So today at work, as I was simultaneously (accidentally) breaking my penance that I said I would do in order to be able to eat meat tonight, I was eating a cinnamon gummy heart and dreamily posited "do you think gelatin counts against my meat abstinence on Fridays?" My former Catholic and MS Lutheran (best friends with a Catholic nun) co-workers said that no, it did not. I googled it. It doesn't.
But it got me thinking about rules and following them just for the sake of following a rule. The meat abstinence is was actually revised in the 1970s to say that it had to be some for of penance rather than just not eating meat (except during Lent-- then you can not eat meat on Fridays). I am guessing this had to do with cultural changes that increased numbers of vegetarians as well as people who ate less meat for health reasons. It then became an idea that you could not eat meat on Fridays, or do some other form of penance. Many Catholics continue to abstain from meat, as it was easy to remember and most didn't do it anyway.
The thing about this rule-- like most things in Catholicism-- is that it's all about intent. Doing the penance is supposed to make us think, but what if you're following the rule and not thinking? We're supposed to remember the Passion and Good Friday and also be participating in redemptive suffering, but can we do that when we're just not eating meat because we're "not supposed to?" For example, down south, they have these huge fish fries and everyone gets together and eats fish and hangs out on Friday evenings. Not much of a penance, is it? My grandmother tends to opt for a ham sandwich and a can of soup on those nights. She is sacrificing her fun night out. Up here, The Hubbs and I could easily opt out and have a lobster dinner, but that is not sacrificing anything-- it's a bit lavish and decadent in the name of sacrifice. I actually find that I tend to focus more on what I am supposed to when I mess up on my abstinence or feel like it's not worthy penance.
So the question is, do you follow a rule just to follow it? Or is it more important to embody the spirit of the rule and not the letter? I think some people would argue that following the rule is important, but I think in this case, I will take the Lutherian position that the spirit of the rule is what matters. What's the use of doing something if you don't know why you're doing it, or it's not doing anything for you spiritually? If you can use the rule to bring about a positive change, then how does it matter if you're eating meat or not?
This is a rule I really try to follow, but I really try not to be scrupulous about it. I also know why I'm doing it, so I feel like there is wiggle room. But I really think this is something that can only be absolved through better catechesis all around.