QUAERITUR: Feast days during Lent, or “plenus uenter facile de ieiuniis disputat”

From a reader:

This year, the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on a Friday.  In the Extraordinary Form, it’s a first class feast.  Meat would normally, therefore, be allowed (despite the Friday).

However, in the universal calendar (ordinary form), it’s a big-F Feast (analogous to a second class feast in the Extraordinary Form).  This is not sufficient rank to waive the Lenten rules.

What to do?  I’m not sure if it matters, but I pray the entire Extraordinary Form Divine Office, so I am more than a casual participant in the older form.

Notice that it is almost always about eating.  This may be a reason why Paul VI, in his perhaps less than fully considered document Paenitemini attempted to get people to see “doing penance” in a fuller way.

This sort of question pops up during Lent every year, usually for the bizarre way in which people think St. Patrick’s feast day is to be celebrated.  During Lent we usually have important feasts, such as St. Joseph and the Annunciation.  This also arises concerning Sundays.  Some will say that all Sundays are “little Easters” and therefore one should not fast, etc.

I think the best approach to maintain the discipline of the season.  It is still possible to mark these days with good fare and yet maintain your Lenten discipline.

Consider it this way: if you have undertaken a solid project for your Lent, then a momentary relaxation will not ruin your discipline.  That doesn’t mean “act as if it is not Lent”, even on those feast days.

There are always alternatives to eating flesh.  There is no reason that you must have meat or dessert on a feast day. If you do, it doesn’t have to be something extravagant.  A pear is a splendid dessert.  You could also choose to have a steak, and omit a dessert if you normally eat one.

There are all sorts of choices you can make.  For example: eat well, but don’t use the computer or turn on the television of radio for the entire day, visit someone who is shut in, for your nice meal invite someone who is alone.  It is an Italian custom for the well-to-do to feed the poor on St. Joseph’s Day.

Also, people should have freedom to observe Lent in a manner which is fitting for them.  I remember being upbraided for posting about having had a steak on Laetare Sunday when I was a guest at someone’s home.  The nitwits had not a clue about other things I may have done that day and seemed not to know that the Church herself relaxes her Lenten stance for a moment that Sunday.  We should be respectful of other people’s choices.

In the final analysis, there are all sorts of ways to fast and do penance during Lent.  One of them – though a good one – involves food.

I will end with St. Jerome’s remark that “plenus uenter facile de ieiuniis disputat“, or, it is easy to talk about fasting when your stomach is full.  This discussion becomes easier when people undertake a serious Lent.

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  1. Joe in Canada says:

    Just a small correction to the person quoted in the block: the Annunciation is a Solemnity in the calendar of the ordinary form (as is the March 19 celebration of St Joseph).

  2. priests wife says:

    as always- great advice! Sundays might be ‘islands’ during this fasting season- but we don’t have to go crazy- in any case, I wouldn’t want to have leftovers of meat, so we usually just continue the fast from meat (but yes- let’s not reduce everything to food!)

  3. Robertus Pittsburghensis says:

    I thought that the Annunciation was a Solemnity in the OF. Am I wrong? Isn’t the disconnect between the OF and EF here a non-issue. The requirement to abstain is lifted in both cases.

  4. dans0622 says:

    In the Code, a solemnity “trumps” Friday penance (c. 1251). The Annunciation is considered to be a “Solemnity” in the calendar. So, it seems the question was based on a mistaken premise.

  5. AJP says:

    St Joseph’s Day falls on the Saturday of the Lenten ember days. I have tried to observe ember days for the past year, and also have a great devotion to St Joseph. So which takes precedence?

  6. As a side note, this discussion just goes to highlight the next big project the Reform of the Reform needs to take on: getting the Church back onto ONE calendar.

  7. Fr. Basil says:

    AJP, I’m sure that St. Joseph will be pleased with your abstinence for the Ember Day.

    The Byzantine tradition recognizes the festal character of Annunciation by allowing not only Fish, but for the Divine Liturgy to be celebrated that day.

  8. disco says:

    How about splitting the difference and eating a nice big piece of swordfish or perhaps lobster

  9. Jerry says:

    This year, the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on a Friday. In the Extraordinary Form, it’s a first class feast. Meat would normally, therefore, be allowed (despite the Friday).

    It is my understanding that in 1962 fasting and abstinence were waived only on days of precept (Holy Days of Obligation) and Sundays (1917 CIC can. 1252), not for all 1st Class feasts. As late as 1949, even this exemption did not apply during Lent. Does anyone know if the Lenten exception to the exemption was dropped prior to 1962?

  10. Jerry says:

    Assuming the premise of the original question were correct (i.e., current law requires abstinence where the discipline in 1962 waived it), there is no question: abstinence is required, regardless of liturgical “affiliation”. The key is that fasting and abstinence are dictated by canon law, as modified by local decrees (episcopal conference and, in some cases, (arch)diocese), not by the liturgical books. While we may voluntarily adhere to the older law where it is more stringent, the same is not true where it is more relaxed (e.g., the lower age for fasting (18 vs. 21 in 1917) or the mistaken premise of the OP).

