Living a Liturgical Life: The Catholic Week


2. The Catholic Week

All time belongs to God Himself as He has redeemed all time, and we see the sacredness of time chiefly on Sunday. Just as we are to pay a tithe, a share of our earnings, for the poor and for the Church’s needs, so too we are required to pay a tithe of our time to God in the form of attending Sunday Mass.

We read in the Baltimore Catechism the clear teaching of the Church on the sacredness of Sunday time:

“By the Third Commandment we are commanded to keep holy the Lord’s day and the holy days of obligation, on which we are to give our time to the service and worship of God. Holy days of obligation are special feasts of the Church on which we are bound, under pain of mortal sin, to hear Mass and to keep from servile or bodily labors when it can be done without great loss or inconvenience. Whoever, on account of their circumstances, cannot give up work on holy days of obligation should make every effort to hear Mass and should also explain in confession the necessity of working on holy days.”

The Third Commandment explicitly forbids servile work on Sundays. Thus, we cannot mow the lawn, move to a new apartment, paint our home, or perform any other physical work that is servile – that is, work that would have been done by a servant in past eras. The Church further commands that all Sundays – and all other Holy Days of Obligation – are mandatory days of Mass attendance. The sacredness of Sunday requires not only abstaining from certain actions but also the doing of others. Missing Mass on one of these days without a grave reason – such as grave illness or the inability to reasonably obtain transportation – is a mortal sin.

If on some Sunday or Holy Day of Obligation you are not able to attend the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass for a legitimate reason, you must still do your best to render God worship and sanctify the day; for example, by praying the Mass for that day from the Missal, devoutly watching an online broadcast of the Mass,[1] making a holy hour at home, or some other pious exercise of devotion. While these activities can never replace the Mass, for one who is legitimately unable to assist at Mass for grave reason, they do manifest the good intent of a Catholic to willingly sacrifice his time for the love of God. It is strongly advised that each individual soul have such a “substitute” spiritual activity, as well as the conditions which would warrant it, approved by their parish priest or confessor.

Sunday provides a good opportunity for the faithful to participate in communal Rosary, Vespers, and Benediction services (when available), and is the day on which the faithful should be most willing to read Catholic newspapers, books, and magazines. Other commendable activities might include listening to Catholic sermons, watching videos of Catholic conferences, studying the catechism, or providing/receiving supplemental religious education lessons. It is a day of rest from physical work so that we can give this tithe of our time to God.

And it should also be underscored that only attendance at the Catholic Mass fulfills our Sunday obligation. Attending a Protestant service does not. In fact, attending a non-Catholic form of worship is gravely sinful. If on a Sunday you were to go to a Lutheran service, for example, instead of Mass, you would have two mortal sins condemning your soul – first, missing Sunday Mass and, second, taking part in the false worship of other religions. The Church’s teachings on this are clear.

Additionally, only the Catholic religion rightfully understands that not only Sunday but the entire week is devoted to God. For instance, Fridays are penitential days in remembrance of Our Lord’s brutal torture, crucifixion, and death on Good Friday. For this reason we are required to perform penance on all Fridays of the year.

One of the most common caricatures of Catholics is our frequent eating of fish on Fridays. Yet, few non-Catholics understand this practice at all. And the sad truth is that most Catholics nowadays fail to properly observe this practice since abstinence from meat on Fridays is actually required all year long – NOT just during Lent.[2]

Let’s take a few minutes to understand this practice. Unfortunately, the 1983 Code of Canon Law is filled with a number of ambiguities. For this reason, I also highly rely on the original 1917 Code of Canon Law to fill in these missing gaps and clarify the teachings of the Church.

In summary, Catholics are required without exception to abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent and to abstain from meat on all Fridays of the year unless the Bishops Conference of that area allows an alternative penance to be performed. This is a novelty, though. Many faithful Catholics, however, simply choose to honor the tradition of abstaining from all meat on Fridays year-round instead of substituting an alternative penance. That is what I do and what I encourage you to do as well.

