Why TGIF Has a Whole Different Meaning for Catholics
If you spend all week looking forward to Friday, you’re not alone. It’s common practice to view Friday as the end of the work week and the gateway to the weekend, which means it is time to let loose and relax. No doubt, people really mean it when they say, “Thank God it’s Friday.”
But for centuries, Friday has held a very different significance for Catholics. Just like everyone else, Catholics say, “Thank God it’s Friday.”However, their response is not to celebrate, but to instead perform acts of penance. This is because Friday is the day of Our Lord’s Passion. In remembrance of Jesus’ death for our sins, Catholics treat Friday as a penitential day.
Most Catholics know that we abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent (in addition to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). However, this practice used to apply to all Fridays during the year. Just as every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, every Friday recalls Jesus’ crucifixion and death. For this reason, it has always been a law of the Church to abstain from meat on Fridays.
This changed in 1966, when the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued its Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence. The statement lifted the requirement of abstaining from meat on Fridays outside Lent and Good Friday. At the same time, it emphasized the importance of penance and instructed the faithful to continue Friday penance in some form. They recommended continuing to abstain from meat, but they allowed individuals to choose another form of penance that would be meaningful to them.
Self-imposed penances can be a challenge. It can be very difficult to keep up with practices that we feel like we are doing alone or that don’t appear to have tangible benefits. But these penances can be very spiritually rewarding. They allow us to enter in a small way into Jesus’ suffering and to show our gratitude for his sacrifice. Plus, if we truly understand the Sunday Mass as a celebration of the Resurrection, then Friday penance helps us to prepare for each Sunday in the same way that Lent helps us to prepare for Easter.
So, the next time you say, “TGIF,” remember that it’s not just the weekend you can be thankful for, but more importantly, Jesus’ sacrifice of love on the cross.