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When is the traditional Friday abstinence rule dispensed?

Louis J. Tofari


Though strictly optional, many Catholics follow the traditional rules of fasting and abstinence as observed before the publication of Pope Paul VI’s 1966 Apostolic Constitution, Paenitemini, thus the rules as they were in force with the Roman Calendar of 1962 (for the missal and breviary).


A question that frequently arises concerning the abstinence from meat on Fridays, is when a I or II Class Feast (or Octave Day[1]) falls on that day of the week was the rule to abstain still observed?


Under the traditional rules, the dispensation from abstaining from meat on Fridays occurred only when that day was a Holy Day of Obligation, thus like a Sunday (when fasting is not permitted since it is a festivity of Our Lord). So, for example, even on Easter Friday (or Friday within the Paschal Octave) abstinence from meat was still observed (and it might be added, that before 1966, under the pain of mortal sin).


Of course, there were also extraordinary times when the local Ordinary could grant a dispensation from the norm (authorized by an indult of the Holy See) due to a national holiday falling on a Friday (such as July 4th), or even for a feast day that was of special import to the diocese (an example in many places in the United States was St. Patrick’s Day).


One quick note that bears mentioning, the Vatican never granted Americans a national “Thanksgiving Day Turkey Indult” (i.e., allowing the consumption of left-over turkey on the Friday following the American holiday of Thursday), as some have erroneously stated.


In fact, when this dispensation from the Friday abstinence was granted by the diocesan bishop, he was merely applying the papal indult to his specific ecclesiastical region (and in some places, no such dispensation was given).[2]

So to summarize again, per the traditional rules, one was always obliged to abstain from meat on Friday unless:

  1. A Holy Day of Obligation fell on a Friday.

  2. The local Ordinary granted a dispensation on that day within his diocese.

For those interested in closely following the traditional rules for fasting and abstinence, I suggest obtaining my Roman Missal Calendar.

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1 In the 1962 liturgical calendar there are three octaves (or series of eight days of liturgical celebration of the same mystery):


  • Christmas (of II Class) [from December 25 to January 1 inclusive],

  • Easter (I Class) [from Sunday to Saturday inclusive],

  • and Pentecost (I Class) [from Sunday to Saturday inclusive].

2 Copious research was made regarding this particular point (i.e., in Canon Law Digest, The Homiletic and Pastoral Review, American Ecclesiastical Review and other journals) and while two indults were granted to the American bishops for dispensing with the Friday abstinence (notably in 1931 and 1941), neither of them mentioned Thanksgiving Day; nor did any journal.

I was able to positively confirm that a national indult for this American holiday never existed via the Homiletic and Pastoral Review (December 1962; Vol. LXIII, No. 3, p 254), in the section "Questions Answered" (by Aidan M. Carr, O.F.M. Conv., Editor) and entitled "Friday's Turkey", the inquiry being:


The bishop of another diocese dispensed his subjects from abstinence for the Friday after Thanksgiving this year. Our bishop did not. When these individuals come into our diocese, into my parish on a visit, may they eat meat on that Friday?


The answer was "Yes, yes. If they won't eat fish, let 'em turkey—probably hashed" based on Canon 1245 (1917 CJC).

The lack of a so-called "Thanksgiving Day Turkey Indult" was confirmed again in the same periodical of February 1963 (Vol. LXIII, No. 5, p 438), and the same section with a piece entitled, "Friday's Turkey Rehashed" that gave further clarification to Fr. Aidan's previous canonical answer.

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