Since the Second Vatican Council, “meatless Fridays” have been considered optional, with the proviso that if a Catholic chooses to eat meat on that day, he or she must consciously plan on making another sacrifice as a penitential remembrance of of the Crucified Christ.
The Council intended to free the faithful to choose their own, more personally meaningful, sacrifice in remembrance of Good Friday. In 2011, though, the bishops of England and Wales announced a specific reinstitution of meatless Fridays, writing: “Every Friday is set aside by the Church as a special day of penance, for it is the day of the death of our Lord . . . The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat.”
The bishops made this move (and New York’s Cardinal Timothy Dolan has also suggested it for the US) because — as with so many Council declarations — what the Council said, and what filtered down to the pews, (mostly through secular media) were very different things.
Most Catholics are not even aware that they have always been expected to sacrifice something of a Friday and, with the requirement to abstain from meat lifted, Friday had simply become just another day, with no offering in reparation, no remembrance of Christ Crucified.