Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

From the March AD 1998
Our Lady of the Rosary
Parish Bulletin

    Question: Why is your calendar so liberal?  I have one from another "traditionalist" church that has a lot more days marked with a fish [indicating abstinence from meat]. Why don't you do it the right way?

    Answer: Unlike doctrines and moral teachings which never change, the Church is free to modify Its disciplinary practices in accordance with good judgement. Disciplines are man made regulations, subject to change by the men who have the authority to make them. Again, unlike doctrines and moral teachings, Church disciplines may vary from one part of the world to another.

    Living, as we do, in a period of ecclesiastical anarchy, it is often difficult for traditional Catholics to decide which items of traditional discipline they should observe. The Missal is perhaps the best example of this confusion: If we are not to follow the Novus Ordo Missæ, then which liturgical book are we to use?  Some insist that it must be Pope John's Missale Romanum of 1962; the last of the Tridentine missals.1 Others (often those schismatics seeking to distinguish themselves as the only "true Catholics") insist that only the exact missal issued by Pope St. Pius V on 9 July 1570 may be used. In practice, even the most rabid separatist congregation would be disturbed if their calendar failed to include modern feasts like that of Christ the King, or sanctioned only one Mass on All Souls Day, or, for that matter, failed to observe a feast of Pope St. Pius V. Practical people strike a reasonable balance.

    The laws concerning fast and abstinence have changed over the years just as the missal has. Compare the 1917 Code of Canon Law with that of 1983.

The 1917 Code

    Canon 1252. § 1. The law of abstinence alone is to be observed on all Fridays.

    § 2. The law of abstinence and fast together is to be observed on Ash Wednesday, the Fridays and Saturdays of Lent, the Ember days [all day], and on the Vigils of Pentecost, the Assumption, All Saints, and the Nativity.

    § 3. The law of fast alone is to be observed on the other days of Lent.

    § 4. On Sundays and days of obligation the law ceases except on a feast of obligation during Lent; and the vigils are not anticipated; likewise the law ceases on Holy Saturday at noon.

The 1983 Code

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

    Canon 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.

    Canon 1252. The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.

    Canon 1253. The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

    The 1917 Code was, itself, a liberalization of the previous law which forbade the taking of seafood and meat in the same meal, and which required that fasting vigils the fell on Sunday be observed the day before. Saturday (and Wednesday) abstinence was more extensive.2

    Between 1917 and 1983 the Holy See granted permission for various modifications of the abstinence laws for workingmen and their families, for servicemen and their families, and for dioceses to transfer the Saturday abstinence to Wednesdays. In the United States it was quite common for bishops to dispense fasting and abstinence on the more important ethnic celebrations (e.g. St. Patrick, St. Joseph) as well as on the day following Thanksgiving.

    Our calendar attempts to blend all of this in a reasonable fashion, prescribing a regimen that is somewhere in between the two Codes. For those who are concerned that "there are not enough rules," it should be pointed out that anyone is free to fast and abstain every day of the year if he feels like it.


    1. One group of extremists went to the trouble of reprinting and binding a missal which they proudly stamped in gold on its leather binding "Missale Romanum 1962," even though it was a copy of the 1960 Missale!
    2. The Catholic Encyclopedia (1917), vol I., s.v. "Abstinence."


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