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July 01, 2004



A Big Thank You, Jimmy!

Susan Schudt

Dear Jimmy,

Is there any exception for the Fridays that fall in the 50 days of Easter season? Is this just the Eastern Church? All this is very confusing and none is, of course, preached at the pulpit!

May God Bless you!

Brian Knotts

If I may, I think I can answer that:

There is one exception in the United States: the Friday after Thanksgiving.

And, no...this is for the Western (Latin) Church.

Please correct me if I'm wrong, Jimmy. :-)

Brian Knotts

Oops. I misread your first question.

So, I think the answer is, no there are no exceptions in that season, as far as I know.

During Lent, however, some bishops have been known to offer a local dispensation for St. Patrick's Day, when it falls on a Friday.



Do you happen to have a citation to Rome's confirmation of the USCCB's 1966 document?

I'm curious because neither Canon 1251 no 1253 seem, on their faces, to permit conferences of bishops to do away with the requirement of abstinence, merely to "more precisely determine the observation" and "substitute other foods" or "other forms of penance".

From the standpoint of Canon Law statutory interpretation, am I wrong about that?

Sergei Timenovich

Wow. I didn't know that, Jimmy. I also had absorbed the common idea that some form of abstinence was obligatory, with the specifics up to the individual faithful to determine for themselves.

Question: Could we say that we have, if not a legal obligation to abstain or to observe some other sort of Friday penance, at any rate a filial obligation to take to heart the bishops' express desire "that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law"?


'Our deliberate, personal abstinence from meat, more especially because no longer required by law, will be an outward sign of inward spiritual values that we cherish.'

So if read in the negative... Our deliberate, lack of personal abstinence from meat, more especially because no longer required by law, will be an outward sign of the lack of inward spiritual values that we should cherish. ???


Very informative!
Thanks, Jimmy. It always helps with topics like this to go straight to the source and really see what it said. Despite efforts not to, because of time I all too often go on what someone I trust has said without looking at the document myself.
Hats off to you!

Eric Giunta

Okay, I'm confused about:

"we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence as binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday"

Are we still bound, under pain of sin, to observe some sort of dicipline on Fridays? Or does this sentence just mean that we don't, under pain of sin, have to necessarily give up meat? But we still have to DO something, under pain of sin?


And more importantly, what was the freakin' point of this whole change in the first place? What fruits has it borne? Are Catholics more asceitic in the practice of their faith? More fervent in their mortifications?

I want to know what our bishops were thinking, of if they were thinking at all . . .


In the General Norms for the Liturgical Year and Calendar the following is stated:

II. Easter Season

22. The fifty days from Easter Sunday to Pentecost are celebrated in joyful exultation as one feast day, or better as one "great Sunday."[12]

These above all others are the days for the singing of the Alleluia.


24. The first eight days of the Easter season make up the octave of Easter and are celebrated as solemnities of the Lord.


(I have taken out the ones that don't seem to apply to the question.)

If the 50 days are to be considered as one feast day, does this mean abstinence is not required?

Since the first 8 days are considered solemnities of the Lord, abstinence would not be required on the first Friday of the Easter season?

Sorry if I am confusing the issue, but I sincerely want to know! I have heard that Easter season as a whole is supposed to be celebratory, and therefore abstinence on Fridays is not required.

God Bless!


Great article. As a convert I didn't realize we ever had an obligation to observe Friday's outside of Lent.

God bless,


No one other than the Bishops at the time can speak to their motivation, but perhaps one of the issues was the perception that "giving up meat" on Friday (or anyday for that matter) wasn't such a big deal anymore and had become a sort of banal legalistic devoid of spiritual significance.

After all, what's so penitential about a lobster dinner or Veggie Lover's Pizza?

The ability to substitute something that actually constitutes a sacrifice (no TV or internet [excuse the anachronism], etc.) makes sense.

That's why I questioned whether the USCCB had the authority to go beyond substituting either other foods or other forms of penitence and do away with the requirement altogether.


Pious wishes aside, it's clear the practical effect of this change has been to indeed abolish Friday as a day of penance, most especially under Mr. Akin's reading.

This is in part why I see Mr. Akin's reading as difficult to maintain, especially in the light of statements like:

"1. Friday itself remains a special day of penitential observance throughout the year, a time when those who seek perfection will be mindful of their personal sins and the sins of mankind which they are called upon to help expiate in union with Christ Crucified; "

This clause seems to imply that Friday remains a day that brings special obligations upon us.

Mr. Akin's explanation of the following is extremely obscure:

"Among the works of voluntary self-denial and personal penance which we especially commend to our people for the future observance of Friday, even though we hereby terminate the traditional law of abstinence as binding under pain of sin, as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday, we give first place to abstinence from flesh meat. We do so in the hope that the Catholic community will ordinarily continue to abstain from meat by free choice as formerly we did in obedience to Church law."...

Mr.Akins has difficulty enunciating the import of the clause "as the sole prescribed means of observing Friday." Prima facie, the clause could mean that there is no long one sole means of observing Friday; but that Friday must still be observed.

It could also be read in Mr. Akin's direction, that previously Friday could be observed solely an obligation binding under pain of sin, namely abstinence, but now Friday can be observed by actings not done under obligation. This reading seems a bit strange though, inasmuch as the talk of "observing Friday" strongly implies an obligation to observe.

