QUAERITUR: Abstinence on Easter Friday

From a reader:

According to the Ordo of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, Easter Friday "is not a day of abstinence or penitential observance".  Yet on their liturgical wall calendar, there is a fish symbol on April 17th, indicating a day of abstinence.  Obviously an error crept in somewhere.  Which is correct?


This is a bit after the fact, but my inclination is favor the strength of the Octave of Easter and say that on Friday of the Octave it would be okay not to abstain.  That is, it would be okay to eat meat.

An Octave is a period when time is stops.  We rest in the mystery of the great feast we celebrated, since one day simply isn’t enough.  We are continuing Easter through all the days of the Octave.  In the older rite we say Mass with the Gloria, Sequence and Creed.  In the Novus Ordo we use the Gloria, and can use the Sequence, though we are not obliged to use the Creed.  There are restrictions on votive Masses for the dead, etc.  We say in the Te Deum in the office every day during the Octave.

Still, Fridays are penitential days appropriate for abstinence and we should always keep that in mind.  Of course when a very important feast, a Solemnity in the newer calendar and a 1st class feast in the older, fall on a Friday our Friday penitential spirit is set aside.   (BTW… that is 1st Class Feast, for other days are 1st Class, such as Good Friday in the mighty Triduum when we obviously bound to fast and abstain.) 

A feast is a feast, after all!

I don’t think you sin if you maintain something of a penitential spirit, even when Friday is also a great feast or during the Octave.  We have that same tension on Sundays in Lent, which is a penitential season.  Every Sunday is an "Easter", but the season is penitential.  What to do?  Ignore our Lenten spirit?  I don’t think so.  We don’t have to rub gravel through our hair on a Lenten Sunday, but neither do I think we should simply ignore the season.  Maybe a Santa Cristina will grace your Sunday dinner table rather than your habitual 1988 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino and you can have two courses instead of three.  I exagerate, of course, to make a point.

I think that on some calendars issued by traditional groups, as mentioned above, you will find an indication for abstinence on Easter Friday.  I think the calendar put out by the SSPX indicates "traditional abstinence" or such like.

All Catholics can make their own choices about what to eat and when, when to do penance and how, provided we do observe the law when we are truly bound by the law.  The 1983 Code is in force now, not the 1917 Code. 

All Catholics, even traditionalists, can with good conscience go by the indications of the present Code.  The law must be interpreted so that people are favored and not overly restricted.

If people decide they want a more rigorous approach, that is fine.  I applaud them.  But let us not forget to allow feasts to be feasts.  I think Easter Friday, within the mysterious Octave, is a feast.

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  1. Chris says:

    Father, you are correct that the new code doesn’t restrict meat this past Friday. In fact, it was Paul VI that did away with it in 1966.

    You also must know that eliminating meatless Fridays outside Lent has been one of the most destructive forces against the Faith and the family this century.

    There is a reason all three of my calendars — an independend traditional communities’ calendar, an SSPX calendar and an FSSP calendar — show the big fish this past Friday.

    Modernists may have taken the sin attached to eating meat on Easter Friday away in man’s law, but that doesn’t make it right to do. [Actually, people who say you can ignore the present law are the modernists. And your comments have been leaving a sour aftertaste. G’bye!]

  2. Sean says:

    Father, I think you are absolutely correct. At my Byzantine Rite parish the priest explicitly told us that meat was permitted on Easter Friday.

  3. Joshua says:

    The old rule was fast and abstinence except on Holy days of obligation outside of Lent. The new rule is Solemnity (or 1st Cl Feast), which includes Easter Friday

    One thing to bear in mind is that before 1911 there were upwards of 36 Holydays of obligation. With the new calendar downgrading some feasts, there are only (I believe) 17 universal Solemnities. Under that light the change makes some more sense [No one needs to bear that in mind, since it is not relevant to us now.]

  4. Precentrix says:


    If a major feast (first class/solemnity) falls on a Friday, one is not held to the law of abstinence, and one was not held to that law even on the old calendars. This is the case for feasts in Lent, when one was not obliged to fast, or for any major feast day occurring on a Friday.

    The issue in question is whether or not the Friday of Bright Week (within the Easter Octave) is of a high enough class to ‘trump’ the Friday obligation. I have the impression that it *is*, but I’m not an expert and don’t have my breviary in front of me.

