Pope Pius IX Proclaims the Immaculate Conception
The Immaculate Conception As A Holy Day of Obligation
The first catalog of Holy Days comes from the Decree of Gratian in c. 1150 AD, which shortly thereafter gave way to Decretals of Pope Gregory IX in 1234, which listed 45 Holy Days.
In 1642, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII issued the papal bull Universa Per Orbem which mandated the required Holy Days of Obligation for the Universal Church to consist of 34 days as well as the principal patrons of one’s one locality (e.g. city and country). Those days were the Nativity of Our Lord, the Circumcision of Our Lord, the Epiphany of Our Lord, Monday within the Octave of the Resurrection, Tuesday within the Octave of the Resurrection, Ascension Thursday, Monday within the Octave of Pentecost, Tuesday within the Octave of Pentecost, Most Holy Trinity, Corpus Christi, the Finding of the Holy Cross, the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Dedication of St. Michael, the Nativity of St. John the Baptist, SS. Peter and Paul, St. Andrew, St. James, St. John (the December feast day), St. Thomas, SS. Philip and James, St. Bartholomew, St. Matthew, SS. Simon and Jude, St. Matthias, St. Stephen the First Martyr (the December feast day), the Holy Innocents, St. Lawrence, St. Sylvester, St. Joseph, St. Anne, and All Saints.
Originally referred to as the « Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary, » the Feast of the Immaculate Conception became a Holy Day of Obligation in 1708 under Pope Clement XI, nearly 150 years before Pope Pius IX dogmatically and infallibly defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. This day thus joined the list of Universal Days from 1642, although no places observed all such days. In fact, most places observed far fewer days.
Is Friday Abstinence Required When the Immaculate Conception Falls on a Friday?
Since tomorrow is a Friday and is a Holy Day of Obligation in honor of Our Lady’s Immaculate Conception, a question arises on whether abstinence is obligatory tomorrow. The answer, as clearly stated in the 1917 Code, is as follows:
« On [Sundays] or feasts of precept, the law of abstinence or of abstinence and fast or of fast only ceases, except during Lent, nor is the vigil anticipated; likewise it ceases on Holy [Saturday] afternoon » (1917 Code, Canon 1252 § 4). [Translation taken from THE 1917 OR PIO-BENEDICTINE CODE OF CANON LAW in English Translation by Dr. Edward Peters]
As the Immaculate Conception falls outside of Lent, tomorrow is not a day of mandatory abstinence. However, this was actually a change from the practice observed for well over 1,000 years.
Dispensations From Abstinence Were Previously Required Even for Holy Days of Obligation Outside of Lent
« To encourage her children in their Christmas joy, the Church has dispensed with the law of abstinence, if this Feast fall on a Friday. This dispensation was granted by Pope Honorius III, who ascended the Papal Throne in 1216. It is true that we find it mentioned by Pope St Nicholas I, in the ninth century; but the dispensation was not universal; for the Pontiff is replying to the consultations of the Bulgarians, to whom he concedes this indulgence, in order to encourage them to celebrate these Feasts with solemnity and joy: Christmas Day, St Stephen, St John the Evangelist, the Epiphany, the Assumption of our Lady, St John the Baptist, and SS Peter and Paul. When the dispensation for Christmas Day was extended to the whole Church, these other Feasts were not mentioned. »
The Catholic Encyclopedia on St. Pius X’s Supremi disciplinæ indicates that fasting was abolished eo ipso only starting in 1911 for all Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent (which were at the same time reduced to only 8): « The present Motu Proprio institutes another important change in legislation. As feasting and fasting are incompatible Pius X has abolished the obligation of fasting as well as that of abstinence for the Universal Church, should such obligation coincide with any of the eight feasts, as above. »