External Markers of Our Faith

It caused somewhat of a stir . . .

A few months back, you might have heard, the bishops of England reintroduced the discipline of abstinence from meat on Fridays.

Every Catholic mid-fifties and older can recall how abstinence from meat on all Fridays was a constant of our lives.  In 1967, Pope Paul VI relaxed this discipline, decreeing it no longer obligatory, but voluntary, while highly encouraged, on Fridays (except during Lent, when it remained binding).

This modification–the pros and cons still being debated–almost became the symbol of “change” in the post-Vatican II Church.

Whether one agrees with that decision or not, all must admit that penance and mortification–essentials of Christian discipleship, according to Jesus Himself–have sadly diminished as a trait of Catholic life.  Such was hardly the intent of Pope Paul VI, as is clear from his 1967 teaching, but, it is a somber fact.

That’s one of the reasons the bishops of Great Britain have reintroduced the discipline, calling their brothers and sisters, faithful to the Gospel, back to external acts of penance, so necessary to fight the reign of sin so evident in our personal lives, in the world, and even within the Church.

Another reason that usually surfaces in any discussion of this issue is the value of what are called external markers enhancing our religious identity.

Scholars of religion–all religions, not just Catholic–tell us that an essential of a vibrant, sustained, attractive, meaningful life of faith in a given creed is external markers.

The essence of faith, of course, is the interior, the inside life of the soul.  Jesus, for instance, always reminds us that it’s what’s inside that counts.

However, genuine interior religion then gives rise to external traits, especially acts of charity and virtue.

Among these exterior characteristics are these markers that the scholars talk about.

For some religions, it might be dress; others are noted for feastdays, seasons, calendars, music, ritual, customs, special devotions, and binding moral obligations.

Islam, for example, is renowned for Ramadan, the holy season now upon them; dress; required prayer three times daily; and obligatory pilgrimage.

Orthodox Jews are obvious, for instance, for their skull caps, for the seriousness of the Sabbath, and for feastdays.

What about us Catholics?  For God’s sake, I trust we are recognized for our faith, worship, charity, and lives of virtue.

But, what are the external markers that make us stand out?

Lord knows, there used to be tons of them:  Friday abstinence from meat was one of them, but we recall so many others:  seriousness about Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; fasting on the Ember Days; saints names for children; confession at least annually; loyal membership in the local parish; fasting for three hours before Holy Communion, just to name a few.

But, almost all of these external markers are now gone.  Some applaud this; some mourn it.  I guess some were helpful, while others were not.  Besides the black smudge on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, is there any way we Catholics “stand out” as distinctive?

Debate it you may.  But, the scholars tell us that, without such identifiable characteristics, any religion risks becoming listless, bland, and unattractive.  Even the sociologist Father Andrew Greeley, hardly some nostalgic conservative, concluded that the dropping of Friday abstinence was a loss to Catholic identity.

And that’s another reason many welcomed the initiative of the bishops of England as a step in the right direction:  restoring a sense of belonging, an exterior sign of membership, to a Church at times adrift.

Is it fair and timely to ask if we “threw out the baby with the bathwater” when we got rid of so many distinctive, identifying marks of Catholic life five decades ago?

I’m not saying we should re-introduce any or all of these markers.  The toothpaste is probably out of the tube.  I’m just suggesting that this is a conversation well-worth having.

Perhaps the pivotal question is:  what makes us different as a Catholic?

A balance is good:  if all the emphasis is on these external markers, the danger is hypocrisy and scrupulous observance of man-made laws.

But, if all the emphasis is on the interior, with no exterior sign of identity, the risk is a loss of a sense of belonging and communal solidarity.

We sure need both.

So, I ask again:  what makes us different as Catholics?  Are the bishops of England on to something?


106 Responses to “External Markers of Our Faith”

  1. BHG says:

    YES you are on to something. It’s easier to tell what football team an American supports than what religion he practices. YES we need to return to the externals! YES YES YES.

  2. I cannot speak for the Bishop’s in England but the practice of “fasting” on Fridays (every Friday during the year) never went away. Just because many people do not practice it and it is not discussed from the pulpit often / ever (at least in my parts), does not mean it disappeared.

    “All Christ’s faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.” (CIC 1249)

    Thus the law of abstinence from meat is still binding unless one’s national bishops’ conference has provided for alternate forms of penance. In the United States, the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has obtained permission from the Vatican for such substitution. Catholics are obliged to do some form of penance on Fridays and keep the day as per canon 1249, but now they can choose the form of penance they wish to do.

    Let us all remember that Jesus Christ shed his blood for us on Friday. Is making a small sacrifice too much to ask one day a week???

    For heavens sake…………………..

  3. Ed Kemp says:

    I think it would be better if we had to sacrifice something a bit more serious than meat on Fridays. How about no unnecessary cell phone, television or computer usage, something that would actually make people stop and think.