    Of course, the question is moot if you are in a country where there is dispensation from Friday abstinence outside of Lent… and there is nothing which says that, on a day when the law of abstinence isn’t binding, *you have to eat meat*.


    BTW, does anyone know if the Friday-abstinence thing is binding here in France? Just wondering, not that I eat meat on Fridays anyway, but I would like to know…

  5. Precentrix says:

    Oh, and the sin attached to eating meat on a Friday has nothing to do with the meat per se, though obviously there is some fairly high symbolism, and everything to do with the fourth commandment…

  6. Bill says:

    Chris –

    While I agree with you that our recent laxity in discipline has severely eroded our Catholic identity, I’m afraid I don’t understand your last point. When you say that “the modernists” took away the sin (presumably that of disobedience) attached to eating meat on Fridays, “but that doesn’t make it right to do,” are you suggesting that there is still some sort of divine command not to eat meat on Fridays? Or that God is offended when we do? If that’s what you mean to say, could you provide some evidence (Scriptural or magisterial) to back that up? My impression has always been that disciplines such as meatless Fridays were not divine precepts, but *disciplines* – medicines prescribed by our spiritual doctors the bishops, the purpose of which is to foster our spiritual health, rather than to fulfill a specific commandment of God. If I’m wrong or have misinterpreted what you’re saying, please correct me – omnia in caritate.

  7. Joshua says:

    and one was not held to that law even on the old calendars. This is the case for feasts in Lent, when one was not obliged to fast, or for any major feast day occurring on a Friday.

    Comment by Precentrix

    Actually, the previous discipline would require abstinence. Only Hold days of obligation outside of Lent exempted one

    Easter Friday is a Solemnity/1st Class feast

  8. Jeff R. says:

    I think this is something that we all need to be careful about. Yes, it’s true that the widespread flouting of practices like the Friday Fast has been horribly corrupting to our catholic identity. However, there is always a tendency to overstate our case when trying to correct the swing of the proverbial pendulum.

    Liturgical time (Sacred Time) is a different from profane time as Liturgical/Sacred space is from profane space. As such, it’s important to remember (as Fr. Z alluded) that liturgical time is not always linear. The calendar is cyclical, and that isn’t just a nice metaphor. In a mysterious way, the liturgical seasons and feasts are a real participation in the event remembered. During Advent we really do join the patriarchs and prophets in their messianic expectation. During Christmas we are made mysteriously present alongside the shepherds and angels at the Nativity of our Lord.

    This same principle holds true for Octaves as well. Father made the point that “time stops,” and that is entirely correct. The Octave is “eight days” only from a profane perspective. Within Sacred Time, it is but one day: the day of Our Lord’s Resurrection.

    It’s easy reject something as “modernist” without actually giving it proper thought. In this case, there is a strong argument to be made, based on sound liturgical theology, for NOT fasting or engaging in penitential practices on the Friday in the Octave of Easter, since from the perspective of Sacred Time we are still in Easter Sunday.

    Equating this question with the question of dispensations from abstinence on Fridays through the year is to conflate two wildly divergent issues.

  9. The Orthodox Church prohibits fasting and abstinence during Bright Week, [What a great name!] save for the Eucharistic fast and monastics, who abstain as part of their vows. And I’m on my way to our local Austrian restaurant for some of that ay-may-zing-ly delicious apfel strudel! [I refer you to the strudel enjoyed last week!]

    Christ is risen!

  10. Liam says:

    Sacred Heart is another solemnity where the preceptual obligation of penance does not obtain.

  11. Chris says:

    Bill: When you say that “the modernists” took away the sin (presumably that of disobedience) attached to eating meat on Fridays, “but that doesn’t make it right to do,” are you suggesting that there is still some sort of divine command not to eat meat on Fridays?

    I am simply saying that man can creat any man-made law he desires. But that law is not infallible and it does not make it right. There is plenty within the new Code that proves my position correct.

    I am not saying there is still sin attached to eating meat on Fridays outside of Lent (although I’d love to know what penance people are doing instead of abstinance) — that would be a denial of current authority which I am not denying. I’m simply saying, it was a bad law the former pontiff came up with in ’66 and it was still a bad law when the most recent former pontiff codified it in the ’83 Code. [… sed lex…]

  12. A Random Friar says:

    As our Holy Father St. Francis told the nervous friar, who worried if it would be ok to serve just a little meat on Christmas day: BROTHER, PLASTER THE WALLS WITH MEAT! :) I’m pretty much with rightwingprof on this one. As strict as I prefer to be with the Friday abstinence, this is still Easter Sunday. We’re not flouting ANY Friday discipline, because Easter supercedes all! If you wish to follow it, fine, but there is nothing wrong with eating meat this past Easter Friday as well.

