ASK FATHER: Must we do penance, abstain from meat, on Friday in the Octave of Christmas?

This is a question which comes up each year. It came up again today.

Must we do penance on Friday within the Octave of Christmas?

The short answer is YES, this year, yes.

According to Canon Law, Catholics are bound to do penance on Fridays of the year except when the Friday is of the liturgical rank of a “Solemnity” (a new-fangled post-Conciliar rank).

In some years, the Friday will be 1 January.  That’s another matter, because 1 January is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God in the new-fangled calendar, and the Solemnity removes the obligation.

THIS YEAR, however, Friday is the Sixth Day in the Octave.

The Octave of Christmas does not have the same liturgical “weight” of the Octave of Easter.

Easter Friday (a Solemnity) 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.

Remember, you can ask your parish priest to dispense you or commute acts 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.

Also, 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 in their calendars.   For example, if, this year, you are a parishioner of a parish named in honor of St. Exuperantius, Martyr, (Feast 30 Dec.) your patronal feast could be a reason not to be bound by Friday penance.


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  1. JesusFreak84 says:

    I actually missed this some years when I was attending a UGCC parish. For them, at least in one Eparchy in the US, Christmas Friday IS a meaty Friday. I just looked at my calendar, saw no fish, and didn’t think to check it. I know NOW, of course.

  2. Pingback: ASK FATHER: Must we do penance, abstain from meat, on Friday in the Octave of Christmas? | Fr. Z’s Blog – The Old Roman

  3. Dave P. says:

    If one was named Exuperantius, I imagine that would be enough penance for every non-Lenten Friday in the year…

  4. Uniaux says:

    Is St. Exuperantius, Martyr parish down the road from St. Joseph, Terror of Demons parish in the diocese of Black Duck?

  5. maternalView says:

    I don’t eat meat so my penance is anything sweet.That’s probably more painful that giving up meat years ago ever was! I never cared that much for meat anyway but sweet things …ahhhh!

    This Friday will be especially tough as we baked tons of cookies this year!

  6. L. says:

    A MONSIGNOR told me in confession several years ago that “we used to believe” in the Friday penance, but no more. Gee, if you can’t trust a Monsignor, who can you trust?

    [Don’t get me started.]

  7. Not says:

    Is it really that difficult to abstain from meat for one day?
    Fish, Pasta, vegetables?

  8. Friday in the octave of Christmas may have the usual Friday abstinence this Friday, but since next Friday is the feast of Epiphany, that one is definitely a abstinence free day, right?

  9. rdowhower says:

    How about Friday, January 6th?

  10. @JesusFreak84 It is Byzantine tradition for all 12 days of Christmas except for the eve of Theophany (which is a strict fast day) to be fast free (even on the Wednesdays and Fridays in this time period), so all the churches that follow the Byzantine tradition (not just the UGCC) will be doing this (regardless of whether on the new or the old calendar). After doing the nativity fast for over a month, it’s like a reward for getting through the fast to celebrate the birth of our Lord, God, and Savior Jesus Christ.

  11. Sevens Dad says:

    So please help this evidently very poorly educated Catholic:

    –Fridays all year long are penitential days (excepting Solemnities).
    –Abstaining from meat is the normal penance for Friday
    –Not abstaining from meat on a Friday means what, then, exactly, in terms of sin/spiritual health? How serious of a problem is this if one eats meat on Friday and doesn’t otherwise perform any penance? In addition, I ate meat at a Christmas Eve gathering last week, because in the back of my mind I didn’t think it mandatory to do so (and my “substitute penance” was to fast and that didn’t go too hot either). Is Christmas Eve a day of fasting/abstinence?

    –And why is this not on any parish calendars that I can find (Novus Ordo parishes, anyhoo)? Why no fish logo on any of these days outside of Lent?

    I want to live my faith. I want to be a good Catholic. For the love of all that’s holy, I have no idea what I’m supposed to do sometimes, and I almost never (and I mean almost) hear from the pulpit about things like this. If it wasn’t for the internet, I really feel like I’d be in a lot more trouble than I probably already am.

    Very frustrated and feeling a little bit of despair here. This stuff makes me want to scream. I really hate the way I feel right now. I’m responsible for the education in the faith of my children, and I don’t really know what I don’t know.

    Edit: a subscription I have had does note days of fasting/abstinence and did mark 12/24 as such. I am not sure what I was thinking.

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