Saturday, May 18, 2013
Vigil of Pentecost: Fast and Abstinence

Today is the Vigil for Pentecost, and tomorrow we will celebrate the Descent of the Holy Spirit and the foundation of the Church. Pentecost marks the completion of the work of redemption, the fullness of grace for the Church and its children, and the gift of faith for all nations.

Fast and Abstain on the Vigil of Pentecost

Today's preparation should not be underestimated.  Catholics should fast and abstain from meat today in order to better conform themselves to celebrate this High Holy Day of Pentecost. The Vigil of Pentecost has been a day of required fasting and abstinence for centuries and it was kept as such even through the early 1960s.

The days of obligatory fasting as listed in the 1917 Code of Canon Law were the forty days of Lent (including Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday until noon); the Ember Days; and the Vigils of Pentecost, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, All Saints, and Christmas.

On January 28, 1949, the United States bishops issued modified regulations on abstinence in America again after receiving a ruling from the Sacred Congregation of the Council. Partial abstinence replaced complete abstinence for Ember Wednesdays, Ember Saturdays, and the Vigil of Pentecost.

By 1962, the laws of fasting and abstinence were as follows as described in "Moral Theology" by Rev. Heribert Jone and adapted by Rev. Urban Adelman for the "laws and customs of the United States of America" copyright 1961: "Complete abstinence is to be observed on all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday, the Vigils of Immaculate Conception and Christmas. Partial abstinence is to be observed on Ember Wednesdays and Saturdays and on the Vigil of Pentecost. Days of fast are all the weekdays of Lent, Ember Days, and the Vigil of Pentecost."

Shortly after the close of the Second Vatican Council, Paul VI issued an apostolic constitution on fasting and abstaining on February 17, 1966, called Paenitemini, whose principles were later incorporated into the 1983 Code of Canon Law. Paenitemini allowed the commutation of the Friday abstinence to an act of penance at the discretion of the local ordinaries and gave authority to the episcopal conferences on how the universal rules would be applied in their region. Abstinence which previously began at age 7 was modified to begin at age 14. Additionally, the obligation of fasting on the Ember Days and on the remaining Vigils was abolished.

Learn more about this forgotten history in the Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting and Abstinence.

The Vigil Mass of Pentecost   

The Mass for Pentecost was formerly celebrated during the night and has since been anticipated.  It seems that the Vigil was modeled on that of Easter.  As was observed on Holy Saturday, a vigil was kept during the night of Pentecost Sunday to prepare for the Sacrament of Baptism.  The Feast of Whitsun - the term Whitsunday is another name for Pentecost, alluding to the white vestments of the neophytes - is as ancient as that of Easter.  The Saturday following the Octave of Pentecost officially begins the Season After Pentecost. For the special prayers and readings for the pre-1955 Vigil of Pentecost, click here.

While the Novus Ordo calendar unfortunately only has 2 octaves, traditional Catholics will be familiar with the idea of multiple overlapping Octaves.  The practice of celebrating an Octave, while not only traced to the time spent by the Apostles and the Blessed Virgin Mary awaiting the Paraclete also has its origins in the Old Testament eight-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles (Leviticus 23:36) and the Dedication of the Temple (2 Chronicles 7:9). Very truly, Christ did not come to abolish the Old Law but to fulfill it.

This is one of the most important celebrations in the Church's liturgical year. I've prepared for this day through the Original Novena. The Feast of Pentecost (i.e., Whitsunday) is one of the principal feasts in the life of the Church.  After tomorrow's Feast (and the subsequent Octave), we will conclude Pascaltide and begin the Season after Pentecost.

Collect for the Vigil of Pentecost from the 1962 Missal:

Grant, we beseech Thee, O almighty God, that the splendor of Thy brightness may shine forth upon us, and the light of Thy light may, by the illumination of the Holy Ghost, confirm the hearts of those who have been born again by Thy grace.  Through our the unity of the same Holy Ghost

4 comment(s):

del_button May 18, 2013 at 12:23 PM
Matthew Rose said...

What is your source for fasting today? It is my understanding that the Western Church has never fasted during Paschaltide, and today is still Paschaltide.

del_button May 18, 2013 at 7:54 PM
Matthew said...

Hello Matthew,

The 1917 Code states thus:

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.

del_button May 20, 2013 at 12:52 PM
Matthew Rose said...

Matthew, thank you. Looks as though I was mistaken!

del_button May 24, 2021 at 8:50 AM
Matthew said...

Also as a follow up, the Minor Rogation Days were in places outside of Rome days of fasting. And we see in the Ember Days of Pentecost a requirement to fast during Pascaltide too. So there is nothing against fasting during Pascaltide in the Western Catholic Tradition.

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