1. Religion & Spirituality
Scott P. Richert

When Is a Friday Not a Friday?

By December 30, 2011

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When is a Friday not a Friday? When it falls on the Sixth Day of Christmas! Or the Fifth Day of Christmas, or the Seventh Day of Christmas . . . Or really, any day from the Second Day of Christmas until the Eighth Day of Christmas.

By now, you're probably wondering just what the heck I'm talking about. Well, as regular readers of the About.com Catholicism GuideSite know, the Catholic Church still considers Fridays a day of penance (no, that wasn't "abolished at Vatican II"), and the Code of Canon Law (Canons 1250-51) prescribes abstinence from meat on every Friday of the year, unless the bishops' conference for your country has substituted a different penance. (See What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church?)

But Canon 1251 notes one exception (emphasis added):

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.

Solemnities are the highest feasts of the Church, the days that, under normal circumstances, are considered Holy Days of Obligation (though not every country observes all of them). So, in recent years, when both the Solemnity of Saint Joseph and the Solemnity of the Annunciation fell on Fridays, there was no obligation to abstain from meat (or practice an alternative penance) on those days. And Christmas, of course, is a solemnity as well.

But what does any of this have to do with the Second through Eighth Days of Christmas? Here's where things get really interesting.

Historically, the Catholic Church has observed octaves of important feasts. Before the reform of the liturgical calendar in 1969, a considerable number of feasts (very roughly, those that we now consider solemnities) had octaves attached to them. An octave (an English abbreviation of the Latin octava dies, or "eighth day") comprises the seven days following a feast, and the feast itself.

The Church treats every day during the octave of a feast as if it were the feast itself. So, for instance, the prayers for Mass and the Liturgy of the Hours (the Church's daily prayer) during the Octave of Christmas refer to each day as if it were still Christmas Day. And, liturgically speaking, it still is. Liturgy, by its very nature, takes us outside the bounds of time. At any of the Church's liturgies, we are standing before the throne of God in Heaven, where time does not exist.

So an octave is a way to extend a feast day for a full eight days. Twenty-four hours, the Church is saying, just simply isn't enough time to rejoice in Christ's birth; we need more.

So what does this mean concerning our Friday penance? Well, if Christmas falls on a Friday, not only are we not required to observe abstinence (or some other form of penance), we shouldn't abstain. There is a time to fast, and a time to feast, and feasts such as Christmas are not times to fast.

And, since every day in the Octave of Christmas is liturgically Christmas Day, the Friday in the Octave of Christmas is not a time to fast, either. Canon 1251's exemption for solemnities includes every day within the Octave of Christmas. (The same, of course, applies to the Octave of Easter, the only octave besides the Octave of Christmas to survive the revision of the liturgical calendar in 1969.)

So, if you're still chipping away at the remains of your Christmas goose or roast, or if you'd just like a nice juicy steak or hamburger today, go ahead—it's still Christmas!

More on Fasting, Abstinence, and Solemnities:

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Comments
December 30, 2011 at 12:52 pm
(1) Delia says:

Wish I had read this before I made soup from the leftover vegetables minus the left over goose! Will add it to my store of knowledge which I have picked up from this site for next year though.

December 30, 2011 at 1:02 pm
(2) JenZ says:

I learned of this several years ago but there is one thing I never thought of until reading your article. Does this mean that all of the days of the octave of Christmas or Easter are days of obligation for Mass attendance as well?

December 30, 2011 at 1:07 pm
(3) Aristocles says:

I’m not sure this is correct. Today (Friday in the Octave of Christmas) is a second class feast. But it seems highly improbable that all second class feasts are technically solemnities, that is, solemnities in the eyes of canon law. For not all First Class feasts are solemnities.

Furthermore, while I see your logic I’m not sure it’s tight enough. For though each day ought to be ‘treated like a solemnity’ or ‘treated as if it were the Christmas solemnity’, it doesn’t follow that each subsequent day is a solemnity.

In search of more evidence and explanation… gratefully yours,

Aristocles

December 30, 2011 at 2:49 pm
(4) diane says:

How even more wonderful however if you have kept the Friday obligation on your own no matter how the wind blows or what church laws have changed-Vatican 2 or not you do it out of love for for the Lord.

December 30, 2011 at 3:38 pm
(5) Gen says:

I came across this reply to the same question, posted by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England:

“The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a Feast of the Lord and not a Solemnity. When the Octave day of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, falls on a Sunday as a Solemnity it takes precedence over a Feast. When that occurs, as in this year, the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on Friday 30 December….As it is not a Solemnity the obligation for Friday Penance is observed.”

https://www.facebook.com/cbcew/posts/296425130381143

Can you point me toward some official documentation that the Friday after Christmas is considered a Solemnity? I’d be glad to continue celebrating Christmas with a celebratory free Friday (like the Friday after Easter), but I’m not sure that this actually is a Solemnity.

Thanks! :)

December 30, 2011 at 3:39 pm
(6) Scott P. Richert says:

Diane, I’m not sure I’m following you. Are you suggesting that this was a change after Vatican II, and that we should be abstaining from meat today? If so, you’re missing the point: The change went in the other direction. The abolition of the Octave of Pentecost in the reform of 1969, for instance, means that Catholics must observe penance on the Friday after Pentecost today, where they didn’t have to under the old calendar.

