ASK FATHER: Friday penance on flight across International Date Line

From a reader…


I have the privilege of traveling to Western Australia for work in a few weeks and during my trip I will skip Friday. I leave the US on a flight on Thursday and after an almost 18 hour flight land on Saturday morning. So my question is am I obliged to a Friday Penance (normally I abstain from meat) if I don’t “have” a Friday that week?

I, too, am facing a flight across the International Date Line.

When you travel, we try to observe the law in the place where we are.  In the day of fast travel, zooming along, we enter into a realm of uncertainty.   Where are we?  When I last flew to Tokyo, I arrive an extra day after I left, but, returning home, I arrived a couple hours before I departed.   And what would we do in the International Space Station.  What will we chaplains of the Space Force tell our charge?

When things are uncertain, we are given the benefit of the doubt.  Law favors us when it comes to obligations.

First, we are bound to do penance on Fridays, but the law says that we can substitute penances.  A flight to Australia is already a penance… in a lot of ways.

Also, if you want to abstain from meat during the flight, great!  Airlines offer alternatives.

I don’t think you are obliged to abstain from meat in this particular circumstance.  Even though abstaining from airline meat isn’t a huge penance.

We should be pleased to do penance, willing and joyful, when we can.  However, the laws of penance are flexible.  We have to take responsible charge of our fulfillment of the law.  We can do penance in lots of ways that the law doesn’t specify.

Do you have a middle seat on your flight… to Australia?


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  1. Cincture says:

    “When you travel, we try to observe the law in the place where we are.” Very true insoar as seclar realities attend.

    This stoked m attention however as to something more than those secular realities:
    Below is a snippet from Mgr Thomas Dabre, 73, bishop of Poona’s opening address to the Plenary Assembly of the Conference of Catholic Bishops of India (CCBI) of the Latin rite, which was held in Chennai (Tamil Nadu) from 7 to 14 January 2019:,-the-challenges-of-the-mission-in-India-45974.html

    While clearly there is a undercurrent of concern over evangelizers there being subject to violence by those adherents to other traditional philosophies, one would ask 1) whether this is the first time in history this has been so?, and 2) why then, despite surrounding oneself with traditional piety statements, seem nevertheless to encourage all ways as valid, that Jesus as “vicarious” in the effort (query proper translation), rather than the Faith that says: there may well be those indigenous who, through gentle, pastoral care in recognizing and becoming open to Christ in discovering the faith, such care draws those naturally to it; rather than dispense with that and say they will find their own path without the Church, and that is ok with the Church? What a bastardization of the true evangelization, and possibly yet another example of the Vat II statements being abused.

    Be careful in your travels!

    Mgr Thomas Dabre:

    “It is the absolute faith of the Church that Jesus Christ is the saviour of the world. By His death on the cross, He has brought God’s forgiveness and eternal life, i.e., complete redemption and salvation to all humanity without a single exception.
    It is the faith of the Church that all salvation everywhere and at times, in all history, civilization and culture is all through the unique mediation of Jesus Christ.
    “If I be lifted up, I will draw all to myself” (Jn 12: 32)
    “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Cor 5:19).
    “God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2: 4-7).
    But how to present and how to express the uniqueness of Jesus? How to make it intelligible and acceptable?
    Hindus say all rivers will go to the ocean so also all people of different religions will go to God. Jainism and Buddhism affirm that one is one’s own saviour by one’s own effort. These views do need to be seriously considered as we affirm the vicarious role of Christ and his sacrifice.
    Through my contact with the people of other religions and cultures I see that they are sincere, well- intentioned and deeply spiritual and believe in God from the depth of their hearts. When you genuinely love people and enter into their lives and strike bonds of love you realize that they too are on the path of God. God’s presence, power and the Holy Spirit can well be with them.
    “The Second Vatican Council, in fact, has stated that: “the unique mediation of the Redeemer does not exclude, but rather gives rise to a manifold cooperation which is but a participation in this one source” (Dominus Iesus, 14, Lumen Gentium 62).
    Vatican II has affirmed, “the Holy Spirit offers everyone the possibility of sharing in this Paschal Mystery in a manner known to God” (Gaudium et Spes 22). So let us not think that those of other religions are separated from the mystery of Jesus; they may well be united to Him, maybe more than us. So the proclamation of the uniqueness of Jesus should be done bearing this in mind.
    The uniqueness of Jesus does not mean that the other religions cannot be channels or mediations of Christ’s salvation to their adherents.
    “The Spirit’s presence and activity affect not only the individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions.
    “The Second Vatican Council recalls that the Spirit is at work in the heart of every person, through the “seeds of the Word,” to be found in human initiatives-including religious ones-and in mankind’s efforts to attain truth, goodness and God himself.
    “The Spirit’s presence and activity affect not only the individuals but also society and history, peoples, cultures and religions. Indeed, the Spirit is at the origin of the noble ideals and undertakings which benefit humanity on its journey through history.” n.28: “every authentic prayer is prompted by the Holy Spirit, who is mysteriously present in every human heart” (Redemptoris missio, 29).
    We cannot be negative to other religions and adopt arrogant and aggressive methods for evangelization. This is not the approach of Jesus. “I have not come to abolish but to perfect” (Mt 5:17-19).”