    What makes us different from other Christians is that we believe in the true presence of Christ in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. What makes us different from non-Christians is that we believe Christ is the Messiah.

  4. Mamabearjd says:

    It’s a great question! My daughter and I recently started covering our heads for Mass, because it just feels right, aand we are hoping to lend some courage for more to do so. Love your posts, I follow all the way from Texas!

  5. Daniel Harrigan says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan, I ask you and your fellow Bishops to do the same. I’m willing to forgo meat on Friday. Our faith has been wasting away due to a lack of fervor and dying to self. I pray you can move the church in America back to some of these wonderful traditions we jettisoned. Communion on the tongue only would go a long way to put reverence for our Lord in the Eucharist back in the hearts of the faithful. I’m 42 years old and lived through post Vatican years in the 70’s. It was terrible. Many my age have left the Church due to the terrible formation we received during that time. Most my age are indifferent to the faith or just don’t believe anymore. I ask you and your fellow Bishops to live the faith and TEACH it. I’ll pray for you.

  6. As a Lutheran convert, I long for a more open encouragement of these external markers by our Bishops and Priests. From what I have seen since becoming Catholic, it seems that the idea of penance, and Fridays as a day of penance is almost completely absent among most Catholics I know. Almost every person I know (Catholic or not) think this is just something Catholics “used to do” but “are no longer required”, or even encouraged to do. I personally chose to abstain from meat on Fridays, but I have a very hard time convincing my children and wife that Fridays are still are a day of penance, and that penitential practices are valuable and even essential. I think the Bishops of England are most certainly on to something, and I pray that our own Episcopacy will rediscover and encourage such practices among the faithful. The toothpaste may be out of the tube, but if we have truly lost something valuable, then it does not matter how difficult it is to reclaim it. God will provide what is required to get the toothpaste back in if we truly cannot afford to lose it.

  7. Happy Dude says:

    It ought to be said that Friday penance is still obligatory and binding; it’s just that its pre-determination as abstinence from meat has been made optional

    Canon 1251 of the 1983 Code promulgated by Bl. John Paul II: “Abstinence from eating meat or some other food according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops is to be observed on every Friday of the year unless a Friday occurs on a day listed as a solemnity. Abstinence and fasting, however, are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”

    After the Council, the Church began to privilege interior markers — which was major among the reformers’ points. This was the result of modern thinking (e.g. Descartes) which reduced human reality to mental activity.

    The classical teaching of the Church, both philosophically and theologically, is that man is a substance composed of spirit and body.

    One could not have a marker that is interiorly signifincant unless there is a corresponding exterior marker. Of course, this is not to say that there cannot be validly spiritual and grace-filled experiences apart from exterior signs. But Christ instituted Sacraments for a reason. He came to save humanity. And in order for humans to do things together: we need markers.

    It ought also be said that the validity of a marker need not require it to flow from the interior trait in everyone. It is possible for catechetical reasons to despoil the Egyptians of practices that are made to be markers, and that can give rise to a corresponding interiority.

    The soul-body unity is a two way street.

    Bring back the Fish!

  8. Rene says:

    If it is now required of the British, it may be a good idea if it also becomes required of the Americans.

  9. Clark Whitney says:

    My family kept the discipline of not eating meat on Friday. When I was 5 years old, I remember asking my mother, “Why don’t we eat meat on Friday?” And she responded, “It’s a sacrifice.” I didn’t fully grasp, at 5 years old, the significance of how Christ’s death for our salvation on a Friday meant that we should give up meat on the same day for all eternity, but I went along with it. We were not a particularly devout family, but this is one custom we kept.

    This strange seed was planted in me through that discipline, the idea that something more must spring from my faith. I can look back now at 36 and see how that small weekly act forced me to search for deeper understanding of my faith, developed the idea of doing works of charity, of forgetting myself for a while, giving up bad habits and resisting temptation. All fruits brought about in my life from not eating meat on Friday.

    It wasn’t always a sacrifice, there are so many things in our modern world that are much tastier than meat. Though sometimes it was a sacrifice, especially at a celebration or at a great restaurant known for their steaks. As an adult, the inevitable question arises, “Are you a vegan?” “No, I’m just a Catholic.” It has brought many opportunities to share my faith with people and even the most secular among my friends seem to have a profound respect for my little sacrifice for God.

    Wherever I have traveled over the years, this practice always reminds me that I am a Catholic Christian and has forced me to consider my behavior and actions, privately and especially publicly. Additionally, it has given me a sense that I am part of this long and great history, keeping a custom that goes back to Apostolic times.

    When I heard that the bishops in the UK were restoring the discipline, I admit, I felt a little envious. I hope those that observe experience similar graces.