Do note that substituting an alternative penance in place of abstinence is not allowed during Lent. As the 1917 Code of Canon Law made clear, this is binding on all Catholics. The requirement of Friday penance is also binding all year long except for when a Holy Day of Obligation falls on a Friday.[3]

Another commonly mentioned exception even among Traditional Catholics is the so-called “Turkey Indult.” The dispensation from meat on the day after Thanksgiving was granted in 1957 in the form of quinquennial faculties given to local ordinaries to dispense from abstinence on the Friday after Thanksgiving Day, as stated by Bouscaren in the Canon Law Digest. As their name implies, the ‘quinquennial’ faculties last five years and must be renewed. In 1962 they were renewed but not afterward. Before 1962, the bishops in the United States did not generally dispense from Friday abstinence on the Friday after Thanksgiving. After the renewal in 1962, more bishops began to exercise this. Such a dispensation from the law of abstinence was not permanently part of Church law by virtue of it being the Friday after Thanksgiving. While bishops or priests will today dispense from meat on the Friday after Thanksgiving, Pope Pius XII did not permanently dispense meat on that day for American Catholics as many frequently allege.[4]

When I was in college, I had a roommate who one day in Lent said he was going to a party that Friday so he would just abstain from meat on Thursday instead. You can’t do that. It must be done on Friday because Christ died on Friday. And having to eat a salad and not a burger is a small sacrifice. If you can’t do that, how can you resist the tempting sins of the flesh? The same is true for Sundays. You can’t say, I’m really busy on Sunday so I’ll just go to Mass on Monday instead to fulfill my obligation. It doesn’t work that way.

So, we live a Catholic liturgical life in part by: 1. Going to Mass on Sundays and Holy Days; 2. Refraining from all servile work (manual work, cleaning, physical labor, etc.) on Sundays and Holy Days; and 3. Abstaining from meat on all Fridays of the year unless a valid exception occurs.

But these are the minimum requirements. To truly live a liturgical life, we cannot be satisfied with only not sinning against these laws – we have to want to enter deeper into the liturgical life. And we can do that by honoring each day of the week. Sunday is devoted to the Resurrection and Friday is dedicated to the Passion of Christ, but there are still five other days in the week.

Mondays are devoted to the Holy Ghost and the souls in Purgatory. Do you pray to the Holy Ghost for guidance, especially on Mondays? Do you pray for the souls in Purgatory on Mondays? Have you made it a custom to visit a nearby cemetery on Mondays to pray for the dead there?

Tuesdays are devoted to the Holy Angels. Do you make sure you pray to your guardian angel on Tuesdays? We can also pray the Chaplet of St. Michael the Archangel on Tuesdays. If you are not familiar with that, look it up online. The Chaplet of St. Michael is a devotion that few Catholics are aware of anymore. Tuesdays are also dedicated to the Holy Face as well as to St. Anthony of Padua and St. Dominic.

Wednesdays are devoted to St. Joseph. What devotions can you do on Wednesday to honor St. Joseph? After all, after the Blessed Virgin Mary, he is given the highest veneration among all the saints. You may want to consider praying a Litany to St. Joseph or various other prayers to him that can be found in a good prayer book, like the Raccolta.

Thursdays are devoted to the Blessed Sacrament. Can you visit your local church, chapel, or shrine for Eucharistic Adoration? Even if the Sacred Host is not exposed in the monstrance, Our Lord always resides in Catholic tabernacles (look for the red sanctuary lamp). We can and should make an effort to honor God in the Most Blessed Sacrament on Thursdays. Naturally, Thursday has this particular emphasis, since Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of the Altar on Holy Thursday. And what’s interesting is that traditionally seminaries were closed not only on Sundays but also on Thursdays – in honor of the institution of the Blessed Sacrament and of the priesthood. That is a custom that has also fallen by the wayside.

And lastly, Saturdays are devoted to the Blessed Virgin Mary because She alone retained faith in Our Lord on Holy Saturday. Do we invoke Her in a special way on Saturdays? Perhaps we can add an extra devotion to the prayer of the Rosary on that day, for example the Litany of Loreto. You might also make it a custom on Saturdays to place fresh flowers before an image of Our Lady or to sing hymns in Her honor. A most important practice, which has been given a particular importance by God in our century and by which special graces are made available, is the First Saturday devotion.[5]

These are real questions that I ask you to consider. How can you better live out the Catholic liturgical week?

