Code of Canon Law, canon 1250: The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.
Code of Canon Law, canon 1251: 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.
Code of Canon Law, canon 1252: The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Code of Canon Law, canon 1253: The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
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We know that we are supposed to do penance on Fridays, to honor our Lord’s crucifixion, since it was on a Friday that he died to save us. That applies to all the Fridays of the year, with some exceptions. In this post, I’ll list the exceptions for 2019.
But some further clarifications are first in order:
In the USA, abstinence from meat on Fridays applies only to Lent. The rest of the year, it is the traditional things for Catholics to do, but we are free to choose some other penance. This is left up to our determination and is an exceedingly vague law. A law that is well-written leaves us with a clear sense of whether we have completed it or not. A law that is poorly-written leaves things so open-ended that we might question whether we complied either with its letter or its spirit. Alas. Such is our current state of affairs. We have a law that is rather vague. No matter. We do our best and leave the rest to God.
So the spirit of the law is that we are supposed to do penance on all Fridays of the year, but outside of Lent that may or may not involve abstaining from meat; in fact, outside of Lent, we can determine it ourselves, and so one person might do something really great and one person might do something terribly tiny and both have fulfilled the law.
Catholics today seem increasingly to be gravitating back toward the traditional practice of just observing meatless Fridays.
If one eats meat deliberately on a Friday during Lent, traditionally this is understood by all the best moralists to be a mortal sin.
All those prefatory notes aside, here is the list of EXCEPTIONS for 2019. I list the date and why it is an exception to the regular Friday rule:
FRIDAYS ON WHICH NO PENANCE IS REQUIRED, 2019 EDITION
Friday, April 26 (Friday within the Octave of Easter, and the days of the Octave of Easter are observed as solemnities, according to the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar, no. 24)
Friday, June 28 (Solemnity of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus)
Friday, November 1 (Solemnity of All Saints)
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Some people think that Friday within the Octave of Christmas (as of this posting: tomorrow) is also a day when we can skip penance. However, the Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar note two important things: 1) that the Octaves of Christmas and Easter are each governed by their own set of rules (no. 12); and 2) while it says specifically that the days of the Easter Octave are all Solemnities, it specifically labels many of the days of the Christmas Octave as Feasts and does not say anything about the rules of solemnities applying to them. In other words, the days of the Christmas Octave do not rise to high enough a rank to give us a Friday off from penance.
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So, for 2019 we get three “exception Fridays”. Enjoy! And do not listen to any Catholics who try to guilt you into doing penance anyhow on those days. The rules are clear: we do not have to do penance when a solemnity falls on a Friday. On all the other Fridays, though, we should abstain from meat or, outside of Lent, do that or some other form of penance, gratefully recalling the ineffable sacrifice of our Lord to save us!