What a difference a week can make! Last Friday—Good Friday, the day on which we commemorate Christ's Passion and Death—was the most somber day of the liturgical year. Yet today, exactly one week later, is Easter Sunday—the most joyful day in the Christian calendar.
Before you conclude I've lost my marbles, hear me out. I know that today is really Easter Friday, but liturgically, it's still Easter Sunday. That's because the Church regards Easter, like Christmas, as too important a celebration to be confined to one day. No, I'm not talking about the Easter season—the 50 days of Easter, between Easter Sunday and Pentecost Sunday—but the Octave of Easter, the eight days from Easter Sunday to Divine Mercy Sunday (inclusive).
Every day in the Octave of Easter is treated as a solemnity—the highest type of feast that the Church observes. You know those Holy Days of Obligation that everyone wishes there were either more of or less of? Those are solemnities.
And just as we don't fast on Sundays in Lent, because all Sundays are a celebration of our Lord's Resurrection, we don't abstain from meat (or practice a substitute form of penance) on solemnities that fall on Fridays. In recent years, that has meant that you could eat meat on Annunciation 2011 and celebrate Saint Joseph's Day 2010 with a big, juicy steak.
And every year—not just the occasional one—that means that our obligation to abstain from meat or practice another form of penance on Friday is abrogated on Easter Friday. You don't have to take my word for it; it's clear as a bell in the Code of Canon Law (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 [emphasis mine].
So don't let the fact that today is a Friday dampen your Easter joy. Kill the fatted calf, and enjoy that well-marbled steak or juicy burger.
Christ is risen! Now, where's the horseradish sauce?
More on Fasting, Abstinence, and Solemnities:
- Fasting: A Powerful Spiritual Tool
- Abstinence as Spiritual Discipline
- What Are the Rules for Fasting and Abstinence in the Catholic Church?
- Holy Days of Obligation in the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church
- Reader Question: Saint Joseph's Day and Abstinence
- Can You Eat Meat on the Annunciation?
- When Is a Friday Not a Friday?