Fish Fridays are back for the Catholics of England and Wales, or at least they will be come September. The bishops conference of those countries announced last week that Friday abstinence from meat will once again become obligatory for their flock starting September 16, the first anniversary of Pope Benedict’s visit to the U.K.
Some sociologists have argued that dropping meatless Fridays in the 1960s was a pastoral error on the Church’s part. Meatless Fridays, so the thinking goes, were a significant marker of Catholic identity, and the rapid disappearance of so many such markers contributed to the disastrous erosion of Catholic life and practice which began in the late 1960s.
Still, even if one accepts that suddenly dropping an ancient practice such as meatless Fridays was a mistake, it doesn’t necessarily follow that the practice should be revived today. Nonetheless, it seems to me there are significant theological reasons to praise the bishops of England and Wales for their gutsy decision. Perhaps we might even learn something from them on this side of the pond.