Interview with Fr. Michael Rodríguez
Jesus feasting with the Apostles

The Apostles’ Fast


The Fatima Center wishes you a grace-filled feast of Our Lady of Perpetual Help! (June 27th)


All of Our Lord’s Apostles have a feast day observed by the Church in her liturgical calendar. Saint Peter, Prince of the Apostles and First Pope, and St. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, are considered the two greatest from this privileged group. Rome is the Mother of all Churches, above all, because it was founded by these two great Apostles and hallowed by their martyred blood. Thus, it is to be expected that the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29) is the greatest of all the apostolic feasts.

The observance of a fast[1] leading up to the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul originated in the early Church under Pope St. Leo the Great around the year 461.[2] At the time of St. Jerome, it was known as “Summer Lent,” though it was not practiced under obligation like the fast of Lent itself. 

 

The Eastern Catholic Practice

While “Summer Lent” subsequently fell out of observance in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Catholic Church still observes this fast to some extent. Fr. R. Janin summarizes the Traditional Byzantine Fast and Abstinence observance for the Apostles’ Fast:

“This varies from 9 to 42 days depending on the feast of Easter. It begins on the first Monday after Pentecost until the feast of Saints Peter and Paul. This Lent has the same rules as Great Lent but oil and fish are tolerated (in some places) except on Wednesdays and Fridays.”

The Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul

The Roman Church retained the Vigil of Pentecost, the Ember Days during Pentecost, and the Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul. As a result, only a fragment of the fasting that was originally practiced during the early summer months persisted in the Roman Rite. 

The Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul ceased being a fast day in America by 1842. Pope Gregory XVI, in 1837, dispensed all the dioceses then in the United States from the obligation of assisting at Mass on both Easter Monday and Pentecost Monday; and in 1840 they were dispensed from the Feast of St. Peter and St. Paul. Yet, it remained as a Holy Day in many other places. 

Even after the significant changes made by Pope St. Pius X to the list of Holy Days in 1911, the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul remained a Holy Day of Obligation in the Universal Church. But it was not reestablished as such in the United States: “Where, however, any of the above feasts has been abolished or transferred, the new legislation is not effective. In the United States consequently the Epiphany and the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul are not days of precept” (Catholic Encyclopedia).

In Great Britain, Ireland, Australia, and Canada, the Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul remained a day of fasting and abstinence up until the promulgation of the 1917 Code of Canon law. In 1902, the Holy Father granted a special dispensation for Catholics in England from fasting on the Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul in honor of the coronation of King Edward VII, illustrating historical proof of the observance of this vigil in the early part of the 20th century.

Per the 1917 Code, fasting and abstinence were not observed should a vigil fall on a Sunday, as stated in the Code: “If a vigil that is a fast day falls on a Sunday the fast is not to be anticipated on Saturday but is dropped altogether that year.” However, beforehand, the fast was transferred to the Saturday previous. As a result, in years when the Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul (June 28th) falls on a Sunday, we can observe the fast and abstinence on Saturday. Other years, we can observe June 28th as a day of fasting and abstinence to prepare for the Feast in honor of Ss. Peter and Paul.

The wisdom of Dom Gueranger, written in the late 1800s, can apply to us even today:

“Let us, then, recollect ourselves, preparing our hearts in union with holy Church, by faithfully observing this vigil. When the obligation of thus keeping up certain days of preparation previous to the festivals is strictly maintained by a people, it is a sign that Faith is still living amongst them; it proves that they understand the greatness of that which the holy liturgy proposes to their homage. Christians in the West, we who make the glory of Saints Peter and Paul our boast, let us remember the Lent in honor of the Apostles begun by Greek schismatics on the close of the Paschal solemnities, and continued up to this day. The contrast between them and ourselves will be of a nature to stir up our fervor, and to control those tendencies wherein softness and ingratitude hold too large a share.

“If certain concessions have, for grave reasons, been reluctantly made by the Church, so that the fast of this vigil is no longer observed, let us see therein a double motive for holding fast to her precious Tradition. Let us make up by fervor, thanksgiving and love, for the severity lacking in our observance, which is yet still maintained by so many Churches notwithstanding their schismatic separation from Rome” (emphasis added).

Conclusion

Many have never known, and others often forget, that the Feast of Ss. Peter and Paul is still a Holy Day of Obligation on the Universal Calendar, and it was a Holy Day in America until 1840. Only by adequately preparing for this feast day can we appreciate the importance of this and all of the feasts of the Apostles. May our voluntary fast and abstinence on June 28 help us prepare to celebrate this Holy Day on June 29 more adequately. 

The Vigil of Ss. Peter and Paul was kept as a fasting day until the time of St. Pius X, and the Vigil of Pentecost was kept as a fasting day until the changes made after Vatican II. Like the Ember Days, which also fell by the wayside, the end of the fast on the Vigil of Pentecost removed the last vestiges of “Summer Lent.” Let us not allow these days to pass without using them to perform penance and make satisfaction for sin.


[1] If you have The Fatima Center’s 2021 Calendar, you will note that June 28th displays a brown fish indicating a “traditional day of penance no longer in force as of 1917, such as Advent, Rogation Days, and certain notable vigils.” This means that the three shepherd children of Fatima, to whom Our Lady appeared in 1917, would have been accustomed to keeping this vigil as a day of penance.

[2] Pope Leo I of Rome, “Sermon 78: On the Whitsuntide Fast” (https://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf212.ii.v.xli.html), confirms the existence of this fasting period as far back as 461 AD.

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