ASK FATHER: Friday penance, abstinence during the Octave of Christmas

florentine steakFrom a reader… already…

Is Friday, December 30, a Meat Friday since it falls within the Octave of Christmas?

It is good to see that someone is planning ahead.  As I write we are a fortnight from the day in question.  Ergo, none of you will need to be confused about what’s what on 30 December 2016.

Days (other than Sunday) within the Octave of Christmas are not “heavy enough” (as a “solemnity” would be) to “outweigh” the Friday obligation to do some sort of penance as determined by the conferences of bishops.

In the 1962 Missale Romanum they are “II class”, which corresponds to the newer, non-traditional calendar’s “feast”. In the 2001 Missale Romanum they are categorized as second class, as “feasts”, not as solemnities (as they are during the Octave of Easter).

If, however, you are at a parish named “Holy Innocents”, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents falls on the Friday, you might argue that it is greater due to it being the patronal feast of the parish.  [UPDATE: For more about England and Wales check Fr. Hunwicke’s post HERE.  He mentions exceptions for Boxing Day and, indeed, any Friday in the Christmas Octave.]

Bottom line, the Octave of Christmas does not have the “weight” of the Octave of Easter.  Easter Friday outweighs the penance thing, but Christmas Friday does not.

In any event, pay attention to can. 1251.

Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

And, you can ask your parish priest to dispense you or commute your act of penance.

Can. 1245 Without prejudice to the right of diocesan bishops mentioned in can. 87, for a just cause and according to the prescripts of the diocesan bishop, a pastor[parish priest] can grant in individual cases a dispensation from the obligation of observing a feast day or a day of penance or can grant a commutation of the obligation into other pious works. A superior of a religious institute or society of apostolic life, if they are clerical and of pontifical right, can also do this in regard to his own subjects and others living in the house day and night.

Members of religious communities and third orders should consult their own regulations and review to whom they turn for dispensations.

You can substitute another form of penance for abstaining from meat.  Make it penitential, however.  Abstinence from meat has good reasoning behind it.  For some, however, there abstinence from other things can be of greater spiritual effect.

That said, it seems to me that fasting and abstinence are pretty good penances/mortifications. Fasting is especially helpful.  Cutting back on the quantity of food you eat is something that can be done daily, so long as you do not endanger your health or ability to care for your family.

The Latin Fathers, such as Leo the Great, attached almsgiving to fasting. Fasting wasn’t just about fasting. It was about then giving the money saved to the poor.  Picture yourself going to purchase your fresh food each day since there wasn’t refrigeration.  Instead of buying the food, you gave the money to the poor.  With a little thought, the same could be done now, right?

Thus, though we are always called to perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy, our penances can be more significant if we attach works of mercy to them.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "How To..." - Practical Notes, ASK FATHER Question Box, Hard-Identity Catholicism, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. bombcar says:

    And of course, if you’re in the United States, any Friday outside of Lent can be a “meat Friday” if you do another penance.


    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….

  2. beelady says:

    I’d like to suggest a monthly automatic donation to a charity as an easy way to tie fasting and almsgiving together. Our family is signed up through We eat beans and rice for dinner every First Friday and they get the $15.00 that we would have spent on groceries. That modest donation is enough to feed a family of four for a month!

  3. Titus says:

    By contrast, Friday, January 6, is a . . . well, universally it is a solemnity, and thus not a day of abstinence. Is the whole day, solemnity status and all, transferred to Sunday in the U.S., or merely its liturgical observation?

    (And, interestingly enough, it’s one day where the traditional norm would dispense from abstinence as well, since—I am fairly certain of this—Epiphany was a day of “precept,” i.e., obligation, prior to the 1983 CIC, where it is, again, universally, as well.)

  4. AndyMo says:

    This year, (in the OF calendar), anyone belonging to a “Holy Family” parish celebrates that Friday (December 30) as a Solemnity, and are exempt from penance.

  5. Pingback: Fasting and abstinence | Tamquam Leo Rugiens

  6. APX says:

    Mormons have something similar with fasting and alms giving. One Sunday a month they fast from food and drink for 24 hours (I believe water is excluded and young children are eased into fasting as they learn about it), and give a “fast offering” at church which is the equivalent to what they would have spent on food that day, minimum. They are free to give more.

    While their theology is rather off, it never ceases to amaze me how virtuous their members are (as well as musically inclined). It’s rather frustrating when it relates to the “by their fruits you shall know them”. We need to get our act together.

  7. Pingback: TUESDAY ADVENT EDITION | Big Pulpit

  8. Cranky Old Man says:

    Evelyn Waugh’s father was generally regarded as a dour and humorless book publisher whose single memorable witticism concerned Christmas eating habits. The family had an acquaintance who had served many years in Turkey in the diplomatic corps, and upon this diplomat’s retirement he returned to England and wrote a book called Turkey Yesterday, Turkey Today, Turkey Tomorrow. “Ha,” snorted the elder Waugh, “he might as well have just called it Boxing Day.”

  9. defreitas says:

    In the Orthodox and Greek Catholic Churches the discipline is different. Here is an excerpt from Saint Nickolas Ukrainian Catholic Church, Winnipeg, Manitoba website:

    “What about Fridays immediately following a Solemn Feast?
    Solemn Feasts of our Lord & our Lady are celebrated for a full eight days (octave). Thus, Fridays following Solemn Feasts are exempt from abstinence. We refer to those days as zahalnytsia or Privileged. In 2005, the following Fridays are Privileged: April 1 (after Easter); May 20 (after Pentecost); December 30 (after Christmas).”

  10. Imrahil says:

    Dear APX,

    well, that reminds me of the story about the lenient priest who always found some praise in everything. His friends thought of something special, and asked him, “well, you always find praise everywhere; what do you say about the Devil, now?” He paused for a moment, and then said, “say what you will about him, but there’s no denying he has zeal”.

    Probably, it is in fact easier to be zealously active for those who are wrong and may have a subconscious instinct that they are wrong, and may want to prove to themselves they are right, than it is for us who are right and know that we are right.

    By the way, whatever that means now, the strange Mormon practice of fasting on one Sunday (of all days of the week!) per month has some curious parallel in 1930’s Germany. [For whom it may interest: There the ruling party – not, officially, the State – declared these Sundays to be “one-pot-Sundays” (only prepare a meal which can be prepared using only one pot), had the savings collected by its youth Organisation and pressured when they smelled too good food. The Leader of said party is quoted to have said, “The One Pot Sunday is not only meant to serve the People’s Community materially, but ideally as well. Hence it is not enough that someone might well give his one-pot donation, all the while eating the Sunday dinner he is used to. The German People as a whole is expected sacrifice consciously for the aid of fellow-countrymen in need.”]

Comments are closed.