Regína sacratíssimi Rosárii, ora pro nobis!

Ave Maria!

Epiphany of Our Lord—6 January A.D. 2013

On Church Law and Custom

Ordinary of the Mass
Mass Text - Latin
Mass Text - English

Blessing of Holy Water (on the Vigil)

Blessing of Epiphany Chalk

    “Arise, be enlightened, O Jerusalem; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee.... And the Gentiles shall walk in thy light, and kings in the brightness of thy rising..”[1]

    Today we celebrate the Epiphany of our Lord.  “Epiphany” comes from the Greek word epiphaneia (ἐπιφάνεια), meaning “manifestation.”  The text of the Mass refers to the manifestation of our Lord to the three kings, but the Divine Office also mentions the manifestation in His Baptism in the Jordan, and the manifestation at His first miracle in Cana of Galilee.  There are separate Masses to commemorate this other events (January 13th and the Second Sunday after Epiphany).

    But rather than speak about any of these events, I have a few words for you about following the laws and customs of the Catholic Church.  Our Mass attendance was rather poor on the feast of the Circumcision, January 1st, even though it was a holy day of obligation.  I might attribute this to a lack of emphasis on my part.  My recent hospitalization distracted me from a lot of things that might otherwise have received more attention.  But I have to assume all adult Catholics are aware of the holy days of the year.  I think, rather, that many Catholics have somehow come to think all of the laws and customs of the Church as being optional ever since the 1960s and Vatican II.  This is simply incorrect.  We tend to laugh at the Modernists, with their clowns, Marxists, perverts, and Protestantized liturgy, but too many of us imitate them and their laxity when it seems the convenient thing to do.

    The various disciplinary laws of the Church apply for three main reasons:  So that the Church as a Body can give glory to God;  so that we as individuals will render Him a certain minimum of worship; and so that we can do penance and develop discipline in ourselves in order to resist the temptation to sin when it presents itself.  A byproduct of the laws and customs is the development of what we might call a “Catholic identity” in that we are united by the knowledge and observance of things that all Catholics do—even many who are not terribly religious Catholics.  The idea that our religion is constantly changing, and that its practices are optional is grounded in Modernism—which Pope Saint Pius X called “the synthesis of all errors.”

    The law of the Church still requires Mass attendance, and abstinence from servile work, on all of the Sundays and holy days of obligation throughout the year.[2]  One may attend any valid Mass in any Catholic rite.[3]  The bishop can modify the holy days somewhat, but as traditional Catholics, we tend to observe them as they are, not merging the Sundays with the holy days just because they are only a day or two apart.  (It should surprise no one if Ascension Thursday falls on a Thursday.)

    The bishop or pastor can dispense occasionally from the obligation to attend Mass or observe the day of rest.[4]  No particular age excuses from Mass attendance, but physical inability, great distance, the need to care for the sick, and similar urgencies do excuse—in doubt, discuss with your confessor.

    The Eucharistic fast has been greatly reduced in recent years.[5]  But the single hour now required seems trivial, and I would hope that all of us would do more—a few hours, if not from midnight.  Physical necessity excuses from the Eucharistic fast—even from the single hour, if the necessity is real.

    Canon Law still requires Friday abstinence from meat unless the Friday falls on an important feast (like Christmas, or Immaculate Conception, for instance).[6]  The is no upper age at which the law of abstinence ends.  The new (1983) Code of Canon Law allows the bishops to substitute some “alternative penance” for Friday abstinence from meat, but no one seems to be able to tell me what that “alternative penance” might be!

    Lent is still urged as a season for fasting, although the only two mandatory fast days are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.  These are also days of abstinence from meat.  One turned sixty years of age is excused from fasting, but not from abstinence.  Here again, Catholic custom suggests a greater amount of fasting and abstinence that the law strictly requires, both for Lent and for the Ember days of the year.  I would hope that all of our people would be more generous with God.

    There is an obligation to receive Holy Communion at least once a year, and this is usually accomplished during the Easter season (First Sunday of Lent until Trinity Sunday, inclusive).[7]  In practice, one ought to receive far more often than once a year—hopefully every day on which we are able to attend Mass.  We are also required to make a good sacramental Confession at least once a year.[8]  Again, it makes sense that we do so much more frequently.

    In brief, let me remind you that these laws and customs of the Church exist for our benefit.  They are not optional.  They make us and God’s Church pleasing to God—and they make for the salvation of our souls—something for which we must all strive.


[1]  Isaias lx: 1, 3

[2]   canon 1247, old and new Codes.

[3]   New canon 1248.

[4]   canon 1245, old and new Codes.

[5]   New canon 919.

[6]   New canon 1251.

[7]   New canon 920.

[8]   New canon 989.




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