29 December 2022


Here is a reprint of a piece I have shown several times.
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 an objective 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.

El Codo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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.

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.

ccc said...

Father, agree with your analysis. And believe the current code does not rquire it. But I find it bizarre that somehow we have arrived at a point where Ember Days used to require both fasting and complete abstinence on Ember Days, and now NOTHING is required.

In the States, the destruction of the Ember Day abstinence started when the Bishops allow partial abstinence on Ember Days in 1949, allowing meat at the principal meal.

PDLeck said...

@ vetusta ecclesia: I do believe that the two national calendars of E and W, one for each country, do contain one solemnity each. In England St. George (23rd April) is a solemnity and in Wales St. David (1st March) is also a solemnity.

St. Andrew, St. David, St. George and St. Patrick are each a solemnity in the country of which they are a patron and a feast in the other three countries.

Titus said...

"How can anyone with a morsel of Catholic sensibility ,argue for Abstinence in either the Christmas or Easter Octave?"

"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."

Both of these comments are wrong-headed. First, it is consistent with Catholic sensibilities to argue for abstinence during certain octaves (1) because Catholics are members of a society governed by laws, and the clear dictate of the law is that the requirements of abstinence apply during certain octaves and (2) this conclusion appears to be consistent with historical practice, which did not exclude all penitential practice during octaves.

The defect in the second comment follows from the first: the Church has laws, and those laws are amenable to interpretation and application pursuant to generally applicable, rationally assessable norms. If the law means X, an application of it (or a disregard of it) to effect -X is "error." That is one of the common, ordinary uses of the term. Is it "heresy," or "doctrinal error"? No, but the word "error" by itself does not imply otherwise.

On the merits, the current law on this topic is not well thought out, but it is reasonably clear. FIRST, the law of fast and abstinence is imposed by the Code of Canon Law, not a liturgical book. It is thus undisturbed by Summorum Pontificum (I pretermit questions concerning the Ordinariates, in whose particular law I am not versed; canonical members of Eastern Churches sui generis have, of course, their own law.)

However, SECOND, the law of fast and abstinence incorporates a concept---"solemnity"---that the Code of Canon Law does not itself define. That term finds its definition in the 1969 Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and the Calendar.

THIRD, the Universal Norms assign different "levels" to the Octaves of Christmas and Easter (the only octaves it retains): days in the Easter Octave are solemnities, while days in the Christmas Octave are only feasts. As odd as this seems, it appears to correspond, generally speaking, at least to the classification in the 1960 General Calendar. I have not looked at earlier iterations.

Therefore, FOURTH, because the Code of Canon Law dispenses from abstinence only on a solemnity, and because Friday in the Octave of Christmas is not a solemnity, it ought to be a day of abstinence, simply by virtue of the law (not by virtue, mind you, of any a priori reasoning about octaves, penance, etc.). That being said, what Father says about doubtful laws, reliance on pronouncements from episcopal conferences, and so on is certainly right as a practical matter for people living in England and Wales. Nothing I say should be taken to the contrary.

As for applying some different norm in communities attached to the usus antiquior, there really does not seem to be a juridic mechanism for doing that. Really, the current law is a mess, because it ties the application of one body of law to a condition governed by an entirely separate body of law that does not have the same effect everywhere. Different days have different characters in different countries and even in different places within a city. A parish, for instance, observes its patronal feast as a solemnity, but it is not entirely clear what this means: if I live within the parish boundaries of St. Henry's, is St. Henry's feast a solemnity in my house? I think so. But I think attempting to use the 1960 Calendar to alter penitential norms drafted in contemplation of a calendar with entirely different nomenclature is dodgy at best, especially when the dispensational norm is not the same as it was when the earlier calendar was in universal use.

This is the sort of thing that ought to be fixed, but that most certainly will not be in the foreseeable future.

Nick said...

In the Eastern Church, these Octaves are always free of fasting.

Hans Georg Lundahl said...

Pentecost Octave?

Isn't it a special case, like Ember Days fall there because precisely the Holy Spirit at last gives one the grace to fast with real merit before God?

Askedag, Pinsedag, Korsmess, Lucie
Onsdag derefter fastedag få vi

Swedish enumeration of Ember day occasions and each having days Wednesday (onsdag), Friday and Saturday.

So, first Wednesday after each of Ash Wednesday, Pentecost, Elevation of the Holy Cross and St. Lucy (criterium now given as Gaudete, I think, but the results tend to coincide).

Richard said...

The distinction between 'ieiunium exsultationis' and'ieiunium lamentationis': if we taught this way of thinking in Catholic primary schools the Church would be restored in a generation.
I'm going to fast exultantly tomorrow with perhaps a nice piece of salmon.

Father K said...

I cannot believe people are seriously yakking on about this. Look at it this way- we abstain from eating a hamburger or a sausage roll but instead we eat lobster thermidor. Where is the penance in that...not only during the Christmas Octave but on any Friday of the year? [unless of course you really do not like lobster]! 😉

Fr K.

