The Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales have decided to re-establish the Friday Penance. For younger readers this is the practice of going without meat on a Friday to remember the crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday. It is seen as a small sacrifice in order to remember the greatest sacrifice. The law will come into force on Friday 16th September 2011, the first Anniversary of the State Visit by Pope Benedict XVI to the United Kingdom in 2010.
Obviously it has to be dressed up in touchy feely fashion to be even half acceptable today. We are told that this move will protect the environment and empathise with the poor. Let me assure the good bishops that tucking in to crab soufflé, poached wild salmon or lobster omelette is not a way to empathise with the poor and marginalised. Nevertheless this is a brilliant move.
The real reason for the restoration is the laudable one, if you are a Catholic, of emphasising Catholic distinctiveness. A trifling change of diet can mark out the faithful, creates a sense of identity and proclaims that there are other values which are more important than materialism. Most importantly it draws a line of distinction between Catholics and the rest.
This is a sign of a growing Catholic determination to appear distinctive, and to be unapologetic about their Catholicism. Whilst there is much the Catholic clergy and hierarchy should apologise for it is interesting that they are no longer content for the run of the mill Catholic to remain in hand wringing mode.
If I were a Catholic I would applaud this move. As a Reformed Christian I can only wish our church leaders were as determined to be unashamedly and distinctively Reformed.
However, there is one addendum to the proclamation by which the bishops hole their flagship project below the waterline. What about vegetarians? After all they have given up meat seven days a week not just Fridays. What can they do to be distinctive?
The bishops have an answer. Carrots.
Catholic vegetarians, to protect the environment, empathise with the poor, and maintain their distinctive Catholic identity can give up carrots.
You don’t have to live in the West of Scotland to imagine the jokes which are going to come pouring in about Catholics and carrots. And no, I have no wish to reprint them here.