    Clark Whitney, NYC

  10. Susan Cole says:

    shortly after England’s bishops re-applied the discipline of abstaining from meat on Fridays and after some prayer, i unilaterally (also no discussion with the pastor of the local church) i decided to abstain from meat on fridays as part of my penatential behaviors. i am a bit startled at how difficult it is. i have told no one(even my husband hasn’t noticed that there has only be fish or salads for dinner those dayst) sometimes all i want is bacon. for me this has been a good thing and i think also the right thing.

  11. HV Observer says:

    Please add to your list: ad orientem worship, where the priest and the people “turn together toward the Lord.”

  12. AndyP/Doria2 says:

    What makes us different as Catholics? Pretty darn close to nothing Your excellency We contracept like non Catholics, we divorce, abort, and vote like non Catholics.

    Many people blame Vatican 2. I agree to an extent. Vatican 2 had many good teachings. It was the apostates who came out ov V2 with what has become known as “the spirit of V2” that is the smoke of Satan that entered the sanctuary and still smolders today.

    We teach our children criticism, source theories and Q source fantasies. Our leadership has offered milquetoast ever since. We feed milk instead of solid food. Before V2, 75% of Catholics celebrated weekly Mass, now about 25% do. We have close to 70,000,000 Catholics in this country and we have the most anti Catholic government ever.

    You mention “ . . . seriousness about Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation;” We just had a Holy Day, The Assumption, that was demoted to a Sunday observance. Heaven forbid that folks go to Mass twice in one week. We have Saturday Masses that were supposed to be ONLY for people who could not possibly make Sunday Mass. Now it’s a “Uhh, let me get this outta the way so I can sleep late on Sunday” Mass.

    Then we have weak statements like “I’m not saying we should re-introduce any or all of these markers. The toothpaste is probably out of the tube. I’m just suggesting that this is a conversation well-worth having.”

    Why not reintroduce these wonderful Traditions? We’re losing people to Protestant fundamentalism in droves anyway. Why not show the future young Catholics that this Church means business?

    It is our leadership that for over 50 years has watered down the faith and is in the process of killing the faith in the West. Thank God for Africa and Southeast Asia where our Lord is showing that indeed the gates of hades will not prevail.

    I’ll say it again Archbishop. You were chosen to a very powerful job. With you on the east coast, Archbishop Gomez on the west coast and now Archbishop Chaput (one of my personal heros) in Philadelphia, and above all Cardinal Burke in a high position in the vatican, my daily Rosaries seem to be paying off. You MUST take charge. Lead us. There are millions of us out here who will stand shoulder to shoulder with you if you three will only lead us.

    As Mother Teresa once said to Cardinal O’Connor – “Let God.”

    Blessed Pope John Paul II said “Be not afraid.” Be the leader you were born to be.

  13. Miriam says:

    I went to school in Brooklyn during the 50s. We always had fish for Friday lunch at school. And even though I was not raised Catholic, we always had fish for dinner on Friday at home as well.

    I’m very thankful that I love fish. (I think it’s because I am Norwegian, lol

    As a convert (Easter vigil 2008), what bothers me is that the US bishops have decided that there are pretty much no holy days of obligation. When I read the calendar for the rest of the world the good old USA really stands out as not belonging.

    Monday was the feast of the Assumption but doesn’t seem to mean much since it’s not a day of obligation. Well in the US anyway. The priest who is filling in for the next two weeks since our pastor is at WYD is from England. It is a day of obligation there. How sad for us.

    Want more faithful Catholics? Bring back the days of obligation and meatless Fridays. Have the externals, they’re necessary.

  14. ANNE says:

    I hope the New York Archdiocese will bring back the discipline of abstaining from meat on Fridays. It is time for the shepherds to lead the sheep that are being devoured by the wolves of a secular, materialistic culture. Please save us!

  15. AndyP/Doria2 says:

    And one more thing Your Excellency. A must read below. It shows how fast collapse can happen in of all places:

    Ireland July 31, 2011

    As the Irish taoiseach or prime minister put it this week, relations between church and state in Ireland will never be the same.

    Actually, they will continue to be the same, for from the beginning the Irish constitution separated them, and while it invokes the Trinity and so forth, the Catholic Church there has never enjoyed the established status of, say, the Church of England in England, except once upon a time in the hearts of the people.

    Enda Kenny (the taoiseach in question) was building on the impact of the Cloyne Report, the latest and biggest in a series of official inquiries into sexual scandal in the diocese of Cloyne. It goes beyond allegations that (at current count) 11 of the many hundred priests were guilty of molesting children, to allege that, even quite recently, members of the hierarchy were trying to downplay and cover it up, to protect the Church’s reputation. It also found police responses sometimes inadequate.

    Priestly scandals of this sort have been in the news for some time; any allegation will be widely and prominently reported. Benedict XVI, who played a courageous role in launching internal investigations even before he was elevated to Pope, has since repeatedly and publicly lashed himself, on behalf of the whole Church, for its past failures, and refused, in principle, to offer extenuations. He gets little or no credit for this. As visible symbol of the Church, he continues to be the personal target of the most visceral critics, including especially her worst enemies within.

