Saturday, March 21, 2009

No sex please; it's Friday!

I love my brothers and sisters in the Renovación dearly but, theologically, I sometimes think they want to take us back to the Middle Ages.

Last night a predicador reminded us yet again that Canon Law still says we should not eat meat ANY Friday -- not just during Lent. "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." (CIC 1251)

But, as with civil law, it is important to look at "case law" as well -- how the original Church mandates have been modified to fit the times and circumstances of modern Catholics. In this case, on February 17, 1966 in Paenitemini (Apostolic Constitution On Penance)
Pope Paul VI left the details of how Fridays other than those in Lent and Good Friday were to be observed up to the individual episcopal conferences. The United States bishops' conference then abolished the mandate to abstain from meat on Fridays in its Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence issued November 18, 1966. The bishops argued that the rule made sense when it was first established in the days when meat was actually a luxury but that for Americans, eating meat is so commonplace that giving it up is meaningless as an act of penance. Hola, predicadores de la Renovación: You are in the United States of America now and you should be teaching the Church requirements as they are in this country, not in your home diocese. You may long for the good old days of fish EVERY Friday but that is NOT current Church teaching.

But it gets worse. Not only last night's predicador, but the previous one who spoke to the subject suggested that married Catholics might be encouraged to abstain from sexual intercourse on Fridays and other days of fasting and abstinence. I have gone through both the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism of the Catholic Church and have yet to find anything that says married Catholics can't have sex on Friday. I suspect that some of the confusion may come from the Spanish version of CIC 1251 which talks about "la abstinencia de carne". Unlike the English word "meat" which is unambiguous (in its common, not vulgar, use), "carne" is variously used for both "meat" and "flesh" so giving it a sexual interpretation is possible, although the phrase that follows -- "o de otro alimento" -- makes that interpretation extremely unlikely.

The only other reliable reference I could find on the subject was from a Q & A on Lent issued by the Archdiocese of Chicago Young Adult Ministry. It says:

Many of our church rules change over the years because we as a people have changed. Also, our understanding of how we can best become the people God is calling us to be has grown more sophisticated. For example, common penances in the 7th century included abstinence from meat, alcohol, bathing, haircuts, shaving, sexual intercourse, and business transactions. We have learned a great deal about our own sinfulness, forgiveness, and the love and mercy of God since then. Rather than being ostracized from the community, we now seek ways to make amends to those we have offended, and, with the support of the community, enter more fully into communion. Through the sacrament of reconciliation, the priest, on behalf of the entire community, extends God’s forgiveness and love.

Now I'm waiting for our predicadores to show up without bathing or shaving and to stop conducting business on Fridays! This is the 21st century and we need to stop teaching 7th century Catholicism.

Others in the Renovación would have "good" Catholics stop dancing or drinking wine, even in moderation. Yes we are going up against the evangélicos in a lot of our countries of origin, especially in Central America, but we are still Catholic. We are not Baptists or Mormons for whom everything that could possibly be fun is a sin to be avoided. Jesus did not turn water into grape juice and I'm quite sure there was a lot of dancing at that wedding in Cana, as there is at Jewish wedding receptions today.

All of this makes me think of the issues the Early Church wrestled with when taking the gospel from the Jews to the Gentiles (Acts 15). Should the Gentiles have to comply with Jewish dietary regulations and circumcision? And the conclusion was "no" except to "abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from meats of strangled animals, and from unlawful marriage." These too have been changed to fit modern times. Catholics understand that it is perfectly OK to receive life-saving blood transfusions or eat a blood pudding every now and again. And we certainly don't worry about how the animals we eat were slaughtered. We do not buy only from kosher butchers like our Jewish brethren or from halal meat vendors like the Muslim faithful.

The spirit of the teachings in Acts is that the Church should not put any unnecessary and arbitrary burdens on the faithful beyond what is absolutely required to be a faithful Catholic. And the boundaries of these teachings are established by the Vatican and the individual episcopal conferences (and in some cases the diocese) according to local custom and circumstances.

We should be presenting these teachings accurately to the faithful, not trying to impose what we think the Church norms should be.

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