Then somehow, at some point, the "rules" changed. Later to be enshrined in the 1983 Code of Canon Law, a "competent territorial body of bishops" (usually a contradiction in terms, but never mind that for the moment) could decide whether to leave it to Catholics to substitute an alternate penance on those days. But most people didn't realize the universal law remained on the books.
This week, the bishops of England and Wales have decided to relieve the faithful of the task of finding alternative penance.
Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, said the decision to reintroduce the practice was taken at least partly as a result of the papal visit, which had created ‘a fresh expression of self-confidence and identity amongst Catholics’... The church said the ritual would be a ‘clear and distinctive mark of Catholic identity’ and would help to unite the faithful.
Well, I wish they would do it in the States. I abstained year-round for much of my adult life anyway (beyond the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent), but lately I'm having a devil of a time coming up with a different penance every week.
Now, if only McDonald's would offer that sandwich for 99 cents every Friday.