Rorate Caeli

December 23/24: Just a reminder that...


...until 1965, fasting and / or complete abstinence were prescribed by the Church for either December 23 or 24.

According to the chapter on "Feasts and Fasts throughout the Year" in The New Marian Missal for Daily Mass, compiled by Fr. Sylvester P. Juergens SM and published by Regina Press, NY, in 1963, December 24 was a day of fasting and complete abstinence in the United Kingdom, Ireland and the USA. In Canada  and the Philippines the fasting and abstinence of December 24 were moved to December 23.

Perhaps our readers could indicate in the combox the rules for fasting / abstinence in the two days prior to Christmas that obtained in other parts of the world until 1965.


Since the reform (or rather, the de facto annihilation) of what remained of the traditional Roman regulations for fasting and abstinence beginning in 1966, the fast / abstinence of December 23/24 has been all but forgotten by Catholics; and yet it remains a salutary practice, a fitting way to mark the end of Advent and to prepare our souls for the sweetness of the mysteries of the Christmas season. This short but important penance is especially fitting on December 24, when the traditional Roman liturgy reminds us (amidst what has been called the "holy cheerfulness" of the Church on that day) that Christ is not only our Redeemer, but also our Judge (see the Collect for the Vigil of the Nativity of Our Lord).

(Final revision of this article: Jan. 9, 2011)

21 comments:

Vilnius said...

In Lithuania, the practice of fasting & abstinence is still observed - moreover, encouraged by our bishops and priests - on December 24. It ends in the late evening, when the Christmas eve dinner (also with no meat) is being eaten.

Anonymous said...

It would be very interesting to know if the SSPX has any official teaching about the discipline to observe in this matter

Anonymous said...

The SSPX has - by my experience - of course no "official teaching" on this matter. It is not the Church, hence you cannot even expect an "official teaching" from the SSPX.

The SSPX-priests usually do recommend sticking to the habits of fasting and abstinence that were custom pre-NOM. Just to be clear, they do but recommend this.

FYI: I have assisted at Holy Masses by the SSPX for two decades in most of Western Europe (except for the Great-Britain, not for any particular reason, but I simply have not lived there and I can imagine them having different customs).

IM

Anonymous said...

I would be curious to know what the SSPX says as well. I was not Catholic while growing up and my family typically served a huge feast on Christmas Eve in the evening. This included meat. The foods served were part of their family custom. After converting, I would go and not eat meat. However, one year I had been told by an SSPX priest that it would have been OK to what was served for my families Christmas Eve dinner. Over the past couple of years, it was not an issue because I could not be there. Now it is coming up again this year and I cannot remember whatexactly I was told or the reason behind it. I do remember being told I could eat eat but not the rest of what I was told. I would like to know before going this year. Now if we had the option between 12/23 and 12/24 here in the US, that would make it easier. I could then fast today.

Just another mad Catholic said...

How would such rules apply to those in ill health?

Christopher J. Paulitz said...

Carlos, I was just coming on to post this! Had another reader dig up NC's 2005 post and send it to me asking to repost it.

Thanks for doing it!

Christopher J. Paulitz said...

I'm waiting to see how long it takes for a "traditional" blogger to post that this doesn't count any more ...

Dev Thakur said...

My wife is Colombian and I have been learning a lot of Colombia traditions surround this time. One of them is to have a big Christmas Eve meal (and nothing particular on Christmas day). The Christmas Eve meal includes meat of course (pernil and/or turkey).

So I think for future years, I will strictly fast on bread (if that) and water, until eating the evening meal ... honoring the spirit of the fasting while still partaking of the evening tradition.

Christopher J. Paulitz said...

Dev, you can eat meat on Christmas Eve in Columbia?

Anonymous said...

Regardless of what the rules were in the 1960s, the current code of canon law (1983) requires abstinence on all Fridays except on solemnities. This year Christmas Eve falls on a Friday, hence abstinence would be required.

Anagnostis said...

I never understood the SSPX's reticence about defending and promoting at least what remained of the traditional fasting laws by '62 (having settled on the Missal of that date). Refusing the NO while asserting one's lack of competence to insist equally upon traditional ascesis in the face of its official suppression, seems absurd.

Fasting is an integral part of the liturgical life - an integral part of the liturgy. In my opinion, the recovery in the Latin Church of liturgical and Eucharistic fasting is an indispensible condition of recovery in general.

No-one is obliged to endanger his health by fasting. On the other hand, periodic abstinence is generally recognised to be beneficial to bodies as well as souls. We've had no meat or dairy since November 15th, and won't until Christmas Day. True, fish has been permitted on some days, but I haven't bothered, mostly. Yes, I'm hungry, and yes, it's getting a bit tedious, but I'm in good health for a middle-aged working man whose daily routine involves a fair amount of heavy lifting, in outdoors temperatures. The feast is coming - I'm not dead yet!

Jack said...

The traditional Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic practice is that the 40 days before Nativity, meat is not eaten, though the abstinence generally is not as strict as Great Lent (fruits, vegetables, and shellfish may be eaten) until the last few days before Nativity.

On Christmas eve, ideally NO meal is eaten until the first star comes out, and then twelve vegetarian dishes (Ukrainian and Carpathian use allows fish at this meal) are eaten at the Holy Supper or Shepherd's Supper.

Then the Vigil (Great Compline and Matins) are attended. The Eucharist is usually in the day.

From Nativity through 4 January, there is NO fast or abstinence. All foods may be eaten on all days.

