ASK FATHER: Must we do penance on Friday in the Octave of Christmas?

Some of you, in this busy time of visits and dashing about, may want to plan ahead for Friday of this week.

Inevitably questions come up about penance on Friday during the Christmas (or Easter) Octave.

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

Note can. 1251 in the 1983 Code.

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.

Friday in the Octave of Christmas is not a liturgical solemnity.  Hence, we are obliged to do penance today, Friday in the Octave.

However, 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.

Also, it may be that some local places have exceptions.   For example, if you belong to Holy Innocents parish, then Friday will be your patronal feast.

Also, perhaps your conference of bishops made another ruling.  I believe that is the case for England and Wales.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. William says:

    I suspect there’s not a few pastors who would respond to a request for dispensation from penance with, “Penance? What’s that?” [You won’t find that around here!]

    “Thy prophets have seen false and foolish things for thee: and they have not laid open thy iniquity, to excite thee to penance: but they have seen for thee false revelations and banishments. ” – Lamentations 2:14

  2. ex seaxe says:

    Yes the Bishops of England and Wales have reinstated abstinence from meat for the whole year, whereas in the USA it seems to be only in Lent, with freedom to choose other penitential acts outside Lent. CBCEW adds “Those who cannot or choose not to eat meat as part of their normal diet should abstain from some other food of which they regularly partake.”
    I note that neither Conference makes any reference to the part of Canon Law relaxing penance for Solemnities!
    I have long found it curious that Friday abstinence is regarded as distinctively Catholic, since the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer has a table giving ‘Days of fast or abstinence’ which includes – The Vigils of 16 Feasts, all the days of Lent, all Fridays except Christmas Day, the Ember Days, and the Rogation Days. All it seems to lack is the threat of Hell Fire.

  3. APX says:

    I don’t know what’s more of a Penance, day four of turkey leftovers or making something different that’s meatless.

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  5. KateD says:

    Yesterday it was turkey burritos then turkey tostada salads. We made yellow curry turkey last night. Today we had turkey curry wraps and tonight turkey curry salad sandwiches. We are all looking forward to meatless Friday….as well. :D

    If it were to go another day, we might start gobbling.

    What a great gift of the Christmas season, to be able to so joyfully embrace this sacrifice.

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