ROME, 6 MARCH 2012 (ZENIT)
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.