  11. Brad says:

    The problem with making it not about food is that it really is about food. We would rather not literally do what was good enough for our Lord to do: namely, fast. Mortal life revolves around eating to sustain the mortal life. Therefore, the rigor necessary for fasting is the rigor necessary for taming the most primal thing about being in these shells. That’s why it’s not about facebook. It’s about food.

  12. dans0622 says:

    Jerry, good point about the “status” of the feast of the Annunciation in the former law. Regarding the rules for fasting and abstinence during Lent, that was greatly relaxed at the time of WW II. Local bishops were able to dispense on every day of Lent except Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. I don’t know how many bishops took advantage of this indult but I would imagine many did. So, March 25 may not have often been a day of fast/abstinence, regardless of the rank of that day’s feast.

  13. FrCharles says:

    If, by the mercy of God, I ever get to heaven, I’m going to have a stern conversation with St. Patrick about the damage he has done to Lent by deciding to go to heaven at this time of year. When I was a parish priest, St. Patrick parties, banquets, brunches, and parades but about a whole week of days out of Lent each year.

  14. Parochus says:

    According to CIC 1917, can. 1252, §4, the law of fast and abstinence did not oblige on holy days of obligation, except during Lent. The point is moot, though, for the first class (formerly double of the first class) feast of the Annunciation, which was not a holy day of obligation. Moreover, although the feast of St. Joseph was a holy day of obligation in the universal Church, it was not observed as such in the United States, per indult of the Holy See (Nov. 25, 1885) granted after the Third Plenary Council of Baltimore.
    According to CIC 1983, can. 1251, abstinence from meat is not observed on solemnities, regardless of whether they are holy days of obligation. Therefore, if the Solemnity of the Annunciation or of St. Joseph falls on a Friday in Lent, meat may be eaten.
    Jerry’s point about the laws of fast and abstinence being governed by the canonical legislation currently in force and not by the rubrics in the liturgical books is well taken. Pope Benedict XVI reaffirmed the preconciliar liturgical rites (celebrated according to the corresponding rubrics) as a legitimate option, but the 1983 Code supersedes the provisions of the 1917 Code regarding other disciplinary matters.

  15. Brooklyn says:

    Brad – you hit it exactly. The hardest spiritual discipline I do is fasting. You are so right – it always comes down to food, because that is what our mortal life revolves around. After all, Esau sold his birthright for food. I guess it’s either food or sex, all coming down to satisfying our physical bodies. I think it is so sad that the Church has only 2 days per year of obligatory fasting now, and only 1 hour of fasting before receiving communion. Fasting is not something that people will normally do on their own. I think we need a little bit more of a push.

  16. Carolina Geo says:

    My 1962 hand missal indicates that the traditional rule of abstinence is waived on a Friday only if it is a holy day of obligation outside of Lent. Thus, the abstinence would not be waived this year because it is neither a HDO nor outside of Lent.

    Our parish (Novus Ordo, but with a Traditional Mass on most Sundays) is widely advertising that the abstinence is waived and that they are holding a parish pig roast that Friday. Which has led me to rename the Novus Ordo to the Wimpus Ordo. Why is the modern Church always trying to eliminate penance from our lives? It’s not like the Church couldn’t use some self-mortification.

  17. Will D. says:

    At the other end of the spectrum, there’s the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change urging a “carbon fast” for Lent.
    I agree that fasting and penitence should not be just about food, but since it is a subject near and dear to our hearts, food is a handy and powerful way to mortify the flesh.

  18. PaterAugustinus says:

    In the Orthodox Church there are four “tiers” of dietary requirements (no fasting or abstinence, no animal products, no fish, no wine and oil), so the normal relaxation rules don’t easily apply to this situation. But, one old observance, now almost ingored by Orthodox Christians, is still observed by the Latin Church: the difference between fasting and abstinence. For us Orthodox, a “fast day” usually doesn’t mean much in terms of regulating the time or size of meals (though the spirit of lent is to be observed, obviously): it just means abstaining from the prescribed foods.

    The standard tradition is to move up “one tier” from the stricture when a special feast would relax the fast. I.e., if it’s a Friday (the strictest level: no oil, no wine, no dairy, no meat), one goes up a level to “oil and wine” (and maybe fish, for very very great feasts); if it’s a Tuesday in advent (moderate fast, no meat, dairy or fish, but wine and oil are allowed), one bumps up to include fish. We never relax a fast to allow meat or dairy.

    Anyway, the point: if you have three levels in modern Catholicism – fast, abstain, and nothing – then perhaps you could move up a level and still abstain from meat, but worry less about fasting. I.e., have a nice post-Mass breakfast with pancakes or eggs, but skip the bacon.

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