QUAERITUR: Is it a sin to fast during the Easter Octave?

From a reader:

I listen to the Catholic Channel on Sirius/XM a lot and yesterday a priest who is usually fairly reliable made the comment that it is a sin to fast during the Octave of Easter. My wife started fasting certain days during Lent and found it benefited her spiritually, she has continued to a lesser degree even after Lent ended. Is it wrong to do this at a time when the Church says we should feast to celebrate the resurrection?

A sin?  No, I wouldn’t say that it is a sin to fast during the Octave of Easter.  Also, since I didn’t hear the broadcast, I wonder what the priest really said.  We can sometimes use words that have technical meanings but in a less technical way.  For example, “It would be a sin to leave that last piece of key lime pie go to waste.  Father?  A third piece?”

It is true that the Octave is a mysterious period resembling the eschatological 8th day, the time of outside of time after the 7 day cycle of creation and rest, foreshadowing the time after the end of the world and remaking of the cosmos.  It is true that during the Octave we continue to observe the celebration of Easter so that we can view it from different angles and take in more about the mystery of the resurrection.  It is true that, liturgically, the days of the Easter Octave outweigh many other liturgical points.

On the other hand, Easter Friday this year is a 1st Friday and Friday is… well… Friday.  It may be in the Octave of Easter, but it also remains the day when we give special consideration to the Passion of the Lord.  We are not bound by law to fast on any day but two during the year and we are bound to do penance/abstain on all Fridays except when exempted by law, such as when the day is a solemnity.

On Easter Friday we may not want to have bread and water, but neither are we obliged to have the second … or third… piece of key lime pie.

I think we are capable of observing moments of joyful penance, or penitential joy, such as on the Sundays of Lent.  Each Sunday is like Easter, but Lent is still Lent.  So too Friday of the Easter Octave is still Friday though it is the continuation of Easter.  Moreover, there are other ways to do penance than fasting.

Is it a sin to fast during the Easter Octave?  No, I wouldn’t say it is a sin.  But I would not want to see anyone completely ignore the Octave as if Good Friday were continuing for all those days.  That would go against the Catholic grain.

Furthermore, in the ancient Church people didn’t fast simply for themselves, but for the sake of giving what they didn’t eat to the poor as an act of mercy.  Acts of mercy can be personal mortifications at times but they are surely permitted on great feasts and solemnities.

And who are any of us to oblige a person to eat more than she wants to eat or needs to eat?  So long as she maintains her heath and energy to fulfill the duties of her state in life, who are we to oblige her to eat more than she chooses?

Common sense applies.

Happy 1st Friday.

PS: Please don’t send me key lime pies.  I like that sort of pie once in while but there are others I prefer.


I saw on the blog of my friend His Hermeueticalness, the Dean of Bexeley, the P.P. of Blackfen, Fr. Tim Finigan, a very good entry about this very matter: Abstinence and Friday of the Easter Octave.

After my own heart, he looks at the Latin of the law in question and argues that Friday of the Easter Octave is celebrated as if it were a solemnity, even though technically it isn’t.

He concludes:

So what should I answer to the question “Should we abstain on the Friday of the Easter Octave?” I suppose, unhelpfully, we just have to say that there are two legitimate interpretations of an ambiguous provision in the calendar.

However I will certainly be abstaining from meat tomorrow. (Let’s be honest, it’s not that hard.)

And, in the hope of saving some time, let me quote a part of the short article:

Doubtless some will consider this all very nitpicking and legalistic, and protest that we should be concerned with the “spirit” of fasting rather than calendrical minutiae. Yet the point of days of fasting and penance prescribed by the Church is so that we can share together, as a communion in Christ, in a common practice of penance. Observing canon law does not prevent us from prayerfully fulfilling the spirit of penance as well.

Read the whole, useful entry over at his fine blog.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Boniface says:

    Father, I am perplexed. I had been told from what I considered a solid source that this is the one friday of the year on which the friday abtinence/penitential act of one’s choice does not apply, given that it’s Easter octave. So is this incorrect? Not that I’d go so far as to say it is a sin to fast today…

  2. LarryW2LJ says:

    I’ll take that piece of key lime pie, if no one else wants it!

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  4. OrthodoxChick says:

    I would never have thought to ask this question because in all my cradle Catholic years, no one has ever discussed an Octave. Not in CCD, not in the Catholic schools I attended, and not from the pulpit. Other than knowing that “octo” means 8, I’m clueless about anything to do with an Octave, or the significance of it. It’s awful that I could still be so ignorant after all of these years. If not for being a daily reader of this blog, I’d still be lost in the Church trying to fend for myself.

