There are a lot of things I would never dream of doing (at least intentionally)— crossing in front of the altar without genuflecting, disposing of consecrated wine improperly, saying “Alleluia” during Lent, and so forth.
But do I think God gives a rat’s ass whether I do any of the aforementioned things (or eat meat on a Friday, for that matter)? No, not really.
Doing certain things a certain way— and abstaining from doing certain things— is a part of spiritual discipline, and it’s not for God; it’s for us, as a reminder to us. Through these disciplines, we’re more mindful of the presence of God in our lives, and we affirm certain truths about God.
For example, by abstaining from eating meat on Fridays (which many Roman Catholics have done for centuries, and the Episcopal Church inherited the tradition on an “all may, some should, none must” basis) I am drawing my mind back to the humility displayed by Christ on the Cross, and to his sacrifice of life.
What we eat gives us life, and by examining more mindfully what gives us biological life, we are reminded to be mindful of the one who gave us everlasting life in his sacrifice on a Friday.
Spiritual disciplines look like rituals from the outside— and may even seem a little silly— but when we look more deeply into what they represent for those who engage in them, they can be incredibly powerful and meaningful— far from empty legalism.
Fasting on Fridays (and Wednesdays) is a tradition that goes back to the early church…