Thursday, December 22, 2011

Reminder: the fast of December 23

It tastes better after some self-denial.


As noted in this month's blog post on the fast for December 7, during the fifties and early sixties the Catholic Church in the Philippines observed four days of fasting and complete abstinence from the meat of warm-blooded animals. These were:

1) December 7
2) December 23
3) Ash Wednesday
4) Good Friday

In the years prior to Vatican II, most of the countries that observed a day of fasting and abstinence in the week before Christmas did so on December 24. However, some countries, such as Canada and the Philippines, had it on the 23rd. (Rorate Caeli's article on this matter is quite informative.) I'm not aware of the exact reason why the Philippines had its day of fasting and abstinence on the 23rd, but my guess is that this was in order not to prevent people from preparing the traditional Noche Buena feast on the midnight between December 24 and 25, a process which entailed preparing and therefore tasting or sampling meat dishes. 

At any rate, this little day of fasting and abstinence is now optional given the post-Vatican II reform of the laws of fasting and abstinence. However, it retains its significance, and it is to be hoped that at least a few among us Filipinos will still observe it. Christmas in the Philippines has been thoroughly stripped of its penitential preparation, more so than in most Catholic countries: the Christmas season starts in November, December itself has been turned into an endless round of partying, eating, merrymaking and gift-giving, and the Advent season is de facto truncated in the consciousness of the people by the multiplication of Simbang Gabi Masses, with the effect that the Advent Masses from December 16 to the morning of the 24th  are not celebrated at all in "penitential style" (violet vestments) in many parishes. Surely, a time for penance, a time set aside to spiritually cleanse ourselves if only a little for the great feast of Christmas, is a necessary corrective to the excesses that, sadly, have become attached to this feast itself.

Those who don't intend to fast or abstain from any food on December 23 might still want to remember that, on this year, December 23 is a Friday and therefore still a day of penance according to the Canon Law currently in force. (See my comprehensive explanation of the current laws of fasting and abstinence in the Philippines.) Although the actual way in which Friday penance is observed largely left to the discretion of the individual, that does not mean that the penance itself can be dispensed with. It can be as little as a rosary, or the reading of a few Bible verses amid the pre-Christmas rush -- but at least, let it be done, let it not be forgotten! 

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