Friday, 23 December 2016

Fasting and abstinence on Christmas Eve

Today is 23 December, a Friday.

Bodegón
Felipe Checa y Delicado, 1896
Museo del Prado

Under the current Code of Canon Law, with approval from the Holy See, Filipinos are required either to abstain from meat, or to perform an act of penance. Before the lamentable dilution of many things that made us Catholic, 23 December was a day of fasting and abstinence. While no longer binding, it is praiseworthy and indeed noble to observe this old penance, to soften the rigidity of our gluttonous appetites with the parvity and simplicity of our meals.

There exist amongst us pockets of disagreement over which day is the traditional date. One side argues that 23 December was the date observed during the Spanish era. Another side argues that 24 December was the Spanish observance.

Once and for all, we present the timeline below:
1537–1931: 24 December, fasting and abstinence
Considering the labours, poor diet, and health of the natives of the territories newly conquered by Spain and Portugal, Pope Paul III, through the bull Altitudo, dated 1 July 1537, dispensed the natives from the obligation to fast and to abstain, except on Christmas Eve, Holy Saturday, and all the Fridays of Lent. The 10-year dispensations obtained by the archbishops of Manila, starting with D. Gregorio Melitón Martínez and ending with Fray Bernardino Nozaleda y Villa, did not alter the practice of the natives, but rather sought to harmonise the practice of non-natives with those of the natives. Subsequent privileges granted during the transitory period from the Spanish rule to the American rule did not alter the obligation on Christmas Eve.
1932–1940: 24 December, abstinence only
Upon the request of the bishops of the Islands, Pope Pius XI, after an audience with the Prefect of the Sacred Congregation of the Council on 7 June 1932, granted the request, pro gratia, to reduce the canonical obligation on Christmas Eve to a simple abstinence.
1941–1948: Effectively suspended in the Universal Church
In view of the upcoming World War II, Pope Pius XII, through a decree by the Sacred Congregation for Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs, dated 19 December 1941, granted a universal indult allowing bishops of the Latin Rite to dispense their respective faithful from the laws of fasting and abstinence, except those observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
1949–1951: 24 December, abstinence only
In view of the Holy Year of 1950, Pope Pius XII, through a decree by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, restored for the Universal Church the obligation to abstain and fast on Christmas Eve, which was suspended in 1941. The indult of 7 June 1932 resumed its vigour. Thus, Christmas Eve returned as a day of simple abstinence in the Philippines.
1952–1955: Friday before Christmas Eve, fasting and abstinence
In connection with the reestablishment of the laws of fasting and abstinence, in view of the Holy Year of 1950, the Sacred Congregation of the Council, through a letter by the Apostolic Nuncio, dated 6 November 1952, reestablished the practice of fasting and abstinence on Christmas Eve for the Philippines, transferring it to the preceding Friday.
1956–(1961): 23 December, fasting and abstinence
Upon the request of the bishops of the Islands, the Sacred Congregation of the Council granted an indult, dated 9 October 1956, valid for five years, transferring the obligation to fast and abstain on Christmas Eve from the proper day (24 December) to the day immediately before it (23 December).
1957–(1962): 23 December, fasting and abstinence
Again, upon the request of the bishops of the Islands, the Sacred Congregation of the Council granted an indult, dated 7 November 1957, valid for five years, transferring the obligation to fast and abstain on Christmas Eve from the proper day (24 December) to the day immediately before it (23 December).
1959–1965: 23 December, fasting and abstinence
Saint John XXIII, considering the requests of many bishops from different countries, through a decree by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, dated 3 December 1959, granted a universal indult, transferring the obligation to fast and abstain on Christmas Eve from the proper day (24 December) to the day immediately before it (23 December).
1966–present: Effectively abrogated in the Universal Church
After the Second Vatican Council, Pope Paul VI, in the bull Pœnitemini, dated 17 February 1966, reduced the days on which the law of fasting and abstinence should be observed to two: Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Here is our conclusion: The Spanish observance was 24 December; the significant change of date came only in 1952, probably due to the 9-year gap created by World War II; in 1956, the first transfer to 23 December occurred, valid for five years, which was overtaken and finally fixed by the universal indult of Saint John XXIII in 1959.

Let us, therefore, fast and abstain today.

Eggs, dairy products, and lard can be eaten.

Catholics aware of the now-funny debate over chocolate would agree that under the principle of liquidum non frangit ieiunium, chocolate can be consumed in liquid form.

Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.

2 comments:

  1. Hello. You posted an article on your blog on July 7, 2013 called Feast of the Triumph of the Holy Cross. You state in the article that "The novena of the Holy Cross itself, according to the text approved for the then Diocese of Cebu, especially remembers the victory at Las Navas de Tolosa on the seventh day. The novena was translated from Spanish into Cebuano by a priest of the diocese from the novena diffused throughout Querétaro in Mexico, composed or based on the tradition set by the Franciscan friar, the Venerable Fray Antonio Margil de Jesús, Servant of God. The translated text is given below" - and then you quote some of the novena. I asked you where I could find a copy of the novena and you stated St. Paul's. I'm assuming you meant the publisher. However, the only St Paul's novena dedicated to the Holy Cross was written recently by a Pauline priest. It cannot be the novena you mentioned. Again, can you kindly provide the document that contains the novena attributed to Fr. Margil? I look forward to your response!

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  2. Hi, Ms. Linda, I do not own a copy of the English novena. I pray the novena alternately in Spanish and Cebuano. The quotation in the article is my own translation. I know there is an existing English translation of the entire novena because I recognised the words when it was once prayed in a church.

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