    Kenny has been generally celebrated for crossing a taboo line in Irish politics, with an incendiary speech that went beyond condemning specific Church failures, to damning the Vatican tout court. Using expressions like, “the rape and torture of children,” and naming the Pope personally, he was able to raise a huge cheer from every anti-clerical soul in the whole Irish diaspora.

    Heretofore, given her historical prestige in Ireland, and what was once great loyalty to her, no Irish politician dared attack the entire Church in such a frontal way, and indeed, a certain obsequiousness towards bishops and priests was believed necessary to get oneself elected in Ireland. Those days are now gone, as the critics correctly observe, while gloating over the damage that the Church has sustained. A letter-writer to one of the Irish papers provided a succinct history of the Irish governing class, since independence: “Blame the British. Blame the EU. Blame the Vatican.” We are now in phase three.

    Kenny is a career politician, who spent ages on the backbenches before smelling the main chance. In the short months since he became Lord of the Dail, he has been otherwise noted for botching a tax proposal: a scheme that would raid private pension savings, to finance government job-creation programs. (Under fire, he then amended it to exempt the truly wealthy.) Against the impending bankruptcy of the Irish state, he has taken two bold, widely-publicized strokes. He has made reductions in the government motor pool; and he has claimed to be good friends with Angela Merkel (the German chancellor who just bailed out Greece). Perhaps we should give him time for other measures.

    He is no more contemptible than most politicians, who tend to get worse the higher they slither up “the greasy pole,” as Disraeli called it. Having smelled sulphureous anti-clericalism in the Irish air, he now turns it to political advantage.

    The truth is sometimes more complex than what is presented in the mass media, or for that matter, than what is believed by howling mobs. Irish anti-clericalism was itself not exactly born yesterday. Nothing deeply loved fails to be occasionally hated; and anyone who has ever met a devout Irish person, will know that his sword has two edges: one glinting towards the world, and the other at the throat of his bishop.

    But those are the devout. As progressive critics note, with gleeful approval, the proportion of them within the overall Irish population has fallen considerably.

    Now look at Ireland. Outwardly, this country appears to have become a very prosperous place, with evidence everywhere of the buying power of paper money and credit cards. Disposable income has moreover swelled with the sharp decline of the famous Irish birthrate, though it remains high for Europe. (Now look at Europe.)

    A little more inwardly, an aging, increasingly childless population has piled extraordinary personal debt on top of a state debt that is astronomical, and the entire country awaits the arrival of the European bailout machinery.

    More deeply, much more deeply, Ireland has bought into secular post-modern consumerism in a huge and apparently sudden way, rather as Quebec did in an earlier generation. The comparison is instructive: the almost overnight disintegration of the Catholic Church, after decades of mostly invisible foundational weakening; the inundation, like a dam bursting, of centuries of cultural life profoundly guided by Church teachings.

    This had approximately nothing to do with child-molesting priests. They are just a pretext for the angry. The real story is to be found buried in a single Gospel line: “What will it profit them, if they gain the whole world but lose their own souls?” David Warren

    Link – http://www.davidwarrenonline.com/index.php?id=1303

  16. Rushad says:

    Your Excellency, as a 21-year-old Catholic who does observe the Friday Fast from Meat year-round, I think it would be well-worthwhile for the Church in the United States to restore the obligatory nature of the Friday meat fast, as well as the three hour-fast before Holy Communion. In addition, I think it would be great if Mass attendance on Holy Days of Obligation was mandatory no matter what day of the week the Solemnity falls on, and I can’t tell you how distressing it is that, in all but a few provinces in this country, the Solemnity of the Ascension has been permanently transferred to the following Sunday. Your Excellency, please give us our feast days back. As a young Catholic I want clear markers of my Catholic identity. God Bless you!

  17. Matt says:

    I do think this is a topic worth exploring. Changes such as these and changes to the Mass have stripped us of what once was a distinctive Catholic identity. We should ask ourselves how much these changes have actually contributed to Church unity (ecumenism) as opposed to how much they have led to laziness and apathy among the faithful. However, I think these changes should ideally be implemented worldwide if we are to be a truly Catholic Church. Otherwise, rivalries might develop along the lines of whose diocese is more or less disciplined.

    There are still some things that distinguish us as Catholics, though, most notably our devotion to Mary.

  18. Henry says:

    Great post which highlights a vital issue! I especially like these paragraphs: “A balance is good: if all the emphasis is on these external markers, the danger is hypocrisy and scrupulous observance of man-made laws.

    But, if all the emphasis is on the interior, with no exterior sign of identity, the risk is a loss of a sense of belonging and communal solidarity.

    We sure need both.”

    Speaking for myself, I’d say that one of the distinctive external markers should be the way we interact with reality because we believe that reality is permeated by a Presence that loves us. Therefore, all of reality is a sign of my beloved! And for that reason, we are interested in all of reality, not just the portion that fits into my worldview.

