines on the same topic. Our United States Bishops did so with the 1966 (they worked a lot more quickly back then!) Pastoral Statement On Penance And Abstinence. You already know that the teachings of these two documents made Friday abstinence from meat optional outside of Lent, with the stipulation that other penances be chosen to take the place of abstinence. But I thought you might also be interested in what they wrote specifically about Lent, so here it is, with all bolded words other than the title being my own emphasis:
A Statement Issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops November 18, 1966
10. Lent has had a different history than Advent among us. Beginning with the powerful lesson of Ash Wednesday, it has retained its ancient appeal to the penitential spirit of our people. It has also acquired elements of popular piety which we bishops would wish to encourage.
11. Accordingly, while appealing for greater development of the understanding of the Lenten liturgy, as that of Advent, we hope that the observance of Lent as the principal season of penance in the Christian year will be intensified. This is the more desirable because of new insights into the central place in Christian faith of those Easter mysteries for the understanding and enjoyment of which Lent is the ancient penitential preparation.
12. Wherefore, we ask, urgently and prayerfully, that we, as people of God, make of the entire Lenten Season a period of special penitential observance. Following the instructions of the Holy See, we declare that the obligation both to fast and to abstain from meat, an obligation observed under a more strict formality by our fathers in the faith, still binds on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. No Catholic Christian will lightly excuse himself from so hallowed an obligation on the Wednesday which solemnly opens the Lenten season and on that Friday called "Good" because on that day Christ suffered in the flesh and died for our sins.
13. In keeping with the letter and spirit of Pope Paul's Constitution Poenitemini, we preserved for our dioceses the tradition of abstinence from meat on each of the Fridays of Lent, confident that no Catholic Christian will lightly hold himself excused from this penitential practice.
14. For all other weekdays of Lent, we strongly recommend participation in daily Mass and a self-imposed observance of fasting. In the light of grave human needs which weigh on the Christian conscience in all seasons, we urge, particularly during Lent, generosity to local,national, and world programs of sharing of all things needed to translate our duty to penance into a means of implementing the right of the poor to their part in our abundance. We also recommend spiritual studies, beginning with the Scriptures as well as the traditional Lenten Devotions (sermons, Stations of the Cross, and the rosary), and all the self-denial summed up in the Christian concept of "mortification."
15. Let us witness to our love and imitation of Christ, by special solicitude for the sick, the poor, the underprivileged, the imprisoned,the bedridden, the discouraged, the stranger, the lonely, and persons of other color, nationalities, or backgrounds than our own. A catalogue of not merely suggested but required good works under these headings is provided by Our Blessed Lord Himself in His description of the Last Judgment (Mt 25:34-40). This salutary word of the Lord is necessary for all the year, but should be heeded with double care during Lent.
16. During the Lenten season, certain feasts occur which the liturgy or local custom traditionally exempts from the Lenten spirit of penance. The observance of these will continue to beset by local diocesan regulations; in these and like canonical questions which may arise in connection with these pastoral instructions, reference should be made to article VII of Poenitemini and the usual norms.
Did you notice that the days of Lent were not to be treated as if they were ordinary days? Extra prayer, fasting, charity, religious reading, corporal and spiritual works of mercy, and plenty of self-denial and mortifications were all recommended and expected of the Faithful. I sure hope you are taking them seriously. I highly recommend that you read the whole Bishops’ statement every once in a while to remind yourself (and to be able to inform others) of what is expected of us even to this day. They did a very good job explaining why we rightly embrace fast and abstinence and what greater sacrifices we could/should do if we opt out of meatless Fridays outside of Lent. Just search online for the title of the document and it will take you to the right place.
With prayers for your holiness,
Rev. Fr. Edwin Palka