18 December 2016


Readers who daily check out Fr Zed's blog will have read his piece on Abstinence on the Friday after Christmas. He explains it all with his usual lucidity. BUT a different rule applies within the territories of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales. Here is a piece I have printed previously. Read on!

It was Pius XII who levelled out the Octaves by making all the days Doubles of the First Class, or, as some of you might nowadays say, Solemnities. Such days, canonically, do not admit Abstinence. So one is not bound to Abstinence on the Friday after Easter.

What about Abstinence on Pentecost Friday? I repeat below a ruling by the CBCEW to the effect that Abstinence is "contrary to the mentality of an octave". But the Friday in the Pentecost Octave survives in the EF but not in the OF! Here, surely, we have a juridical gap.

My view is that, in communities or families in which the dominant "Form" is the EF, the Friday is, according to the legislation in the 1962 books, and the statement of the English and Welsh bishops, a day which excludes Abstinence. (There is, of course, a bit of an oddity in this, in as far as this Friday is an Ember Day on which historically Catholics fasted. But that was a long time ago.)
ABSTINENCE IN THE CHRISTMAS OCTAVE                              
On 16 October 2014, the Catholic Herald announced that a spokesperson of the CBCEW had stated that Boxing Day, which in 2014 was a Friday, is not a day of Abstinence. "To consider St Stephen's Day or Boxing Day as a day of abstinence would not be compatible with the festive and celebratory nature of the Christmas Octave ... An octave is an ongoing celebration of the two highest ranking solemnities of the Liturgical Year ... it is contrary to the mentality of what an octave is to consider one of its days as penitential ... Octaves are weeks of joy, not abstinence, even though the Easter Octave ranks unambiguously higher than that of Christmas."

There is no doubt that local hierarchies do have the canonical right to make rules about Abstinence (Canon 1253 Episcoporum conferentia potest pressius determinare observantiam ... ieiunii et abstinentiae ...).

Interestingly, the statement makes clear that the ruling applies not just to a Boxing Day which falls on a Friday, but, every yearto whichever day in the Octave of Christmas is a Friday*.

When I first published a version of this, some people got worried about whether the CBCEW spokesman was misleading them. Two basic rules of Traditional Catholic Moral Theology: (1) Doubtful laws do not bind. In other words, if there is some doubt whether a law applies to me ... it doesn't. If the Bishops say it doesn't apply to me, then their statement creates at least a doubt as to whether it applies to me
(2) We are NOT obliged to be Rigorists, Tutiorists, or Probabiliorists. The Church condemned the Jansenists. If there is a genuine doubt between two possibilities, one is entitled to exercise one's free choice.

That is what the pre-Conciliar books on Moral Theology say.

*  Where a National or Diocesan or Ordinariate or Parochial Patron is observed as a Solemnity and falls on a Friday, that Friday is not a day of Abstinence.


fr. Thomas said...

St Albert the Great says that the fast in the Whit Octave is a 'ieiunium exsultationis', unlike the Lenten 'ieiunium lamentationis; i.e. one has been made so spiritual by the descent of the Holy Ghost that fasting is a pleasure.

vetusta ecclesia said...

I think I am right that not a single feast in the national E and W calendar ranks as a solemnity.

Ben of the Bayou said...

I would like to bring attention to the comment posted by Fr. Thomas. I think he is bang on and that the *traditional* Catholic spirit would hold the ember days of Pentecost to also be days of fasting (of some sort).

Indeed, Father H, as you well point out, the rank of the days of an Octave have not traditionally been all of the same degree, until Pius XII allowed the Destroyer to do his work. This, the argument put forward by the spokesman of the Bishops of E&W is shown to be rather weak in consideration of the fuller Catholic tradition.

El Codo said...

How can anyone with a morsel of Catholic sensibility ,argue for Abstinence in either the Christmas or Easter Octave?They swallow a camel,and squeeze out a gnat?

RichardT said...

"Doubtful laws do not bind. .... If the Bishops say it doesn't apply to me, then their statement creates at least a doubt as to whether it applies to me!"

Father, in the light of other current disputes in the Church, I assume you have an unwritten caveat that this only applies to matters where the Bishops actually have authority.

So Bishops can create legitimate doubt about abstinence, as they have authority to set local rules about abstinence. But they cannot create legitimate doubt about the permanence of marriage and the sinfulness of "second marriage" cohabitations, because they do not have any authority over that.

Protasius said...

The ruling by the spokesperson of the CBCEW rests on the assumption, that octaves are inconsistent with abstinence. Ember Friday in the Octave of Pentecost is traditionally a day of fasting and abstinence, as the former Code of Canon Law clearly says in can. 1252 § 2. I therefore think that the Friday in the Octave of Pentecost is not a juridical gap but a point which illustrates very clearly the tension of this assumption with traditional practice.

Also, abstinence on the Friday in the Octave of Christmas is required in the rest of the world unless a particular solemnity happened to fall on this day. If the assumption that an octave (and the Octave of Christmas in particular) is inconsistent with abstinence were true, the church would make an error in the rest of the world – and would have persisted in this error for centuries.

The CBCEW can of course grant a dispensation for the Friday in the Octave of Christmas, but the argument on which this dispensation is based seems to be erroneous to me.

William said...

@Protasius: You speak of "error" as though this were a matter of dogma. It is a category error to call "error" that which is a matter of discipline. Discipline is mutable (both across time and between cultures); dogma is not.