This shows that the language of the text is ambiguous, and I fail to see how we can cut from that to Mr. Akin's ultimate conclusion, especially given the clear language of canon law, which does not seem to imply a right to dispense entirely from the weekly Friday obligation of abstinence. At the least, this issue needs to be more thoroughly discussed.

The lack of a "crushing rejoinder" is hardly an argument in Mr. Akin's favor, if it be assumed that the objection has already been answered by a clear reading of canon law and the text.
Further, the presence of ambiguity and lack of cohesiveness testifies to compilatory and committee-based composition of the text, nothing more.

Mr Akin's claims that legal obligations do not exist that are not legislated. This ignores the clear legislation of canon law, and the prima facie reading of the bishop's document which can plausibly be read to do justice to canon law, and preserve the Friday obligation.

Further, the law of charity, and fidelity and loyalty to successors of the apostles, may compel a more harmonious reading than that suggested. Of course, all this could be settled by the bishop's conference issuing a document settling this question, so that the blogosphere wouldn't be forced to adjudicate it.

As for this still being a disputed fact; I have heard priests say the obligation for Friday penance still exists; I have even heard it rumored that Pope has spoken to this topic, though I have no cite available. Given this, to claim that this question is irrefutably closed seems quite premature.


Reading over the canons again, my view may have moderated somewhat. If Canon 1253 can be read as altering the obligatory force of 1251, the argument about no Friday obligation becomes more plausible.

Yet if that obligation were abrogated by the bishops conference, then shouldn't it have been done explicitly, rather than in a form that can certainly be read as retaining the plain-sense meaning of canon law, that there exists some basic canonical obligation for penance on Friday?

On the other side, plenty of sources say there's no obligation. However some more "conservative" sources, like EWTN, lean towards the obligation of some penance.

Mr. Akins seems to be arguing that since the Friday abstinence was abolished, and the bishops did explictly and clearly put anything in its place binding under pain of sin; that therefore there is no obligation for any Friday penance.

But this argument assumes that bishop's conference is the source for the obligation of Friday penance, rather than canon law.

Could it not be argued that, in absence of expressly setting aside canon law, the obligation imposed by canon law would still be operative?

Since Canon Law presupposes that Friday abstinence from meat will be replaced by some other form of binding abstinence or sacrifice; what are our grounds for assuming an exceptional circumstance here? To look at ambiguous language in the bishop's document is a tenuous argument at best. If it's unclear that the bishops explicitly altered the obligations of canon law, why should we presume this?

Could it not be equally plausible that, in accordance with canon law, the bishops replaced Friday abstincen with an obligation to just do some kind of penance, of our own chosing?

That itself, allowing us to chose any penance to satisfy our obligation, would come under 1253, would it not? It's more general than specifying a substitute food or particular activity, for instance. With this reading, 1253 and 1251 could agree with each other, rather than be seen as clashing.

With regard to the law of charity remark, that wasn't intended as a swipe, and was somewhat sarcastic. Still, if we can read this document in a way that does justice to text and intent of the canons, and in a way that justify's the document's claim that they're not doing away with Friday, why shouldn't we do so?



Mr Akin,

I don't think that your synopsis of the situation takes into full account the imports of Canons 1249 and 1250.

Can. 1249 All Christ's faithful are obliged by divine law, each in his or her own way, to do penance. However, so that all may be joined together in a certain common practice of penance, days of penance are prescribed. On these days the faithful are in a special manner to devote themselves to prayer, to engage in works of piety and charity, and to deny themselves, by fulfilling their obligations more faithfully and especially by observing the fast and abstinence which the following canons prescribe.

Can. 1250 The days and times of penance for the universal Church are each Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

The latter is the law which imposes a moral obligation to Penance on each and every Friday. The USCCB did not promulgate complimentary norms to Canon 1250 (nor is the conference of bishops given the power to do so), therefore the moral obligation of penance on Friday's exists in law for every Catholic.


There is a quote from Penitential Practices
for Today's Catholics by the Committee on Pastoral PracticesNational Conference of Catholic Bishops

* Fridays Throughout the Year—In memory of Christ's suffering and death, the Church prescribes making each Friday throughout the year a penitential day. All of us are urged to prepare appropriately for that weekly Easter that comes with each Sunday.

Does the word "prescribes" indicate anything different?


An analogy to free Jimmy's block.

A father tells his toddler son that "Mom and Dad's rule, for leaving the dinner table before eating most of his meal, has been too strict".

The rule has been that "you will not leave the table untill your plate is clean, if you do leave the table without eating what we serve you, then you will get a spanking (and/or time out)".

Daddy tells toddler, "Now, daddy is going to relax the rule a bit, and allow you to pick your own foods from the bounty that God provides us. In the past we have chosen the amounts and types of food to go on your plate, but now Mommy will give you a slightly bigger assortment to choose from."

Daddy tells his little todder that "he should pick the best foods he can, and finish all his plate because daddy and mommy love him very much."

Now. What do you think happens to the little boy when he comes to dinner the next day, and picks out a huge helping of Ice Cream, hardly makes a dent in the ice cream (doesnt finish it all), and starts heading towards the TV room with a mustach full of chocolate ice cream around his mouth?!

Does he get a spanking or not?

Was there an implied rule or not?

That is the question. Though we are not toddlers, and no analogy is perfect.... this shows an anological way of understnding an "intent" and a possible way of reading the leagal documents and the exortations as one in the same, without sacrificing common sense.



I personally think, that Friday Penance should be reinstated with full force, and to that end, I'll struggle towards its traditional observe, from now on, due to the fact that I've been more aware of it.

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