  2. Gab says:

    That poor Reader, who posed the question, will be hit with very high temperatures and lots of flies when he/she in lands in WA. I think enduring that without complaint for one day would suffice for Friday penance. Trust me, I know!

  3. William says:

    I think we need to get more modern on our indulgences and penances.

    A partial indulgence shall be gained by praying for the safety of travelers while on a flight to Australia from Europe or the Americas. Plenary indulgence if you are sitting in the middle seat and usual conditions are met.

    The faithful shall abstain from meat on Fridays, unless traveling on an airline, in which case faithful must eat that meat as an appropriate penance.

  4. Christ-Bearer says:

    There is the opposite possibility of course. We once flew from Rome to the US West Coast *on Good Friday*. It was about a 36-hr day for us. No one complained about fasting from airplane food, though. (We certainly weren’t going to use up our “one full meal” on the one offered on the plane!)


    Here’s what I do when, for instance, I have to stay up late or travel on fridays and eating meat at 00:01 feels hypocritical: I fast from the time I wake up on (local) Friday until I lie down for the night’s sleep (naps don’t count). I break the fast when I wake up after that.

  6. LA says:

    A couple years back I was flew East across the Atlantic, leaving Atlanta on a Ash Wednesday evening. I could not know when exactly it would turn into Thursday mid-air somewhere in flight, so couldn’t know when it was ok either to break the obligatory fast or abstinence.

  7. Suburbanbanshee says:

    I think Liguori says that travelers are exempted from a lot of fasting regs.

    Obviously this was partly about moving the body strenuously, and partly about uncertainties in getting food. But even airline travel is wearing and requires movement and carrying burdens.

  8. Dismas says:

    Space Corps notes:

    The ISS orbits the Earth every 90 minutes, thus making 16 revolutions per day. As there is no plausible reference time, so the ISS follows the UTC (think GMT) time.

  9. youngcatholicgirl says:

    My mother and I traveled from Nashville to Rome this past fall, departing on Thursday morning (Central Time) and arriving Friday mid-morning (Rome time). I did wonder briefly (in jest, mostly) at what point we had to stop eating meat: what times zone’s midnight applied to us? It didn’t turn out to be an issue, though.

  10. JARay says:

    According to “Gab” landing in WA will subject you to flies and very warm temperatures. I live in Western Australia and I can assure you that that statement is just not true. At the moment it is all the States East of WA which are the ones suffering drought, very high temperatures and lots of flies. Our temperatures are below those East of us…although I would not recommend going to Marble Bar in our North which must rank as probably our hottest township of anywhere in Australia. Even so, there are about 300 people who call that place home. Its hottest day is 49.7 degrees C and that’s a record! It is our Summer now and our temperatures have hovered around 28-32 degrees. I am speaking of Perth where I live and our days are usually blue skies and sunshine.

  11. Fr_Andrew says:

    The question is actually an interesting Canonical question, in fact. It concerns a small, seemingly unimportant section from Canon 200-203. It then needs help from commentators and moral theologians. It becomes especially important for priests, who have their Office to say during a particular day.

    In Canon Law a day is a 24 hour period. Prümmer and others from the ossified manualist persuasion will say that one can choose which time scale he will follow, so long as it is consistent. I can choose to follow exact solar time, the civil time, or any other scale, so long as my day is 24 hours, or at least within those 24 hours my obligations for that day are satisfied.

    Most priests I know for their Breviary obligation when travelling across time zones and especially across the date line, will say as much Office up to the time corresponding until they board the last plane to get them across the Pacific, then as soon as they board the plan will consider themselves as being in the time zone of their destination.

    Thus if they board the plane at 2 pm, they will say up through None, if at 6 pm, up through Vespers, and if at 11 pm, through Compline. When they get on the plane they will start the destination time and finish the office if it be the same day, or start the new if it is a new day.

    A few try to follow the time in the air of their actual location, which is now possible with those screens, but too complex, in my opinion.

    Certainly if you miss the day itself in doing this, you omit what was missed.

    I think then the parallel can be recommended here, if you miss Friday, do the penance and eat the “chicken”. The flight itself might be a good substitute penance!

  12. cantus says:

    Didn’t George Carlin have a skit about this?

  13. TonyO says:

    Didn’t George Carlin have a skit about this?

    Yes, “the Fr. Russell” series. Crossing the INTL date line and missing your Easter obligation, and (IIRC) being in a coma in some portion of that. “Well, it’s a mystery” solved every difficult problem.

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