Friday Abstinence and Local Solemnities

And More on Salt and Water

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ROME, MARCH 6, 2012 ( Answered by Legionary of Christ Father Edward McNamara, professor of liturgy at the Regina Apostolorum university.

Q: In England and Wales the episcopal conference has decided that abstinence from meat on Fridays should be reintroduced according to Canon 1251. Under that canon abstinence from meat applies on all Fridays except those that are solemnities. Therefore, when a parish patronal festival falls on a Friday and is celebrated as a solemnity in that parish only, can every Catholic living in the parish eat meat on that Friday even if they attend a different church? Can a non-parishioner, realizing that it is a solemnity locally, go out and have a fine meal with meat at a restaurant in that parish? — S.P., Archdiocese of Birmingham, England

A: The following are the relevant canons regarding «Days of Penance»:

«Canon 1249. The divine law binds all the Christian faithful to do penance each in his or her own way. In order for all to be united among themselves by some common observance of penance, however, penitential days are prescribed on which the Christian faithful devote themselves in a special way to prayer, perform works of piety and charity, and deny themselves by fulfilling their own obligations more faithfully and especially by observing fast and abstinence, according to the norm of the following canons.

«Canon 1250. The penitential days and times in the universal Church are every Friday of the whole year and the season of Lent.

«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.

«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.

«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.»

What the bishops of England and Wales have done is to restore canons 1250-1251 to full effect. Previously, abstinence had been limited to the Lenten Fridays.

I would say that given the territorial nature of such celebrations, any such exemptions would apply only to those within the parish territory. Parishioners outside of the parish would fall under the universal law.

In theory at least, a Catholic, aware that a parish was celebrating a solemnity on a Friday, could go there for some meat. Mind you, this would mean that such a person is a fairly well-formed Catholic, so it is to be hoped that he or she would also share the joy of the parish by attending the solemn Mass before heading to the nearest restaurant.

During ordinary time many parishes transfer the solemnity of the patron saint to the nearest Sunday. In such a case the Friday exemption would no longer apply.

The exemption would also apply to diocesan solemnities. Most dioceses have one solemnity of their own for the principal patron of the diocese or a representative saint. The application of this possibility, however, is not uniform. For example, both Subiaco and Montecassino have St. Benedict as principal patron. However, while the whole town of Subiaco celebrates the solemnity, in Montecassino only the abbey itself enjoys this celebration. In both cases the rest of the diocese celebrates the recurrence as a feast.

Even though every Friday is a penitential day, those of Lent are especially important. Hence it is customary in many places to observe abstinence even when a solemnity coincides with a Friday during this season.

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Follow-up: Exorcism of Salt and Water

Pursuant to our Feb. 21 piece on the blessing of water and salt, several readers pointed out an oversight on my part insofar as Appendix II of the third edition of the Roman Missal actually does contain a blessing for water and salt.

In the new translation of the missal into English the blessing is rendered thus:

«Where the circumstances of the place and the custom of the people suggest that the mixing of salt be preserved in the blessing of water, the priest may bless salt saying:

«We humbly ask you, almighty God; be pleased in your faithful love to bless + this salt you have created, for it was you who commanded the prophet Elisha to cast salt into water, that impure water might be purified. Grant, O Lord, we pray, that, wherever this mixture of salt and water is sprinkled, every attack of the enemy may be repulsed and your Holy Spirit may be present to keep us safe at all times. Through Christ our Lord.

«Then he pours the salt into the water without saying anything.»

This new text blesses the salt but does not contain the explicit exorcism found in the extraordinary form.

Both Jews and pagans made ritual use of water. Such water was made holy by immerging burning carbon from the altar of sacrifice or mixing in ashes and salt. Perhaps for this reason Christians made little use of blessed water during the first centuries. The earliest known text of a blessing of water comes from Serapion of Thimus (died 362) near Alexandria in Egypt.

This text already contains the major themes that will be found in later rituals for blessing water. It recalls the principal goals of the blessing: freedom from demonic infestations and healing of illness. There is as yet no mention of mixing salt or other elements, and indeed the Greek tradition still excludes the use of salt.

In the West the use of blessed water was introduced somewhat later, toward the middle of the fifth century. Latin Christians probably adopted the use of mixing salt, drawing on memories of extinct pagan Roman customs. Salt was also commonly considered to be particularly powerful in repelling evil spirits. The earliest known Latin formula for blessing and exorcizing water and salt is found in the so-called Gelasian Sacramentary which was compiled near Paris around the year 750.

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Readers may send questions to Please put the word «Liturgy» in the subject field. The text should include your initials, your city and your state, province or country. Father McNamara can only answer a small selection of the great number of questions that arrive.

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