ASK FATHER: Must we abstain from eating meat on Friday in the Octave of Easter?

We are now in the Easter Octave – Happy Easter!

Let’s get out in front of this before the calendar clicks over to Friday

Each year I get a question from readers about our obligation to do penance on Friday by abstinence from eating meat during the Octave of Easter.

Here is canon 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.

The days of the Octave of Easter are celebrated as Solemnities (in the Novus Ordo calendar).    Therefore, there is no canonical obligation for Catholics for the Friday abstinence on this coming Friday.

Note well that the other Fridays of Eastertide are not Solemnities.  The relief from abstinence applies only to the Friday in the Octave of Easter.

BTW… this does not apply to the Octave of Christmas, because the days of that Octave are not counted as “Solemnities” as are those of the Easter Octave.

This is how the 1983 Code of Canon Law handles Friday in the Octave of Easter, and this applies also to those who prefer the Extraordinary Form (which did not have “Solemnities”).

As far as other Fridays are concerned, outside the Octave of Easter or some other Solemnity, 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.

Abstinence from meat has good reasoning behind it. For some, however, abstinence from other things can be of great spiritual effect.

Certainly you would never abstain from reading this blog… or from ordering…

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. JesusFreak84 says:

    Only time I ever asked my confessor to commute the Friday penance was when I was literally so anemic I’d just had a blood transfusion. (Wouldn’t wish either of those on anyone…)


  3. Jon says:

    Gave someone that answer myself last week, Father.

    Howevvvver, I’m guessing the real question you’ll be pestered with by those fans of the ’17 Code like myself who would otherwise prefer to paper the bird cage with that of ’83, will be “What did they do in the Before Time, Father?”

    Easy answer from Rorate of a few years ago:

  4. Imrahil says:

    Dear Jon,

    that answer is quite right and does belong in the picture. It’s not like we’d have to eat meat on this day to show we’re good Catholics. There is some nonsense of this category floating around in any case: There really are those who believe that following a Lenten discipline on Lenten Sundays, even if lenified, is sinful! In reality, of course, this is supererogatory-but-virtuous. (With the possible exception of fasting in the technical sense of the term; I don’t know about that. But you do not have to have meat on a Lenten Sunday. You do not have to have chocolate, alcohol, whatever it is you’re abstaining from, on Lenten Sundays. You simply don’t.)

    Also, I personally opine that while we really do not have to abstain, this is even for the 1983 Code by the reason of “interpret burdens as minimal” (there surely is some fancy Latin expression for that principle?) rather than “obvious meaning of the law”. What we have is a Day-within-the-Octave with the rank of a solemnity. Is that a solemnity? Is it, when the previous law was “feast of precept”, so this was obviously meant as a slight extension of that (forgetting in the process that St. Stephen is a feast of precept in some placed but only of II class)? Well: not obviously. But, interpret burdens as minimal.

    That being said, I think Mr Wolfe’s tone is off when he seems to equate feasting on Easter Friday with feasting on “38 of the 40 days of Lent” (that is, apart from Ash Wednesday and Good Friday). It would even be off if he had said “32 of the 40 days of Lent”, also excluding the rest of the Fridays. Easter Friday really is part of the greatest feast of the year; to exempt it really is but a slight extension of the principle to exempt feast of precepts; and even to not abstain on this specific day has a tradition by itself: while we Latins would have abstained in 1961, our Eastern brethren never have.

    (As for me? No “real meat dish” today; I might have gone to a restaurant that has a Friday-only-dish, calves’ feet [keep up the tradition to use the whole animal! – they use other parts the other days], to taste them, but I am afraid I rather don’t like them. And something that contains a little meat, something enriched with ham perhaps? Maybe.)

  5. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    Imrahil — in your third paragraph, you appear to conflate fasting and abstinence.

    We asbolutely should be feasting today, Easter Friday. I just had some delicious snacks. There has never been a fast on Easter Friday.

    At the same time, until post-Vatican II days, Easter Friday was also a day of abstinence, as it is not a holy day of obligation (as you correctly mention). In this regard, Easter Friday is aking to the feast of the Sacred Heart. No fasting (unlike the 40 weekdays of Lent), but yes on abstinence, at least before Vatican II (and thus during the 1962 missal).

  6. Kenneth Wolfe says:

    * absolutely, not asbolutely
    * akin, not aking

  7. Imrahil says:

    Dear Mr. Wolfe,

    that was what I meant, though I grant by the technical meaning of “feasting” maybe not what I said.

    All I am saying is that this “well, it’s not technically the law now, but then neither is really anything specific for Lent, apart from a very few days; do you really want to follow that” is a bit off where Easter Friday is concerned. The old law is no longer law; what it can be used as is a guideline. But whereas following a burdensome law to its letter, when no exceptional circumstance occurs, generally looks an act of the virtue of obedience, this is different for a guideline.

    And in this, I do not, by the way, think that Easter Friday is so very much akin to the feast of the Sacred Heart. They are akin in that that they used to have obligatory abstinence and now don’t have obligatory abstinence, sure: so far so good. But when we do delve into what these days mean – and whatever to be said about the letter of a law actually in force, surely we should go beyond the letter of an obsolete law we “merely” use as a guideline – then we will find out that while it makes sense to abstain on Easter Friday, it makes noticeably more sense to abstain on Sacred Heart. Easter Friday is part of what the Easterners call bright week; one of the central themes of Sacred Heart devotion on the other hand is “not letting God’s love be unanswered”, i. e., doing acts of devotion and penance. So, it’s still good to abstain on Easter Friday also (let me not be misunderstood), but I think it should be accompanied with the thought that this lessening-of-discipline really could be defended.

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