  19. Martin Kelly says:

    Dear Excellency,

    More than 20 years ago, I revisited the “letter” published by the American Catholic Bishops formally easing the restriction of eating meat on Fridays in the late 1960’s. Clearly, everyone remembers that we were told that meat was no longer forbidden on Fridays, except during Lent and Ash Wednesday. But, to my surprise, the letter also said that we should replace this penitential act with another of our own choosing. This part of the letter is remembered by no one, let alone put into action. So, I decided at the time to adopt as my penitential act the very act that American Catholics were “freed” from performing.

    To say the least, I have received much criticism from my family for upsetting the Friday meal options in the household. However, I am at peace with my decision, knowing that my Saviour died for me so that I may live with Him in the next life despite my many sins. It’s a “Thank-you, Jesus!” action that I repeat every week.

    May God bless you in your positions as ordinary of the NY Archdiocese and President of the USCCB. I will be praying for you and your intentions.

    P.S. Unlike other good Catholics who sometimes inadvertently forget to abstain from meat on Lenten Fridays, I have never forgotten, as my habit of abstaining from meat on all Fridays has trained me well.

  20. Kevin Jackson says:

    Thank you Archbishop. Here in the Bible Belt, I can easily see how the external combined with the internal is definitely making us different as Catholics. Not far from the Southern Baptist’s “Vatican” at 8th & Broadway in Nashville, TN, is the motherhouse of the St. Cecilia Dominicans. This congregation of sisters has been here for over 100 years and is experiencing phenomenal growth and is a prime example of which you speak. As we affectionately refer to them as our “Dixie Chicks”, the sisters are highly sought after to lead Catholic schools all over the country. Their charism for teaching and their spirituality are their internal markers as well as external markers, but their most visible marker in our majority Protestant community of Middle Tennessee is their habit. If the external markers you mentioned are so bad according to some of the above writers, why is it these sisters have had to double the size of the mother house and why do bishops ask them to come to their dioceses to teach in their schools? I suppose another question could be is why is the Church growing in the South? I was born in Brooklyn, and raised in Fla., but I see many more local converts than Yankees.

  21. Karen says:

    My husband and I started observing meatless Fridays year-round a couple of years ago. We offer it up for the unborn with this prayer:

    Heavenly Father, in Your love for us, protect against the wickedness of the devil those helpless little ones to whom You have given the gift of life.
    Touch with pity the hearts of those women pregnant in our world today who are not thinking of motherhood.
    Help them to see that the child they carry is made in Your image – as well as theirs – made for eternal life.
    Dispel their fear and selfishness and give them true womanly hearts to love their babies and give them birth and all the needed care that a mother can give.
    We ask this through Jesus Christ, Your Son, Our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, One God, forever and ever. Amen.

  22. Christian Aden says:

    I’m a recent convert to the Catholic Faith. Growing up in an insular Lutheran community, I had many confused misunderstandings about what Catholics really believed and what they did. Apart from a small part of my mom’s family I didn’t know any Catholics whatsoever. Growing up, I–and I think everyone around me–still believed that “Catholics don’t eat meat on Fridays”. So when I would see someone who I knew to be Catholic eat meat on Friday, I would be somewhat shocked that they would deny or overlook what I mistakenly believed to be an important aspect of their faith. Much the way that some accuse the Amish of “cheating” when they see them using technologies mistakenly believed to be forbidden to them based on a deficient understanding of actual Amish belief and practice.

    My wife is from Poland and her family is very devoutly Catholic. She and her family continue to observe Friday abstinence. After we got married, when I was still a Lutheran, I rebelliously ate meat on Fridays whether I wanted to or not.

    Since becoming Catholic, I have joined my wife in abstaining from meat on Fridays. Not only does it help me set aside Friday as a day of penitential observance, but it’s also given me the opportunity to share my faith with non-Catholics and to remind fellow Catholics, by my small example, of their own obligations to their faith.

    I heartily support a reintroduction of Friday Abstinence by the American Conference of Catholic Bishops for I think there is no external marker of our faith that is more obvious to non-Catholics and which, for that reason, might give us the most immediate opportunities to evangelize the wider culture. Also, it’s been my sad experience that for most American Catholics, the significance of EVERY Friday in its relationship to EVERY Sunday is no longer emphasized or even recognized.

  23. James says:

    Your Eminence,

    Is this leadership? The, “Listen, I don’t have or know all the answers, but let’s dialogue…” approach? I can only imagine what would have happened to the Church in Corinth if St. Paul used such a tact. “Listen, I’m not saying I have all the answers, and certainly I’m not saying anything *should* change, but let’s have an open, honest conversation about how you think we should behave when gathered together in the Lord’s house.” It’s weak and it’s the reason we are in such a mess today.