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

Fish is fish.

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

Happy Feast Fr. At least this THIS English martyr is present in the universal calendar, if only as a semi-double...

Moritz Gruber said...

No, this is just plain wrong.

I am not suggesting that those who consider that there is a doubt are subjectively sinning. But objectively there is no doubt that all Fridays are days of abstinence that are not sollemnities. (In fact, Easter Friday might be an actual case of "lex dubia non obligat"; is that "a solemnity" or "a day with the rank of a solemnity"? Well. Lex dubia non obligat)

Solemnities are what used to be called double-feasts of the I class. St. Stephen is not that (it is II class, or what is now called "a feast"). The Day-during-the-Octave-of-Christmas is not that. Even the Sunday-that-is-assigned-to-30-December if that day is actually a Friday (there used to be such a thing) is not that. (It may be that St. Thomas of Canterbury is in England, though.)

The way to change that is by decree, or episcopal dispensation, not by interview-of-a-spokesperson. Lex dubia non obligat; at ubi dubium non est lex does obligat (if you pardon the English-Latin combination).


Now in disciplinary matters the law is that of today. Still, it may be of interest what would have been done in preconciliar times. Well, then it said "on Fridays that are not feast of precepts". St. Stephen might have been that some time, but not now in England if I'm rightly informed (it is in Germany). The other days of Christmas Octave have not been that for a long time. And the idea of fasting, even fasting, in a joyous time, is obviously traditional, as proved by the Pentecost Ember Days to begin with. (Also, back when the rule as "except feasts of precept", they did abstain on Easter Friday.)


Some episcopal conferences have given a general dispensation for the abstinence; and while it has become rather typical of traditional Catholics not to use it, Christmas Octave Friday might for some be a good occasion to do so. But you are using a dispensation by the Episcopal Conference if you do so. - In England and Wales, that dispensation has ceased in 2011. It may perhaps be possible to read the somewhat fuzzy part of the decree "failure to abstain from meat on a particular Friday would not constitute a ‘sin’ as such" (inverted commas in the source) as a dispensation for a couple of Fridays a year. But if you eat meat on that ground, you are basing your lex dubia on the existence of an episcopal decree that might be possibly read as a dispensation, and not on "the Octave cancels the penance" which it simply doesn't. Also, you have to do some other penance.

Moritz Gruber said...

Dear Father K,

what the lobster thermidor does do, while the sausage roll doesn't, is

1. join in the common practice of the Church which eats no meat and does eat fish,
2. obey the law such as it is,
3. give witness to the Catholic faith in a small manner,
4. humbly submit to the derision of "you call that abstinence and still",
5. give room to grow to the thought "well, I am conforming to the formality, but it would be better to do some real penance; I might start it next Friday, though without scrupulosity".

Also, it tastes better, I hear, and noone ever said abstinence should not be delicious. (In fact, eating a delicious elaborate meal with the small portions such meals usually have rather than "fast-food, and much of it" has some penitential aspects even to begin with.)

That being said, obviously lobster thermidor is not an ideal dinner for your usual Friday... though on Christmas Friday, which does have abstinence (see above) but at a time of feasting, the matter might be different.

frjustin said...

By way of exception, the Armenian Church observes Monday through Friday after Pentecost as fast days (Saturday is not a fast day), and the sources are rather apologetic about it. The Tonac'oyc' [=Typikon] of Constantinople, 1849, as well as the Tonac'oyc' [=Typikon] of Jerusalem, 1900, both contain this note:

"St. Nersēs Šnorhali has arranged these six days to celebrate the Feast of the Coming of the Holy Spirit, and he enriched [them] with hymns and readings. But the five days of this week are insoluble [fast] days".

Accordingly, Monday through Friday is clearly called "Fast Day", but Saturday is not.

Albertus said...

I have never eaten lobster in my life, and certainly would not eat such a costly fish on friday. On most fridays of the year i eat herring. Tomorrow, on th e friday within the Christmas Octave, i shall eat a piece of thawed salmon with skin, baked with champignon mushrooms: symbolically penitential, not costly, yet tasty and not unfestive. Hioefully i shall thereby satisfy all opinions on the matter.

vetusta ecclesia said...

Father K: the penance, surely, is not in the food, its quality or quantity, but in the willing acceptance of a limitation of our choice.

armyarty said...

What a mess!

Much like the rules on Holy Days, and so many things connected with the liturgy, it is all just made up.

Capricious, arbitrary, and not pertaining to reason.

One might also add that many alleged rules in the church do not proceed from a competent lawgiver,or have not actually been promulgated. An example would be the supposed restrictions on the Latin Mass.

Ask three different priests a question about fasting, abstinence, or days of obligation and you will get three different answers.

It appears to me that there is no actual rule at all.

F Marsden said...

With regard to Pentecost Friday EF being an Ember Day.
The Feast of the Triumph of the Cross in the Ukrainian rite is a "fasting feast" in which you feast but abstain from meat. This compromise would suit Pentecost Friday EF. So salmon and prawns it is!