ASK FATHER: Penance and abstinence on Friday, 6 January, Epiphany

From a reader…


The feast of the Epiphany is a Friday this year. Our FSSP calendar has it marked as a day of abstinence, according to 1962 law, but my TLM planner from The Liturgical Year calendar family does not have it marked as abstinence. Is abstinence lifted tomorrow for the First Class feast, or is it a day of abstinence?

Speaking of FSSP calendars or Ordos… the FSSP sent me one this year… but it was LAST YEAR’s.  Thanks.

Let us be clear that Epiphany, called Twelfth Night, is twelve days after Christmas.  Thus, has it been celebrated in both East (first) and West for centuries.  Modern bishops have cavalierly moved its celebration to a Sunday, supposedly so more people can experience the… didactic element of those readings and preaching, I guess.  They don’t expect people to go to MASS more than once a week. That would be too much, I guess.  Why plan and arrange your lives as if these things made a difference?

I digress.

Epiphany, real Epiphany 2023, is on a Friday, 6 January.   Sunday, 8 January, 14 days after Christmas, is not Epiphany.   In some poorly operating minds, 12 = 14, just as 2+2=5.  In reality, 12 = 12, and 12 ?14.

In the Vetus Ordo it is also possible to celebrate midweek feasts “externally”, on a Sunday.  The Feast is not moved.  It is observed on the Sunday.

Since Epiphany is a Solemnity in the new-fangled calendar, and since the 1983 Code of Canon Law says in 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.

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, if you belong to a parish named Epiphany of Our Lord, that can also soften that Friday obligation.

“But Father! But Father!”, some moaning bellyachers might be fussing.  “The ‘Spirit of Vatican II’ tells is – and this is the Holy Spirit talking, I know! – that we have to reinterpret everything that there ever was before that turning point in the history of the universe because we have to deal with climate change and racism and immigration.  It is necessary that Epiphany be moved and it is obligatory to agree with that, because… because… OBEY!  Not only obey, but also shut up.  You shouldn’t say these things and we don’t want to hear them because we are walking together in a synodal process of listening to all sides except some sides … like YOURS!  Because YOU HATE VATICAN II!”

In interpreting the law, we should always use strict interpretations.  That doesn’t mean been strict with people, but rather about the interpretation, not reading into it something that doesn’t have to be read into it.  Ironically, being strict with the law makes us looser with it.  The idea is is that anything that imposes an obligation or restriction has to be strictly interpreted because that strictness gives people more freedom.  Similarly, any law which provides a favor or benefit must be interpreted as loosely, generously as possible so as to widen the favors and benefits.   Odiosa restringi et favores convenit ampliari, or else odiosa sunt restringenda et favoribilia amplianda/ampliantur.  That is to say, be narrow and picky with laws that restrict and wide and generous with laws that grant things.

Epiphany, real Epiphany, is on Friday, 6 January.  Epiphany is a Solemnity, even though its observance is on Sunday.  They can’t move Epiphany.  They can move its liturgical celebration.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
This entry was posted in "But Father! But Father!", "How To..." - Practical Notes, 1983 CIC can. 915, ASK FATHER Question Box, Liturgy Science Theatre 3000 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.


  1. acardnal says:

    I see meat in my immediate future!

  2. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    To clarify, the FSSP presents the discipline in place during 1962. Then it is up to the reader to take it or leave it today. Since the feast of the Epiphany has never been a day of precept (obligation) in the U.S., it has never been the case where abstinence was waived if Epiphany (Jan. 6) fell on a Friday here.

    Yes, the ’83 code relaxed just about everything, including days of abstinence for every “solemnity” (aka formerly first class feasts). But the discipline in place during the 1962 missal was abstinence every Friday of the year unless a Friday fell on a holy day of obligation. (Obligation being the key detail.)

    Again, one can do just about whatever he pleases in 2023 — but what the FSSP is presenting is the discipline of 1962 that corresponded with the missal of 1962.

  3. APX says:

    I just sought clarification for my Diocese from the Chancery. Taking your advice, I didn’t quote Canon Law. I think that was a mistake and caused a misunderstanding. I was told that there is “no obligation for the sacrament of penance on Fridays.” I emailed the Diocesan Canonist back quoting the specific canon. Something tells me he didn’t know about all Fridays of the year being a day of mandatory penance.

    Perhaps I should email the Bishop for clarification and tell him I didn’t get anywhere with the Chancery.

  4. TheCavalierHatherly says:

    @Kenneth Wolfe

    Thankfully, the Church wasn’t founded in 1962. If our medieval ancestors caught us fasting on Epiphany I’m convinced they would be absolutely outraged. I would sooner argue that if it was normal in 1962 to put Friday penance before observing the feast of the Epiphany, Catholic culture had already been submerged by a sort of mechanical modernity.

    Three Magi came from the deep recesses of the East to adore our Lord! The salvation of the gentiles is at hand! We’d have processions and parades, wine and song, if our forefathers hadn’t surrendered their religious rites to the supposed “rights of man.”