  13. TomR says:

    Does this mean we can eat meat on most Fridays during Lent as there is only a penalty for Good Friday and Ash Wednesday in effect now? [The topic was about Easter Friday. For an answer to your question, you can refer to the guidelines established by your bishops conference and then make the choice a faithful adult Catholic would make.]

  14. Father Totton says:

    Boy, I feel like such a slouch! I have never heard a credible argument for fasting on a solemnity, But again, maybe I am always looking for a way to relax the abstinence. It is telling, for if we don’t observe it, it means nothing to suspend it for good reason (it’s like not covering statues in passiontide BECAUSE you parish has no statues!). On the other hand, it seems unduly rigorist to observe abstinence despite an exhortation to feast. I wonder what these rigorists eat when Christmas falls on Friday?

    A wise and humble priest I know uses the following simple formula (though I think it based more on the older calendar) – If the Mass of the day employs the Gloria AND the Creed, then you ought not abstain/fast. But if there is no creed , then keep the fast/abstinence. This has some implication for Sundays of Lent and Advent – I like Fr. Z’s intuition on how to deal with this.

  15. Gabriel says:

    I was under the impression that when Pope Paul VI relaxed the law of abstaining from eating meat on Fridays he did say that we must do some different form of penance. For this reason I have carried on not eating meat on a Friday if it is possible but if the situation comes about that it would be a problem if I refused meat I do some other form of penance. I must admit that I do get concerned with Catholic Schools having sausage sizzles on a Friday and no other penance is advised.

  16. Christopher Sarsfield says:

    New Code of Canon Law:

    Canon 1250 — All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the universal Church.

    Canon 1251 — Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; [yep] abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.

    Canon 1253 — It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence [yep] and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

    Each day during the Octave of Easter is a solemnity so there is no abstinence on the Friday during the Octave. BTW does any one know what “substitute” the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the US replaced the observance of abstinence with?

  17. A Random Friar says:

    Mr. Sarsfield:

    24. Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance
    which we especially commend to our people for the future observance
    of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of
    abstinence binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of
    observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat.
    We 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. Our expectation
    is based on the following considerations:

    a. We shall thus freely and out of love for Christ
    Crucified show our solidarity with the generations of
    believers to whom this practice frequently became,
    especially in times of persecution and of great poverty,
    no mean evidence of fidelity to Christ and His Church.

    b. We shall thus also remind ourselves that as
    Christians, although immersed in the world and sharing
    its life, we must preserve a saving and necessary
    difference from the spirit of the world. Our deliberate,
    personal abstinence from meat, more especially because
    no longer required by law, will be an outward sign of
    inward spiritual values that we cherish.

    (see http://www.usccb.org/lent/2007/Penance_and_Abstinence.pdf This was way back in 1966, but I believe it pretty much stands). [For the USA… other conferences might have set up different rules.]

  18. This conversation is getting a bit off-track with charges of modernism etc. [Right. But hopefully we can get it back on track.] The fact is that by 1900 the burdening of the calendar with high ranking feasts caused all sorts of odd compromises like requiring fasting on the highest ranked feasts and limiting the number of highest ranked feasts that were holy days of obligation.

    Originally all full duplex (1st-class, solemnity) feasts were holy days of obligation and one never fasted on them. As the Easter Octave was (and is) the highest ranked set of days in the calendar, the whole was in the 1200s a “holy day of obligation” and one did not fast (for more see Sicardo of Cremona in the PL or go read my book _Cities of God_). But at that time there were, outside of Sundays and Easter Octave only some six or seven totum duplex feasts (i.e. holy days of obligation) in the whole year (and only one in Lent–Annunciation, St. Joseph is a modern feast).

    So what happens? Before the Pius X Calendar reform, one never celebrated a ferial outside of Lent and seldom did in Lent. So in order to preserve Friday abstinence and make it possible for people to work on weekdays the connection of high feasts, food celebration, and rest was completely lost.

    Pius X’s reform did not go far enough in reducing the load of the sanctoral and the too high ranks of most feasts. And along with other imperfections and oddities, even the further pruning in 1961 still did not go far enough with reduction in rank and number of feasts to restore a balance.