Indeed, on my calendar provided by the Institute of Christ the King, Sovereign Priest, which is a traditionalist religious society (they only say the Traditional Latin Mass and celebrate all of the sacraments in the Extraordinary Form), today, the Friday in the Octave of Easter, and the Friday in the Octave of Pentecost are all days on which meat is allowed.

December 30, 2011 at 5:09 pm
(7) Gen says:

I came across this reply to the same question, posted by the Catholic Bishop’s Conference of England:

“The Holy Family of Jesus, Mary and Joseph is a Feast of the Lord and not a Solemnity. When the Octave day of Christmas, the Solemnity of Mary, Holy Mother of God, falls on a Sunday as a Solemnity it takes precedence over a Feast. When that occurs, as in this year, the Feast of the Holy Family is celebrated on Friday 30 December….As it is not a Solemnity the obligation for Friday Penance is observed.”

https://www.facebook.com/cbcew/posts/296425130381143

Can you point me toward some official documentation that the Friday after Christmas is considered a Solemnity? I’d be glad to continue celebrating Christmas with a celebratory free Friday (like the Friday after Easter), but I’m not sure that this actually is a Solemnity.

Thanks! :)

December 30, 2011 at 7:30 pm
(8) Michael Boyd says:

I read your convoluted piece about Fridays. With all the problems facing the Church today on a global basis, is this a constructive way in which to use your talents, energy and time?

The detail in it reflects a legalistic mindset that has caused many problems in the Church.

December 31, 2011 at 4:35 am
(9) Thomas Windsor says:

Mr. Richert

I think the confusion comes from the “General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar” found here;

http://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=5932#Solemn

Which says
” 12. The celebration of Easter and Christmas, the two greatest solemnities, continues for eight days, with each octave governed by its own rules.”
but it also says;
“24. The first eight days of the Easter season make up the octave of Easter and are celebrated as solemnities of the Lord.”
and for Christmas we get the following;
“35. Christmas has its own octave, arranged as follows:
a. Sunday within the octave is the feast of the Holy Family;
b. 26 December is the feast of Saint Stephen, First Martyr;
c. 27 December is the feast of Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist;
d. 28 December is the feast of the Holy Innocents;
e. 29, 30, and 31 December are days within the octave;
f. 1 January, the octave day of Christmas, is the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God. It also recalls the conferral of the holy Name of Jesus.”
Note no mention of Solemnities within the Christmas Octave.

In the days when there were lots of octaves, and there were different degrees. Easter is / was a Privileged Octave no other feast could fall within the octave, and all the days within could be described as Solemnities. The Christmas Octave is of course different. There were even simple octaves…

Dr. Edward Peters gives a link to the following from his blog;

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solemnity

God Bless
Tom

January 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm
(10) GregY says:

It’s not legalism, it’s discipline. Regular fasting and sacrifice, if accompanied by a sincere spirit of prayer, is essential to growth in holiness.
It is not that convoluted either. You have to fast on Fridays (or perform some other act of penance if you’re in the USA). Except for Solemnities, which should be times of feasting and great joy.
Without the penance of Lent, then Easter is empty. If we want to recover true joy and fervor in the Church, it is not through removing all “rules” (legalism), but rather through embracing them and trying to put our hearts into them.

December 28, 2012 at 2:57 pm
(11) AndyMo says:

http://www.ewtn.com/library/CURIA/CDWLITYR.HTM

See the table of liturgical days. Weekdays in the Octave of Christmas are ranked below Feasts and above Obligatory Memorials. They are NOT Solemnities and do not lift the obligation to abstain.

December 28, 2012 at 3:47 pm
(12) Edward C. says:

Mr. Richert, I have been informed by a knowledgeable priest that your article is in error. The days in the Octave of Christmas are NOT solemnities, and therefore the Friday penance is not relaxed. One way you can tell is that there is not a “second reading” between the Psalm and the Gospel in the Ordinary Form, and the Gloria and Creed are not said.

December 31, 2012 at 12:44 pm
(13) Anna P says:
April 14, 2014 at 2:11 am
(14) Al Black says:

I still don’t understand why it is OK to eat fish but not meat on the Fridays during Easter: isn’t this just a pagan superstition (to do with blood and sacrifices) that attached itself to Christianity and became custom? It is a bit like the Orthodox Jew strapping God’s word to their Forehead, Chest and Right arm, so that God’s word will be in their hearts, in their heads and guide their hands: it wasn’t what God wanted them to do. All Churches gather rituals over the years that detract from the central meaning of the original teachings of that church: it is as inevitable as whales gather barnacles.
Christmas Trees and Easter Eggs are not a biblical requirement either, but try telling that to the Christians of today.
The bottom line is that while it is not biblical, Fasting and Abstinence from meat has become a Catholic custom, and while it might be a superstitious ritual, it’s a harmless one, and if done as a spiritual offering to God may actually focus your mind on holiness.
In other words, there are things the Church asks of us that have no basis in the Bible, but as long as it isn’t actually against the Bible, then why not go along with it, in order to stay in the one true Church?

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