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Canon Law & Doctrine, Eating Meat on Feast Days
Question from Josh on 11/21/2008:

What is the difference between Canon Law and Doctrine? I'm asking this because I wasn't sure where to ask my next question and I don't understand the essential difference between the two because I always had the impression that they were one in the same.

My second question, is whether or not we are permitted, or perhaps even encouraged, to avoid the fast on feast days. Today is the Feast of the Presentation of the Blessed Virgin Mary and I was wondering if it is better to fast, since it's a Friday, or celebrate, since it's a feast day, and how we are to understand feast days and memorials when they occur on a Friday. I have often wondered this because sometimes I will be reading about the life of a saint or one of their works and their feast or memorial will fall on Friday and I'm not sure exactly what is the best way to honor them.

Answer by Rev. Mark J. Gantley, JCL on 11/22/2008:

Doctrine is something that comes from God and involves the truths of our faith.

Canon law draws from different sources. Sometimes it draws from the natural law which governs all people, such as when it defines marriage as a perpetual and faithful relationship between a man and a woman. Sometimes it draws from doctrinal sources (revelation from God), such as when it requires contrition for forgiveness in confession or water for baptism. If canon law cites matters that involve the natural law or doctrine/revelation (also called divine positive law), then it cannot change.

But sometimes canon law is merely of ecclesiastical origin. That is, it is merely a matter of church discipline that could possibly change over time. For example, the cardinals of the church who vote for and advise the pope are merely of ecclesiastical origin. It is unlikely that the Church will do away with cardinals, at least in the near future, but it could if it wanted to. Another law of ecclesiastical origin is the requirement that a Catholic get married before a priest or deacon and two witnesses. The pope could come out tomorrow and say, "There must be four witnesses."

The Presentation of Mary is a memorial. There is nothing wrong with fasting on memorials. Certainly it is inappropriate to fast on a day which is a solemnity.

In the United States, other than during Lent and on Good Friday, the specific penance that we do on Fridays that we do is a matter of personal choice.

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