    You still had annomilies like fasting on the 1st Class feast of St. Joseph and on Friday in Easter Octave–not to mention many 1st Class feasts that were not holy days of obligation. This has nothing to do with “traditionalism” versus “modernism,” it has to do with a calendar problem that had developed over time.

    The Eastern Rite Catholics (and Orthodox) who have posted are right: it makes no sense to fast during the highest celebration of the entire Church year–and we Latins didn’t do it either until the early modern period.

  19. an alumna says:

    We, as a family, abstain from meat every Friday throughout the year – but we barbequed burgers on Easter Friday. It was a beautiful, sunny day and a solemnity and I think we handled it in a fitting way. Also, my husband and I married on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart and ok’d my generous parents to serve filet mignon at our wedding reception. Some at the reception were shocked by that – but a wedding feast on a solemnity is a good reason to eat meat, as far as I am concerned. Happy Easter, everyone!

  20. Ken says:

    I know Fr. Z thinks it\’s living in the Stone Age, but I think the only logical way to attend the 1962 Mass is to observe the disciplines that were in place that year. That means all Fridays are days of abstinence from meat (not days of fasting, by the way) except if a Friday is a holy day of obligation.

    If one chooses to observe post-1962 guidelines, then I\’ll let you figure out how to put a square peg in a round hole on the host of issues that conflict with each other. For starters, there are three more first class days in the coming weeks. So, observing 2009 disciplines with the 1962 Mass means Friday abstinence is almost eliminated during the springtime this year.

    [Fr. Z thinks that people should be able to follow the actual law of the Church in force and do so in good conscience. If they desire to go beyond minimum of the law, fine. Great! However, remember the Lord’s parable Luke 18 of the two men who prayed in the temple, one a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. Part of the arrogance of the Pharisee was that he boasted about having fasted and tithed more than the Law required.]

  21. Barbara Rickman says:

    As I was uncertain as to the actual rubrics, customs or laws…I kept the Friday fast on Easter Friday. I did not mind. I LOVE fish!!


  22. Robert says:

    Thank you. I am the reader who submitted the question. Your reply was very helpful. Speaking for myself, I would never fast or abstain on a Lenten Sunday, except for the fast before Communion. There are other ways you can observe the season on Sundays, such as saying some appropriate prayers or performing acts of charity–in other words, focus on the prayer and almsgiving aspects of Lent. When a feast day falls on a Friday, I abstain from meat (unless, of course, it is a holy day of obligation), but once again, there are other ways you can observe the feast. For example, when I led the Rosary before Mass on Easter Friday, I used the glorious mysteries instead of the sorrowful. There are also special litanies you can use on some feasts, such as St. Joseph, the Blessed Virgin and so on.


  23. Lee says:

    Dear Alumna,

    I think you meant to say that you “grilled”, not barbequed a burger.

    From a southerner

  24. paul says:

    I ate meat this past friday with gusto, I think any octave is a time to celebrate- and it just makes sense to celebrate the week after Easter- it is a time of rejoicing. I also support abstinence from meat on all other fridays and the strict midnight fast for Holy Communion- nothing to eat after midnight including water.

  25. an alumna says:

    Thanks, Lee! You’re right. I am not a southerner – but you figured that out already, right?

  26. Irenaeus says:

    “Maybe a Santa Cristina will grace your Sunday dinner table rather than your habitual 1988 Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino”

    Heh heh. If I may perform pesher: “Translated, it means: thou shalt drink Becks Light and not a full-throated Chimay.” [I think you got the spirit of the thing.]

  27. prof. basto says:

    I don’t know what is the law laid down by my conference of bishops. Nobody takes the care to publish their deliberations, and they have a terrible website, without a proper link to the legislation they enact.

    But I know from what my parish’s pastor informed on Ash Wednsday that the Conference of Bishops, with approval from Rome, has made exceptions to the rule of abstinence even during Lent (stating that the duty of abstinence could be replaced by other pious works, such as almsgiving, etc).

    So, as I do not know what the national bishops’ rules are exactly, but I know that they are far more lenient than the universal discipline of the Church, I choose to follow stricter rules that stem from universal law.

    And I am pretty sure that during the Octave of Easter, of Easter, the most jubilant feast in the Calendar, the rule of abstinence isn’t binding.