    To answer your question, today nothing makes us different as Catholics. Our lives look exactly like our pagan neighbors and, as a result, so do our values. We divorce at the same rate as the rest of America, we vote for whomever we want regardless of their opposition to Church teaching, and we do whatever feels good on Saturday night, then come receive Holy Communion only when we feel like it on Sunday morning.

    With all this in mind, there is absolutely no question we need to bring back every single sign listed above, and we need it done quickly. You say the interior needs to be right to manifest externally, and that is true. And, it is also true that it works in reverse as well. As St. Thomas Aquinas said, “Grace builds on nature.” When we are doing the external works, penance, and mortification necessary to overcome our sinful inclinations, we are more open to God’s outpouring of grace and our interior life comes into line with that which we profess by our actions.

    I know this because it wasn’t until this year that I took on everything listed above. I started taking Holy Mass on Sundays and Holy Days very seriously, regardless of what has been abrogated, which is a whole other conversation. I started fasting on Fridays and the Ember days. And, I took the Holy Father’s admonition seriously and chose a good Catholic name for my first son. The result? I am closer to Christ and am living a more fully Catholic life than at any other point in my brief 31 years. I also finally let go of several things (internally and externally) to which I have been clinging for the better part of a decade. This has made me a better father, a better husband, and a much better spiritual leader of my family, to my wife’s great surprise and satisfaction. This all came about because I encountered a strong priest, who is a strong leader of his flock. He doesn’t pull any punches and he isn’t afraid to challenge you on how you’re living your life.

    I share all this to underscore the point that we don’t need wishy-washy, “Hey, what do y’all think?” leadership. We need holy priests, Bishops, Archbishops, etc. who aren’t afraid to challenge us and *tell* us when we need to change. Merely raising questions and creating dialogue isn’t enough! We need to be reminded, over and over, how much we need change, how much we need conversion, how much we need to “be perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”

    Please, I am begging you, stand up and lead! Our families need it, our country needs it, and, indeed, our world needs it!

    In Christ,

  24. Brenda says:

    The Archbishop makes a number of good points. But I find one their has to be one far more important: WHY did we go without meat on Fridays? We went without meat as a sign of penance. Penance was done to ‘make up’ for our own sins and those of others. The real question is, ‘why does the Church NOT emphasize the presence of sin in our lives and the Need for penance?’ If we only re-instate the act without the true purpose, it will be meaningless.

  25. Steve Baker says:

    Thank you for this latest missive Your Excellency. One of the reasons that I love our faith so much is that it is a sensory experience in the Mass, and the sacramentals that have been such a wonderful tradition in our Church. These outward signs of our faith are indications to the rest of the world that we should be proud to display. I find that small mortifications are true helps to avoiding temptations and lead to a life more in line with the virtues and how Our Lord would like me to be. Thank you again Bishop Dolan and may God richly bless your ministry.

  26. Well said, Your Excellency.

    Saw this via Fr. Z’s blog.

  27. Ken says:

    I totally agree. On everything.

    Now, can you help make it happen? (Not that I don’t like all these good blog posts, Your Excellency, but your sheep are looking for a little more leadership than blog thoughts.)

    USCCB, just do it.

  28. Patricius says:

    Your Excellency,

    You conspicuously left-out that the Muslims and Jews use their sacred languages, which was another external marker we lost this century. This external markers, are just that, markers – they aren’t the meat and potatoes of our faith (viz. faith in the Risen Lord, charity, etc.). Nevertheless, external markers often help form inner piety and devotion. For example, my son acts differently when he wears play-cloths and when he wears church-cloths. Another example, the brown scapular reminds us, in our nakedness of the sacred, and may, therefore, help to cultivate internal and external chastity.

    This signs are important not only because they may help *us* gain salvation but because an identifiable Catholic culture with recognizable external markers draws more souls to the Church, effectively, aiding in the salvation of *others’* souls.

  29. Wanda says:

    Thank you, Archbishop Dolan! I, and it seems many others here, welcome your posting on meatless Fridays and on penance. The Church is in such dire need of restoration in these areas and in many others. Thank you and please, let’s do it. God bless you and strengthen you to guard and defend the flock entrusted to your care.

    (Hello from Fr. Z. and wdtprs!)

  30. Dan Hunter says:

    Great points!
    My wife and I have not eaten meat on Friday, any Friday, for three years.
    We also do the 3 hour, or midnight fast before recieving the Sunstantial God in the Blessed Sacrament.

    These are all disciplines that must be brought back by mandate, by the Holy Father in the Universal Church, to strengthen Catholic Identity and promote Holiness.

  31. Josh says:

    As a catholic beneath the age of 20, I would be thrilled if the bishops brought this external sacrifice back. For me, it’s not an act of nostalgia but an act of love for God and subsequently, a yearn for tradition.