Similar strict fast and abstinence are observed on 5 January.

If Christmas or Theophany fall on Sunday or Monday, the fast is anticipated on the Friday before. There is never any strict fast on Saturday (except for Holy Saturday) or Sunday.

Gideon Ertner said...

I have heard that the French church was granted a dispensation to move the vigil fast to the 23rd.

In Denmark, it has for some time been the custom to eat flesh on Christmas Eve, e.g. pork or goose. But in the region bordering Germany it was, until very recently, common to eat fish, as in Catholic times.

Gideon Ertner said...

Duffy writes that in mediaeval England (and presumably elsewhere) it was required to fast on the vigils of the following major feasts, besides Christmas:

- All feasts of the Apostles except those of Sts. Philip and James and of St. John
- Whit Sunday (Pentecost)
- Lammas (The Assumption)
- The Nativity of St. John the Baptist
- St. Lawrence
- All Saints

I'm not sure how long the obligation for the feasts beside Christmas lasted.

P said...

Columbia, as other countires who were formerly colonies of Spain, was relieved of the obligation to abstain on Christmas Eve by an indult granted by the Hoily See in recognition of Spain's faithfulness during the crusades.

Carlos Antonio Palad said...

Spain and her [former] colonies had various levels of dispensations from the laws of the Church regarding fasting and abstinence. However, it seems that the dispensations varied by area, and at times even by race (i.e. in some places Spaniards were required to fast more than the non-white natives). Perhaps this accounts for Colombia's custom.

Here in the Philippines -- a former Spanish colony -- the midnight Christmas feast, heavy with meat dishes, is also a very old custom. However, the customary Filipino way of doing this is to have the feast AFTER the Christmas Midnight Mass -- and therefore the feast takes place on the earliest hours of Christmas day itself rather than on the day before Christmas.

As I write this, there's a nice chunk of ham sitting in front of me, waiting to be eaten within a few hours.

Merry Christmas to all!

Carlos Antonio Palad said...

"Regardless of what the rules were in the 1960s, the current code of canon law (1983) requires abstinence on all Fridays except on solemnities. This year Christmas Eve falls on a Friday, hence abstinence would be required."

Yes, but Canon 1253 in the same Code gives the episcopal conferences sweeping powers to "substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance", and the world's episcopal conferences have exercised this power almost without restraint.

In Brazil, Mexico, Philippines (the three largest Catholic countries in the whole world), Argentina, UK and Australia, abstinence and fasting are required by the episcopal conferences only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On other Fridays, INCLUDING the Fridays of Lent, the faithful in these countries are allowed by the bishops to "substitute" a wide range of pious practices (e.g. saying the rosary, giving alms, reading the Bible) for the obligation to abstinence.

One wonders how many Catholics even botherto do any of these "substitutes".

In the USA, France, Spain, Italy, Colombia, etc. abstinence on Lenten Fridays continues to be obligatory, but on the other Fridays a wide range of "substitutes" are allowed.

In the Vicariate of Arabia (which has more than a million Catholic laborers under its jurisdiction), abstinence is practiced on Lenten Wednesdays rather than Fridays.

I seem to recall that John Paul II gave the most sweeping dispensations of all to seafarers in 1988, but I'll have to check my sources again.

Christopher J. Paulitz said...

Carlos, I'm leaving my family and going to the airport now.

I need to join you in that feast!

Christmas Traditions said...

Anonymous said...
I would be curious to know what the SSPX says as well. I was not Catholic while growing up and my family typically served a huge feast on Christmas Eve in the evening. This included meat. The foods served were part of their family custom. After converting, I would go and not eat meat. However, one year I had been told by an SSPX priest that it would have been OK to what was served for my families Christmas Eve dinner. Over the past couple of years, it was not an issue because I could not be there. Now it is coming up again this year and I cannot remember whatexactly I was told or the reason behind it. I do remember being told I could eat eat but not the rest of what I was told. I would like to know before going this year. Now if we had the option between 12/23 and 12/24 here in the US, that would make it easier. I could then fast today.


I see that no one ever commented further on this. If anyone else has been told the same and is able to elaborate, please do. We have the same situation in my family as far as non-Catholic family whose Christmas Eve custom always included meat growing up. This Christmas Eve we are to spend it with family again. (It seems this has not been an issue the past couple of years but I do not recall why.) We had previously been told that we could eat meat with the family by an SSPX priest but I do not recall why and would like to know the reason before we do so.

spero said...

I assume this the reason for the custom of eating oyster stew on Christmas Eve?

marty-jude said...

The SSPX is not a separate 'Church' or 'Rite' - they remain 'Catholic and Roman'. Therefore they cannot have any 'official teaching' [other than [Eternal] Rome's, as they are simply a congregation of priests and religious, serving and praying for The Church.

Their Bishops have no jurisdiction, [as Archbishop Lefebvre R.I.P. intended, to avoid 'schism' and any hint of heresy]. They are purely functional, at the service of the faithful and The Church to guide and perform/provide the Sacraments.

Therefore they can, and do, merely recommend/encourage the faithful ['brethren'] to a deeper spirtual life, making good use of The Church's Traditional Teaching in all respects, whilst stating the official/current Church rules. This includes Fasting, Abstinence and Eucharistic Fast, i.e., Lenten Fasting and Abstinence, Friday Abstinence [recently 'reinstated' by the (N.O.) Bishops of England and Wales - Deo gratias].

I can speak for Britain only, I'm afraid, but hope this helps.