    Off to the Catechism to learn about something that I should have learned about decades ago by now…

  5. wolfeken says:

    Fasting and abstinence concerns today (Easter Friday) need to be separated as two separate issues. I have no idea why anyone would fast during Easter week. It is the one week of the year where feasting is most appropriate, as every day is a “first class” feast on the 1962 calendar (in the novus ordo, every day is a “solemnity”).

    Hopefully any idea of fasting this week is not the result of the so-called Divine Mercy cult that somehow has invaded Easter week in the novus ordo. (Traditionalists generally opt for this devotion on the Sacred Heart — 7 June 2013.)

    On abstinence today, it really is as simple as which discipline someone follows. If one follows the 1983 Code of Canon Law’s bare-bones discipline, then there is no abstinence/penance today, as Fridays are waived on novus ordo solemnities.

    If, however, someone (i.e. traditionalist Catholics) followed the 1917 Code of Canon Law’s discipline (yes, recognizing it is no longer binding, we all get that already) then today remains a day of abstinence. That traditional discipline only waives Friday abstinence if the respective Friday is a holy day of obligation. Today’s first class feast day is not obligatory.

    So I would say, at least to those who follow the traditional calendar, today remains a day of abstinence (it is Friday) but for goodness sake, continue the Easter octave feast of non-meats today.

  6. Tim Ferguson says:

    I would humbly, and respectfully disagree with Fr. Finigan on the solemnity issue – as well as on the Creed issue. In the 1970 and 1975 Missals, no Creed was called for on the weekdays of the Octave of Easter, but that exception to the traditional practice was taken out of the 2002 Missal. Therefore, it seems to me, the Creed should be said during Mass this week (in the Ordinary Form – it is, of course, said in the Extraordinary Form).

    With this correction, it seems that “uti” is best translated as “as” rather than “after the manner of” – meaning that the weekdays of the Octave of Easter are celebrated as Solemnities, since they are, in fact, solemnities. As further proof of this, if one looks in the table of liturgical days, usually found at the beginning of the Calendar, one finds that the Octave of Easter is listed among the secondary celebrations – only below the Triduum, which ranks first – all days of the Octave outrank even Solemnities of the Lord, the Blessed Virgin and Saints in the General Calendar (rank 3) as well as proper Solemnities (rank 4).

    Since the octave ranks higher than all other Solemnities, it seems clear to me that these days – including today – are, in fact solemnities, and therefore, according to canon 1251 of the law currently in force, abstinence is not required.

  7. OrthodoxChick says:

    I was just about to grumble about how there’s no info in the CCC regarding an Octave, but your comments make it clear to me that this is a pre-VII calendar term. I guess by instinct or something, I began a meatless fast today anyway, just trying to rekindle the abstinance-every-Friday practice. Maybe the Grace of God is guiding me for now until I become more educated about these matters. I hope so anyway.

    Someone needs to author a “Traditional Catholicism for Dummies” book. I could use it!

  8. The Masked Chicken says:

    “Today’s first class feast day is not obligatory.”

    As I understand it, there is no, “day, ” today. It’s still Easter Sunday, in a sense. In that sense, today’s feast day is at least softly obligatory, no?

    The Chicken

  9. APX says:

    My roommate informed me that her Catholic calendar has both a fish and a star indicating today as a solemnity, which it states does not require one to do penance today.

    Page 5 of my Baronius Press 1962 Missal indicates that today is treated as a solemnity because it’s a first class feast falling within a octave.

    My FSSP calendar indicates that today, according to the rules of 1962, is a day of abstinence.

    Since I live in Canada and meatless Fridays no longer exist except Good Friday (yes, that’s correct), and can do some other form of penance, I will play it safe and count my Mass attendance as my form of penance, and perhaps make a holy hour of reparation in front of the Blessed Sacrament if our Chapel isn’t too full.

  10. dans0622 says:

    Tim Ferguson: I think I agree with you. That’s good information about the Creed–I did not know that. Yet, we do not have three readings as on all other Solemnities and the GIRM still makes some sort of distinction between Solemnities and these days in the Octave of Easter–cf. #s 372, 374.

