LONDON -- Catholics in England and Wales will be obliged to abstain from meat every Friday under a new rule brought by the bishops.
The "act of common witness" will take effect Sept. 16, the first anniversary of Pope Benedict XVI's visit to Britain.
The rule, announced at a news conference in London in mid-May, reverses a relaxation of the Friday penance regulations introduced in England and Wales in 1984. This allowed Catholics to choose their own form of Friday penance -- such as offering additional prayers, attending Mass or abstaining from alcohol.
But critics have said that the end of a tradition in which Catholics ate fish or eggs instead of meat on Fridays led to a loss of common identity, with many Catholics today abstaining from meat only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
The return to an obligation to abstain from meat was a key resolution of the bishops' May plenary meeting held in Leeds, England, May 9-16.
"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," said the bishops' resolution.