My first post here, so be gentle...
Per Canon 1250, abstinence on all Fridays of the year (not just Lenten Fridays) remains the norm in the Universal Church. However, I recall being told several years ago that the US Conference of Catholic Bishops had petitioned the Vatican on behalf of American Catholics for what amounts to a dispensation from this requirement, so long as another penitential or charitable act took its place. If this is the case, could someone point me to the pertinent Vatican statement? Or, is US insistence what lead to Canon 1253, which allows each conference of bishops to define practices?
Relevant canons: http://www.vatican.va/archive/ENG1104/__P4O.HTM
The pertinent Vatican statement is Pope Paul’s apostolic constitution Pænitemini
of 17 February 1966, by which ‘the prescriptions of ecclesiastical law regarding penitence are totally reorganized’ and which said that it is the task of episcopal conferences to ‘transfer for just cause the days of penitence, always taking into account the Lenten season’ and to ‘substitute abstinence and fast wholly or in part with other forms of penitence and especially works of charity and the exercises of piety’.
This allowed the USCCB, on 18 November of the same year, to issue On Penance and Abstinence
, in which the bishops ‘hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence binding under pain of sin’ but ‘do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law’. Further, they say, ‘We emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent. We stress this so that “no” scrupulosity will enter into examinations of conscience, confessions, or personal decisions on this point.’
Canon 1253 (‘The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence’) essentially codified the power already given episcopal conferences by Pænitemini