  28. I was thinking of emailing you this very question two days ago, and I’m glad to see someone did it before me!

    My concern was that back when Friday abstinence was mandatory in the U.S.A., parish priests always told their parishioners when there were exceptions. But now that the Friday abstinence outside of Lent is merely “recommended”, they never mention it. I grew up post-Vatican II in a family that ate fish every Friday out of habit… and yet I never even knew until a few years ago that there were any exceptions! I guess if I had been more reflective I might have realized that my parents didn’t eat fish on Friday December 25, but I never thought about it.

    I try to abstain from meat on Fridays. But I also feel that to abstain on a Friday that is also a solemnity — whether March 19 or December 25 or December 8 — would be, for me, choosing my own private calendar over the Church’s liturgical calendar.

    Also, I do think that excessive legalism is a real danger to souls. My older sister was scandalized (in the strict sense of the word) by too much wondering about whether you can eat meat after midnight at the north pole and similar things. My dad liked to tell the story of growing in Louisville, when the 4th of July fell on a Friday, and the bishop of Louisville didn’t lift the ban but the bishop in Indiana did. That Sunday at Mass, the priest told everyone that if they had their Independence Day picnics on the south side of the Ohio River, they couldn’t eat hot dogs, but if they crossed the river they could. With the right sense of humor, I think it could actually be fun to be obedient to such rules. But it can also scandalize people if they take it seriously in the wrong way.

  29. C. says:

    Burgers? Barbecue? Where’s the creativity here? Aren’t we Catholics supposed to be a “both-and” people?

    Doesn’t a Solemnity falling on a Friday equal lobster? (And caviar, shrimp, and truffles in oil?)

    Under what counts for “abstinence” these days in the Latin Rite, you can do quite a lot (of damage) with eggs and dairy. But even the strict observers have to admit that there’s now such a thing as Vegan Chocolate.

  30. Father Z’s comment above about the parable in Luke 18 reminded me of the great St. Francis de Sales in his Introduction to the Devout Life (Part III, ch. 23) and his saintly comments on fasting. While off-topic a bit I think it is a good reminder…

    “Fasting and labour both exhaust and subdue the body. If your work is necessary or profitable to God’s Glory, I would rather see you bear the exhaustion of work than of fasting. Such is the mind of the Church, who dispenses those who are called to work for God or their neighbour even from her prescribed fasts. One man finds it hard to fast, another finds it as hard to attend the sick, to visit prisons, to hear confessions, preach, minister to the afflicted, pray, and the like. And the last hardship is better than the other; for while it subdues the flesh equally, it brings forth better fruit. And as a general rule it is better to preserve more bodily strength than is absolutely necessary, than to damage it more than is necessary. Bodily strength can always be lowered if needful, but we cannot restore it at will. It seems to me that we ought to have in great reverence that which our Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ said to His disciples, ‘Eat such things as are set before you.’ To my mind there is more virtue in eating whatever is offered you just as it comes, whether you like it or not, than in always choosing what is worst; for although the latter course may seem more ascetic, the former involves greater submission of will, because by it you give up not merely your taste, but your choice; and it is no slight austerity to hold up one’s likings in one’s hand, and subject them to all manner of accidents. Furthermore, this kind of mortification makes no show, inconveniences no one, and is admirably adapted to social life. To be always discarding one dish for another, examining everything, suspicious as to everything, making a fuss over every morsel–all this to my mind is contemptible, and implies too much thought of meats and platters. To my mind there was more austerity in Saint Bernard’s drinking oil by mistake for wine or water than if he had deliberately drunk wormwood, for it showed that he was not thinking of what he drank. And the real meaning of those sacred words, ‘Eat such things as are set before you,’ lies in such an indifference to what one eats and drinks. I should make an exception of any food which is unwholesome, or likely to be injurious to the mind’s energies, such as certain hot, spiced, or stimulating dishes; as also on certain occasions when nature requires to be refreshed and invigorated in order to perform the work needful for God’s Glory. At all times a constant habitual moderation is better than occasional excessive abstinence, alternated with great indulgence. The discipline has a surprising effect in rousing the taste for devotion, if used moderately. The body is greatly subdued by the use of the hair shirt, but it is not fit for ordinary people, married persons, those who are delicate, or who have to bear considerable fatigue. On certain days of special penitence it may be used, subject to the counsel of a judicious confessor.”

  31. MAJ Tony says:

    I like what St. Teresa of Avila said:

    There’s a time for partridge, and a time for penance.

    When I fast, I fast; when I partridge, I partridge.

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