  11. ReginaMarie says:

    As Father mentioned, the entire week (what Eastern Catholics call Bright Week) is considered to be one continuous day. And as The Masked Chicken noted, this the main reason why the discipline of fasting is completely prohibited (for Eastern Catholics) during the week…though I have not heard that it would be a sin, per se, to do so.

  12. OrthodoxChick says:

    I like your explanation, Fr. Z. Simple to grasp for newbies like me. Not too overly technical or crazy. You said, “On Easter Friday we may not want to have bread and water, but neither are we obliged to have the second … or third… piece of key lime pie.”

    Balance the fasting with the feasting, that’s all. Plain and simple common sense. Thank you.

  13. Timely post, Father. I wasn’t sure about today, so I bought my tuna sub on the way to the office. As you say, it’s not a great sacrifice, and hardly denies the joy of Easter. Many monks abstain from meat every day of the year, no?

  14. Imrahil says:

    Fasting is not forbidden.

    One thing, when no fasting law (or moderation rule) says otherwise, we are free to choose what pleases us including fasting.

    As Schlemmer said to MacNamara in “One, Two, Three”: “In the old times I would have ordered them to sit and they would sit. Now we have a democracy, they do what they want and what they want is to stand”. (to wit, at attention when MacNamara as the boss comes into the room).

    Second, St. Thomas defends fasting on feast days as a possible, allowed and meritorious, only the Church practice is otherwise (see S. th. II/II 147 V ad 3). After all, if we follow one of the better parts of the liturgy reform and have Easter Vigil in the morning (after the Resurrection, etc.), then we fast from quite a portion of sleep on Easter Sunday itself; and so do monks who, in Benedict’s Rule, get up earlier on Sunday.

    Another thing, this “the octave is one day” is, so to say, a “spiritual” thing; spiritually it is one day. So is the triduum, but even here the liturgy does assign “Maundy Thursday”, “Easter Sunday” and the Church specifies that the fast ends on Holy Saturday and that Holy Saturday and Good Friday count as two days for the Lenten fast. So today also, it is “Friday of the Octave of Easter”, not “Easter Sunday”, and as “Friday of the Octave of Easter” is not a solemnity in its own right, the imho more probable, at any rate the safer path is to abstain from meat (if living in England), which is pretty similar to non-hurting mere-obedience in my view, yet cut all other things you might do on other Fridays, if they are a burden.

  15. OrthodoxChick: “I was just about to grumble about how there’s no info in the CCC regarding an Octave, but your comments make it clear to me that this is a pre-VII calendar term.”

    Actually, octaves are just as “real” and official now–in the Novus Ordo world post VII–as they ever were. (Not every thing that’s good and true and holy is found in the CCC.)

    It’s just there are fewer of them now than previously; just the Octaves of Christmas and Easter remain in the Novus Ordo, whereas once there was once the Octave of Pentecost as well as numerous others, such as the Octaves of the Assumption and the Immaculate Conception.

    My Latin copy of the (Novus Ordo) Liturgia Horarum (Liturgy of the Hours) has the official Latin designation of every day. For today it’s “Feria VI infra Octavam Paschae”. Of course, Feria VI means the 6th day (Friday) of the week. So, in the Novus Ordo, today is “Friday in the Octave of Easter” (the originally pagan word “Easter” being our English-only term for the Paschal feast).

    In any event, perhaps the holiest priest I’ve ever known used to say that “it’s just important to feast on feast days as to fast on fast days”. However he said nothing about abstinence on these days, so I expect some canned tuna and noodles tonight.

    [Exactly what I had last night, with lots of hot pepper and chopped parsley.]

  16. acricketchirps says:

    It would be a sin to let that last piece of klp go to Larry.

    I’ll take it.

  17. bourgja says:

    I just wanted to support the idea that Friday of the Easter octave is a solemnity, and hence no abstinence would be required.

  18. OrthodoxChick says:

    Henry Edwards,
    Thank you for the info!

  19. New Sister says:

    The USCCB sent out an announcement yesterday encouraging us faithful to both Fast and Abstain from meat today, as they’ve asked us to do on all Fridays during the Year of Faith.


  20. And setting aside the Latin Liturgia Horarum, I look in my ICEL volume of “Christian Prayer: The Liturgy of the Hours”–which is about as Novish Ordish as it gets, and find December 29 listed as the “Fifth Day in the Octave of Christmas”. Yes, even these 40 painful years after the great liturgical leap forward, a couple of octaves are still alive and well. Perhaps they will be fruitful and multiply, eventually producing at least the much needed Octave of Pentecost.

