Monday, December 20, 2021
Saturday Abstinence Dispensed in Christmastide

As highlighted through my A History of Holy Days of Obligation & Fasting for American Catholics in Part I and Part II, Saturday abstinence remained a part of weekly Catholic life for centuries. 

The Catholic Encyclopedia mentions, in regard to Saturday abstinence: “Gregory VII (1073-85) speaks in no uncertain terms of the obligation to abstain on Saturdays when he declares that all Christians are bound to abstain from flesh meat on Saturday as often as no major solemnity (e.g. Christmas) occurs on Saturday, or no infirmity serves to cancel the obligation.” 

Unknown to the overwhelming majority of even committed Catholics, abstinence from meat was previously required on both Fridays and Saturdays in the United States! For American Catholics, Saturday abstinence ceased around 1837 because the Baltimore fathers requested from Pope Gregory XVI a dispensation from Saturday abstinence. It was a 20-year dispensation that was renewed up until the 1917 Code dispensed the venerable practice of Saturday abstinence universally.

Sadly this aspect of the faithful's weekly penance had been in long decline as The Month - Volume 111 from 1908 mentions:

"Meanwhile, the very severe discipline which prevailed in the matter of fasting and abstinence days had been substantially mitigated by Pius VI and his successors. In 1777, most of the vigils occurring through the year, e.g. those of the feasts of the Apostles, ceased to be fast-days, though compensation was made by substituting the Wednesdays and Fridays of Advent. Still more substantial was the relief afforded in 1781 by the abrogation of the weekly fast on Fridays. The abstinence on Saturdays, on the Rogation days, and on the feast of St. Mark, was abolished in 1830, but it is plain from contemporary evidence, that long before this the Saturday abstinence had been little regarded by a number of the laity, and we may conjecture that the weekly Friday fast also, for some time previous to its abolition had not been very generally or strictly kept."

For those Catholics who wish to keep Saturday abstinence in honor of Our Lady's request for penance, how should we model our Saturday abstinence? In short, we should keep the teaching of Pope Gregory VII who declared that the exceptions to Saturday abstinence were major solemnities, which would seem to include for us both Holy Days of Obligation and great feasts, such as those which used to be among the 36 Holy Days of Obligation in past times.

Additionally, if we model our Saturday abstinence based on our forefathers in the Faith, one of the few exceptions to Saturday fasting - in places that maintained this as law - was the Saturdays (but never Fridays) of Christmastide (i.e. December 25th through February 2nd).  France had such an exception as the Catechism of Perseverance makes mention:

"In France, the law of abstinence on Saturday became general. There was no exception, save in some dioceses for the Saturdays between Christmas and the Purification. Hitherto, Spain has introduced no modifications as regards the liberty of eating meat on Saturday beyond this, that the intestines and extremities of animals may be used. The abstinence of Saturday, though less general than that of Friday, should not be less religiously observed. The authority that prescribed both is the same: the authority of our holy Mother the Church, of whom the Savior Himself said, If any one will not obey the Church, let him be to you as the heathen and the publican."

Such an exception also existed in at least some Dioceses of the United States before the dispensation from year-round Saturday abstinence - vigils, Lent, and ember days excepting - that began in the mid-1830s and continued until its complete abrogation by the 1917 Code.

1822 Laity's Directory for New York mentions this exception

Thus, for those of us seeking to perform additional penance in imitation of our forefathers and in answer to Heaven's call for penance, year-round Saturday abstinence except on the Saturdays of Christmastide and major feasts would be a fitting practice. See my proposed 2022 Traditional Catholic Fasting Calendar for more inspiration. Do note though that year-round Friday abstinence is to be always practiced unless December 25th falls on a Friday - the 1917 Code introduced the exception that any Holy Day of Obligation would dispense but that is a novelty.

1 comment(s):

del_button January 30, 2022 at 8:17 AM
Anonymous said...

THANK YOU for putting this together. I am using it this year. Please make a 2023 calendar and beyond when the time comes. I am trying to spread this devotion

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