  5. monstrance says:

    My calendar shows a Fish tomorrow.
    From the Seraphim folks.

  6. Shellynna says:

    Gentle correction, Father: Twelfth Night is January 5. Epiphany is January 6. If you count the twelve days of Christmas from December 25 as the first day, you’ll see. And, looked at liturgically, this makes sense. Twelfth Night is on the twelfth day of *Christmas.* Epiphany is a distinct (though related) holy day—a separate solemnity.

    If I make a big deal over this distinction, it’s because my birthday is today, Twelfth Night. When I was growing up, my mother told me I was due on Christmas Day but wasn’t born for another two weeks. Once I became Catholic, I was delighted to find out I’d been born just in time for Christmas after all.

  7. DvdH says:

    In Ireland today is a Holy Day of Obligation, and a Solemnity, but I will not have any meat.
    On days like these I’d have extraordinary fish or seafood (compared to ordinary fish on regular Fridays, and fish that I don’t like during Lent) :)
    The only Friday that I might eat meat is during the Octave of Easter.
    That’s MY penance :)

  8. APX says:

    I’m going to take liberties with the response I got from the Diocese (didn’t clarify anything with the transferring of the solemnity to Sunday) and just said that Canon Law makes exceptions for solemnities.

    I think some Dioceses and priests need to ask for a refund on their Canon Law studies.

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    This is confusing to me. In the Novus Ordo calendar, today is just listed as January 6 on iBreviary. Traditionally, it is Epiphany, but when the Church transfers the celebration, doesn’t it, also, transfer the ranking, at least for the Novus Ordo? It seems, at least according to the N.
    O Mass I went to, this morning, that today was not celebrated as a solemnity.

    I could stand for some clarification. If one celebrates the TLM it is a solemnity, today, but this seems to be in conflict with the ranking of the NO. Can one follow two different calendars?

    The Chicken

  10. Philliesgirl says:

    The bishops conference of England and Wales have decided not to transfer some feasts of the Lord to Sunday. So today (6th January) is the Solemnity of the Epiphany (NO), a Holiday of Obligation and not a day of abstinence – if you live in England or Wales!

  11. Philokalos says:

    There is a formulaic post like this every. single. time. a major feast falls on a Friday.

    [Your point?]

  12. Titus says:

    Since the feast of the Epiphany has never been a day of precept (obligation) in the U.S., it has never been the case where abstinence was waived if Epiphany (Jan. 6) fell on a Friday here.

    I am not sure the obligation under the 1917 Code (or the pre-Code rules it codified) was tied to the particular law of the place where you were. It certainly doesn’t say that in the common translation. Under universal law, January 6 was (and is) a day of precept. (And in any event, saying “not a day of precept in the U.S., therefore a day of abstinence” ignores the possibility that it was not a day of precept and not a day of abstinence, both by particular law. I don’t know that to have been the case, but it is possible.)

    Epiphany is a Solemnity in the new-fangled calendar

    This raises a problem about the new calendar: when is Epiphany? It’s not as easy as one may think. The 1983 CIC doesn’t establish the calendar. The Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year do. But the Norms incorporate by reference the episcopal conference’s power to transfer feasts (and not merely to create external celebrations).

    So what? So it’s not clear on the face—from the English version of these documents, at least—whether Epiphany is January 6 but merely observed on January 8, or whether Epiphany is January 8. If January 6 is Epiphany, it’s a solemnity and c. 1251 kicks in, even if you observe the feast some other time; If January 6 isn’t Epiphany, it’s not a solemnity and c. 1251 wouldn’t apply. My strong suspicion is that Epiphany is January 8 in the United States. (At the same time, this result is insane, and I will be relying on the universal calendar tonight when cooking the crown roast I traditionally make for Epiphany.)

    It certainly looks like this entire problem is an unintended consequence of this element of the calendar reform. I can’t imagine that the people who created the current system thought of this and failed to account for it. They just never thought of it, and the antinomianism that has dominated the Church over the last four decades has prevented it from being considered and addressed.

  13. Tman says:

    Wow the confusion just rolls on since VII. As a victim child of the new reforms, the more I learn the more I am convinced that we are headed to/in the false church, ape church–pick a prophecy. With my well-meaning VII generation parents, now deceased grandparents, and large crop of priests it would seem that in the beginning VII was based on hope. Now it is based on pride.

  14. diaconus_in_urbe says:


    And still, as we can see from the comments, people remain confused about it all.

    Catechesis (n.) – the act of saying the same things over and over again in the hope that people finally remember what was taught to them about God and His Church.

  15. APX says:

    In fairness, it’s a bit confusing when the solemnity is transferred in the Diocese.

    I sent an email to my pastor who is currently studying Canon Law and he gave me a very thorough explanation that actually makes sense. Long story short, those communities that observe different solemnities or have solemnities into different dates, those communities aren’t obligated to do penance if the solemnity they’re celebrating falls on a Friday.

Comments are closed.