[gtranslate] Is St. Joseph's Day Traditionally Still A Fasting Day? - Eglise Catholique Saint James (Saint Jacques)

Is St. Joseph’s Day Traditionally Still A Fasting Day?

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Since St. Joseph’s Day falls during Lent, it coincides with the traditional Lenten fast which traditionally required 40 days of fasting and 46 days of abstinence from meat. Per the 1917 Code of Canon Law, Friday abstinence is still required on St. Joseph’s Day even where it is kept as a Holy Day of Obligation. And would the fast of Lent still be observed? The answer is unequivocally yes.

The question of whether Holy Days of Obligation abrogate the requirement of Friday abstinence outside of Lent is mentioned in the 1917 Code:

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).[1]

The 1917 Code is explicit – feasts of precepts do not remove the requirement to fast or abstain during Lent. The only way that the obligation would be removed during the season of Lent would be if a dispensation would be specifically offered by the lawful Church authorities for a particular day.

It must be further noted that the removal of the obligation of penance on Holy Days of Obligation outside of Lent only applies to areas that observe the day of precept. It is not based on the Roman calendar, as affirmed by the Commission on the Code in a 1924 article in the American Ecclesiastical Review. Hence, when January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany, falls on a Friday, it is still a mandatory day of abstinence in America and France and other places where it is not a Holy Day of Obligation. In contrast, Canada, Rome, and places that keep it as a Holy Day do not have to observe fasting and/or abstinence on that particular Friday. This, however, only applies to Holy Day of Obligation outside of Lent. And this change only started with the 1917 Code – beforehand, it was still a day of abstinence on Fridays regardless if it was a day of precept or not, unless a specific dispensation was issued by the Pope himself.

In 1954, Pope Pius XII issued such a decree granting bishops the permission to dispense from Friday abstinence for the Feast of St. Joseph which that year fell on a Friday. A March 26, 1954, article of The Guardian elaborates: 

“Bishops throughout the world have been granted the faculty to dispense their faithful from the law of abstinence on the Feast of St. Joseph, Friday, March 19. The power was granted in a decree issued by the Sacred Congregation of the Council, which said it acted at the special mandate of His Holiness Pope Pius XII. The decree published in L’Osservatore Romano made no mention of a dispensation from the Lenten fast.”

As such, St. Joseph’s Day did not permit the faithful to eat meat on Fridays in Lent unless such a specific dispensation were offered, which was very rarely done. Likewise, to those who maintain the 1917 Code’s requirement to also fast all forty weekdays of Lent – which was observed since the Early Church – St. Joseph’s Day remains a day of fast. Surely St. Joseph would want us to produce worthy fruits of penance during this holiest season as we prepare for the Pascal mystery.

Unfortunately, the 1983 Code of Canon Law which aligns with the many Modernist changes in the Church weakly states:

The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent. Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday (1983 Code, Canons 1251 – 1252).

It should be noted that traditionally St. Joseph’s Tables, even when transferred to Sunday, were always meatless. For centuries, even Sundays in Lent were days of abstinence – just not fasting.

Want to learn more about the history of fasting and abstinence? Check out the Definitive Guide to Catholic Fasting and Abstinence.