[1] There are several websites which broadcast daily the Traditional Mass.

[2] The Catholic Encyclopedia states: “From the dawn of Christianity, Friday has been signalized as an abstinence day” and “the law of abstinence embodies a serious obligation whose transgression, objectively considered, ordinarily involves a mortal sin.”

[3] Editor’s Note: In this article we are explaining the tradition of the Church and encouraging Catholics to freely choose to follow the traditional practice as part of an effort of charity and of faith to recover and restore an authentic Catholic life. Hence, we refer to the 1917 Code of Canon Law, as opposed to the new 1983 version which departed from Catholic tradition. For our readers’ convenience, we reproduce the norms regarding fasting from the 1917 Code of Canon Law at the end of this article.

[4] Editor’s Note: This has always only been an indult, not an obligation. It is still a Friday though, so Catholics are obliged to do penance.

[5] Editor’s Note: Many ask why has Russia not yet been consecrated to the Immaculate Heart of Mary by the Pope in union with all the Catholic bishops. While we can’t know the mysteries of Divine Providence, it seems pious and reasonable to believe that once enough Catholics are praying the Rosary daily and regularly practicing the First Saturday Devotion, the Church Militant will as a whole merit the graces necessary for the Pope to make this consecration correctly. While it may be difficult to talk to many Catholics, including priests, about the Consecration, the Third Secret, or some of the other terrible warnings of Our Lady of Fatima, it is usually much simpler to encourage them to make the First Saturday Devotion. Surely if more Catholics faithfully practice this devotion, Heaven will respond with many graces. After all, God is never outdone by us in generosity.

1917 Code of Canon Law Regarding Abstinence and Fast

Canon 1250. The law of abstinence prohibits meat and soups made of meat but not of eggs, milks and other condiments, even if taken from animals.

Canon 1251. § 1. The law of fast prescribes that there be only one meal a day; but it does not forbid that a little bit [of food] be taken in the morning and in the evening, observing, nevertheless, the approved custom of places concerning the quantity and the quality of food.

  • 2. It is not forbidden to mix meat and fish in the same meal; or to exchange the evening meal with lunch.

Canon 1252. § 1. The law of abstinence only must be observed every [Friday].

  • 2. The law of abstinence together with the fast must be observed every Ash [Wednesday], every [Friday and Saturday] of Lent, each of the [Ember] Days, and the vigils of the Pentecost, the Assumption of the God bearer into heaven, All the Saints, and the Nativity of the Lord.
  • 3. The law of fast only is to be observed on all the other days of Lent.
  • 4. On Sundays or feasts of precepts, 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.

Canon 1253. By these canons nothing is changed concerning particular indults or the vows of any physical or moral person or the constitutions and rules of any religious [institute] or [other] approved institute, whether of men or of women, living together in common or even without vows.

Canon 1254. § 1. The law of abstinence binds all those who have completed seven years of age.

  • 2. All those are bound by the law of fast from the completion of the twenty-first year of age until the beginning of the sixtieth.

Source: The 1917 or Pio-Benedictine Code of Canon Law in English translation by Dr. Edward N. Peters. Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2001.

Note: A “feast of precept” is another way of saying “Holy Day of Obligation,” because the ‘precept’ is that all Catholics, under pain or mortal sin, must assist at Mass that day, unless for grave reason they are legitimately impeded. Canon 1247 clearly defines this term, stating:

“Feast days under precept in the whole Church are only: All and every [Sunday], the feast of the Nativity, Circumcision, Epiphany, Ascension, and most holy Body of Christ, Immaculate Conception and Assumption of Mary the Mother of God, of Saint Joseph her spouse, or the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and of All the Saints.”

The same canon then goes on to explain that these named feasts may only be legitimately abolished or transferred with the consultation of the Apostolic See.

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