  21. New Sister says:

    I love this sermon “The Spiritual Aspect of Feasting” [quotes Saint Francis on the matter]


  22. marylise says:

    For what it’s worth, St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582), Virgin and Doctor of the Church, upon being criticized by her nuns on one occasion for appearing to enjoy her food too much, replied that there is a time for penance and a time for partridge.

  23. Rushintuit says:

    St Joan of Arc fasted during the Octave of Easter, even after she had ridden all day in full armor. Joan arrived in the evening at the town she was about to deliver from a long siege. The town gave a banquet in her honor and she still did not break her fast.

  24. BLB Oregon says:

    This question kind of puzzles me. Not everything that is permitted is mandatory. The idea that the Church would forbid fasting or abstinence simply because a solemnity removes the requirement for it conjures this picture in my mind of a grandmother insisting to her vegetarian grandchildren or those with light appetites, “Eat! Eat! You’re too skinny! What? You don’t like my cooking anymore? Eat!” OK, if it is going to hurt your grandma’s feelings, maybe you see that as a high road, and you eat something….but you can stay a vegetarian. She’ll manage.

    If you were an Olympic athlete, and did not break training even when your coaches allowed you to, then that would be fine, provided you do not go around undermining the cohesiveness of the team by putting down those who availed themselves of the opportunity to have things normally not allowed, that you aren’t setting yourself up for a fall by bypassing a break from training that you actually need when it is available in order to keep in training when you are required to discipline yourself, and so on.

    Yes, common sense….and never forget that prayer and almsgiving are always in season!!

  25. Geoffrey says:

    “Hopefully any idea of fasting this week is not the result of the so-called Divine Mercy cult that somehow has invaded Easter week in the novus ordo.”

    I assume you are referring to the novena in preparation for “Dominica secunda Paschae seu de divina misericordia (Second Sunday of Easter or of Divine Mercy)”. The novena consists of very specific prayers and intentions for each day of the novena, which begins on Good Friday. Fasting, abstinence, etc., plays no direct part in the devotion at all, as it consists of prayer.

    Divine Mercy Sunday:

  26. BTurner says:

    Why does the fact that we sing the Gloria at Mass and pray the Sunday/Solemnity Hours not make it more probable that the Friday of the Octave is indeed a solemnity (pace Fr. Finigan)?

    Are there any other examples of the Church celebrating a day “as if” it were a solemnity, in just about every way possible, yet the day not really being a solemnity?

  27. cwillia1 says:

    There is the public fasting and abstinence which applies to the whole church and there is secret private fasting which characterizes the daily life of the Christian. On Bright Friday we can eat leftovers from the back of the fridge rather than going out for calimari without checking to see if there is any meat in the chilli. What we save can be given to the poor. On Bright Friday we should fast secretly.

  28. davedeuce says:

    Why are we spending so much time and energy trying to find ways, means and technicalities to avoid doing things we should be happy to do?! Fast and abstain EVERY Friday. Make sacrifices and pray EVERY day. Do not eat drink or anything before receiving the Holy Eucharist at all. Do not be thinking along the lines of “I can have this pastry ’cause it will be 181 minutes between the second I swallow it and the time I receive Communion.”
    Find ways to honor Jesus and serve God.
    lex orandi lex credendi –

  29. Imrahil says:

    Dear @davedeuce,

    because we may.

    I guess you are talking generally. You are not, I guess, giving spiritual direction to a specific person. Nor are you, I guess, a preacher who may perhaps feel that he has to combat a specific imperfection in a specific group of people while absolutely not having other things to do.

    Under this condition please cease to heap burden after burden on your poor fellow-Christians with the highest effort to create bad consciences. Don’t you think that excessive demanding is, perhaps, a burden we need not bear? that it give bad impressions to the objects of evangelization? including that object of evangelization which remains within myself?

    [I give two exceptions: Your command to “pray every day”. Yes we must. And “make sacrifices every day”, if by sacrifice is understood formally giving oneself to God with all our life, including the joys.]

    And besides, it is 61 minutes. 181 is history.

    Still, even after your own thinking, you should have seen that people around here were honestly pondering the question whether by fasting on Easter Friday they would be doing God an ingratitude. Fasting is not simply and exceptionlessly the more holy thing compared with feasting. (It is generally and roughly; though it must be understood that “less holy” is not the same as sinful.)

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