  32. JWDT says:

    Yes, external markers are important…they are a witness to Our Belief System. Another marker would be the Roman Habit that was once the “uniform” of a Roman Catholic Priest….too many times have I ran into a person claiming to be either a Religious and they were in Shorts or some very casual attire…

  33. K Gurries says:

    Yes, the Bishops of England are on to something essential. We must begin to restore important aspects of our Catholic heritage that have been discarded these past decades. We don’t need so much conversation or “dialogue” about it. We need our pastors to lead the way. This includes taking serious the correction of all abuses — including liturgical abuses that undermine our Catholic life and identity. Imagine if Bishops adopted the same “zero tolerance” policy towards liturgical abuse as they do towards other types of abuse…..

    K Gurries

  34. MarylandBill says:

    I personally think that meatless Fridays and other external markers of our faith might be very good things. Obviously meatless Fridays and other such disciplines are good for penance and resisting temptation (i.e., if you can’t resist the burger at lunch, how are you going to resist the more serious temptations of life?). They will also, I think, help us to rebuild Catholic Identity. It seems to me that too many Catholics don’t really see how we are that much different than our Protestant Brothers. I admire the faith and dedication of some of my protestant friends, but I want to make sure that my Children understand that Catholicism is not just another denomination.

  35. Maynardus says:

    Kudos to Your Excellency – this is most timely and I applaud you for having the courage to voice it, I pray that it will not fade away into oblivion as happened when Cardinals Law and Maida made a similar proposal a number of years ago. The silence from the “bench of bishops” at that time was deafening, perhaps the climate is more propitious for considering this today. If I may be permitted to make a further point for your consideration: I think it should be emphasized that Friday Abstinence wasn’t only about (personal) penitence, it was also a commemoration, weekly and lifelong, of Friday as the day of Our Lord’s Crucifixion; just as each Sunday is observed as the day of His Resurrection. When we understand that we are also eschewing meat – flesh – in acknowledgement of the day of the week when Our Lord’s earthly body – his flesh – was put to death, it becomes an even more powerful marker of Catholic identity…

  36. Josh says:


    My family abstains from meat every Friday to fast, and it have become a beautiful marker to my children of the outward expressions of our faith. Our oldest is 5 (one whom you blessed many times while we had you in Milwaukee) and he and the younger ones who are old enough to expect the routine, actually cherish the meatless Fridays as part of who we are.

    This is just one of many outward expressions of the faith we practice to try and be a people set apart. I strongly urge you as Archbishop of New York and president of the USCCB to encourage more formally the outward expressions of the faith, and to empower families, parishes, and catechists to help for the why behind them.

  37. A wonderful piece with spot-on observations.

    The only part I disagree with is “I’m not saying we should re-introduce any or all of these markers. The toothpaste is probably out of the tube.” I think the loss of Catholic identity has contributed to a loss of faith. We absolutely SHOULD re-introduce the rituals and traditions that made the Church strong.

    I am a convert of 18 months and bet if you were to ask, most converts would agree with this. Being more like our Protestant denominations is not what attracts converts. Being stronger, more traditionally Catholic does.

  38. Teresa says:

    Yes, let’s reintroduce the Friday abstinence from meat. It’s very important to be able to express our Faith in simple outward ways. It is a very good way to bring the family together as Catholics, to let friends know that we take our Faith seriously and to perform penance on Fridays in remembrance of the passion and death of Our Lord. I usually observe Friday penance, but it is never in an outward way. It would be great if the bishops reinstated this practice so that more people would do penance and also to unite Catholics in this outward practice. Will the bishops please take charge to bring back our traditions!

  39. CARLOS says:

    Dear Archbishop Dolan, please bring back meatless Fridays. I am married with 3 children and we all don’t eat meat on Fridays and it’s been a blessing to us. It shows not only to us but to those around us that we can give something up for love of God. Many Catholics tell us they thought the Church got rid of Meatless Fridays and we tell them no, that that was never the case. Thank you for considering Meatless Fridays, I hope and pray that at least in your diocese it is reintroduced.


  40. Jason says:

    “I’m just suggesting that this is a conversation well-worth having.”

    Your Excellency,

    Respectfully, I really think we need less talk and more action. Less “dialogue”, and more faith.

  41. Taylor says:

    Your Excellency,

    As a few here, I am a convert from Lutheranism. The conversion is extremely distressing for me in the area of external markers that you referenced. The Lutheran (LCMS) church I came from celebrated ad orientem, chanted, had special services on their appropriate Feast Days (Ascension _Thursday_), and even exhorted no meat during Lent and a strict fast for all forty days–and we were Protestant! I converted for the Truth, but it was sad to find that I was acting more Protestant than I already had been by joining the Catholic faith, until I found an Extraordinary Form parish. Im’ not trying to push the EF, but the parisioners all practice things like daily Mass when possible, Holy Days of Obligation on their proper day, the year-round Friday penance from meat, and so on.

