Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash
Wednesday and Good Friday.
But the US bishops petitioned Rome for an exemption and were granted one. Following quotes are taken from the 1966 NCCB Statement "Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence".
19. Changing circumstances, including economic, dietary, and social elements,have made some of our people feel that the renunciation of the eating of meat is not always and for everyone the most effective means of practicing penance. Meat was once an exceptional form of food; now it is commonplace.
This is one of the reasons given for the change and I just don't get it. Wouldn't there be more of a hardship, more of a penance, in giving up something that is commonplace? Since the beginning of Lent this year I've foregone meat on Fridays. And I've really noticed it. I'm a typical meat and potatoes kind of guy and this small penance every Friday reminds me that, "This is Friday. The day Our Lord was crucified." If it were something that I have rarely it wouldn't be as much of a reminder. But perhaps this is just me.
23. Friday should be in each week something of what Lent is in the entire year. For this reason we urge all to prepare for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday by freely making of every Friday a day of self-denial and
mortification in prayerful remembrance of the passion of Jesus Christ.
Now this is a great and wonderful sentiment. But how well have the USCCB as an organization, individually or the priest in the parish done in reminding us that while abstaining from meat is no longer mandatory that some form of penance on Friday is mandatory? I'd be curious as to what percentage of Catholics know of the obligation to do penance on Friday and actually perform some sort of penance on Friday.
28. In summary, let it not be said that by this action, implementing the spirit of renewal coming out of the Council, we have abolished Friday, repudiated the
holy traditions of our fathers, or diminished the insistence of the Church on the fact of sin and the need for penance. Rather, let it be proved by the spirit in which we enter upon prayer and penance, not excluding fast and abstinence freely chosen, that these present decisions and recommendations of this conference of bishops will herald a new birth of loving faith and more profound penitential conversion, by both of which we become one with Christ, mature sons of God, and servants of God's people.
I understand what the bishops were attempting to do in 1966 and would have been overjoyed if they had been successful. But 40 years later I think it's time to admit that the exemption just isn't working out. For my two bits I would suggest the bishops to re institute the Friday abstinence of meat and then also encourage the performance of works of charity and other penances on Friday. Meatless Fridays were easily understood by all and I think we have also lost a sense of community and being different by the exemption.