    We must restore our Catholic identity. It’s what we all crave in our bones to set us apart as the light and salt of the world. And we need the hierarchy to guide us. Why would the toothpaste be out of the tube for the US but not the UK and Wales? Don’t worry about the USCCB worry about needing dialogue–the Church governs from the top down, beginning with Christ. That’s how Our Lord intends; it’s why you have your position. Pax et bonum, Your Excellency!

  42. Jaydee says:

    I returned to Friday abstinence from meat several years ago. It “feels” right to remember a certain Friday. However, it did not feel like enough, given the great seafood and vegetarian choices now available, so I decided to also forego “treats”, (desserts, snacks, some recreation, etc.), and contribute the savings to my “God Jar”. It adds up, and there are worthy organizations that benefit from my roughly quarterly donations no matter how small. Sounds trivial, but it works for me.

  43. Colleen says:

    YES, absolutely, Your Excellency! We need these markers so badly. There’s a reason the Church seems to be in such chaos. It’s like we’ve forgotten that human beings are both body AND soul. We as human need physical expressions of inward truths.

    Of course it would be difficult to re-introduce these things, but I feel that the toothpaste is not out of the tube. I am part of the young generation, and I’ve spoken to many other young Catholics. It seems that we all crave the way things used to be. It’s very difficult to give up the things of the world without replacing that space and time in our lives. This is where the externals come in. I fight the temptations of the world with my miraculous medal, my brown scapular, my rosary, and lots of other things that many people termed after Vatican II to be mere “extras.”

    Bringing back meatless Fridays will require humility on everyone’s part. It will require disciple. Self control. A spirit of penance. These all sound like good things to me. In return for our sacrifice, I believe we will be rewarded with abundant graces–the graces we need right now to withstand the scandals rocking our Church. We will be united at Catholics once more. We will be distinctive; we will stand out and be seen. People will ask questions as to why we do things differently, and we will be able to evangelize!

    Your Excellency, if such things are in your hands at all, PLEASE do what you can bring back meatless Fridays in the US, along with all the other “extras.” We need them so very much.

  44. Karl says:

    I would support this move, on one very very important condition:

    That it be expressly made *not* grave matter (since preceptual obligations are conventionally considered grave matter unless otherwise indicated).

    It was the conversion of moral regime of abstinence to a primarily a matter of legalism that made it so brittle and vulnerable. The Eastern churches have shown that it is far better to keep legal concepts away from the issue of fasting and abstinence.

    To return to the former discipline without this important reform would be to repeat the prior error.

  45. E. O. Caldwell says:

    My family and I have been abstaining from meat on Fridays for a couple of years now. The kids are ok with it too. Please Archbishop start the ball rolling. You may even make some friends with peta.

  46. Bryan says:

    Was linked here from Father Z’s site.

    This is a wonderful idea, and for all the right reasons. Please work to make this so.

  47. Philip says:

    I would be thankful if the meatless Fridays came back as obligatory. We need to resume our culture of fasting and abstinence to help us live our faith.

    But first, perhaps a more pressing need would be to address the Holy Days of Obligation and the confusing toll it has had and still has on all of us.

    The latest example was the feast of the Assumption. Some oof us need encouragement to go to mass more than others.

  48. Bill Guelker says:

    I had the pleasure of meeting Your Excellency in the Sacristy of Little Flower after the 8:00am Mass when you last returned to St. Louis. Our Lord gave it His All on Good Friday. Why can’t we demonstrate as a faith community our unity with Him in suffering – we won’t be giving our last drop of blood, just a visible sacrificial reminder of His magnum opus on that Friday long ago.

  49. Ella says:

    It is time for Catholics to have an external identity again. As a recent convert from fundamentalism, I want the fullness of truth that the Catholic church has in all of her beauty and thousands of years of faith, history and traditions. No one can see our heart (except the Lord) but everyone can see our outside behavior and what we do on the outside influences what we believe on the inside. Small example- everyone on our street who drives by on Sunday knows we are going to church by what we wear and some have talked to us about our faith because of that. Our children know they need to behave and that we are going somewhere special in their suits and pretty dresses. Would there be such an obvious external indicator is we schlepped out the door in shorts, tee shirts and flip-flops? Especially if it was on a Saturday night?

    I pray that the men of God who are priests, bishops, etc. in The Church will stand tall under the guidance of the Lord and lead boldly in the path of righteousness.

  50. Hugh Edsall says:

    Your Excellency,
    Thank you for this message. My wife and I converted from the Episcopal church 3 years ago. I had been a priest of the Episcopal church for 51 years. We were so thrilled to become Roman Catholics because the church taught the Truth, while the Episcopal church was sliding into reductionist theology. However, we are dismayed at the sloppy theology sometimes found now in the Catholic Church. the lax nature of the teaching does not draw more people into the church but drives them away. Returning vigorously to the externals while teaching the faith with authority would attract people. We urge you to tighten the discipline and the theology which once made the Catholic Church powerful.