Penance Vigil?


Ok, I know one can attend a vigil Mass because the obligation to attend Sunday Mass or Mass on a Holy Day of Obligation starts the night before. Does the “it starts the night before” thing apply to days of penance? :confused:

Would one have to begin abstaining from meat on Thursday nights in Lent? Or, would they need to start abstaining from meat and fasting on the Tuesday night before Ash Wednesday? Or, does the obligation for penance start at midnight? Maybe I’m overthinking this…:frowning:




You might be overthinking.

There is no vigil of penance. Just that specific day.



One of the principles of canon law is that they try to interpret it in favor of the ordinary member of the faithful. Mother Church is generous, and that’s the principle.

So yeah, Friday abstinence and fasting always starts and ends at midnight, even though Sunday can start on Saturday afternoon. :slight_smile:

Don’t worry about it. It’s a good thing to have Mom Church looking out for you, and for anybody that is weaker than you. You can always add extra asceticism if you want to, but there’s a generous limit on these things for a reason.


Only Solemnities have vigils. [All Sundays are Solemnities.] Solemnities are never days of penance. If a Solemnity, e.g. Christmas, coincides with a day of penance, e.g. Friday, the penance is waived. [However, I think the penance still applies when the vigil of a
Solemnity coincides with a day of Penance.]


A better way to think about it is according to two things that you find in Canon Law.

First, a day is a day is a day, midnight to midnight.

Can. 202 §1. In law, ***a day is understood as a period consisting of 24 continuous hours and begins at midnight ***unless other provision is expressly made; a week is a period of 7 days; a month is a period of 30 days, and a year is a period of 365 days unless a month and a year are said to be taken as they are in the calendar.

Second, the obligation to attend Mass on a day of obligation may be fulfilled either on that day or the evening of the previous day. It is not as if a day of obligation is some kind of “super day” that’s longer than 24 hours (laying aside the liturgical concept of “vigil” for a moment, and just looking at the legal concept of a “day.”)

Can. 1248 §1. A person who assists at a Mass celebrated anywhere in a Catholic rite either on the feast day itself or in the evening of the preceding day satisfies the obligation of participating in the Mass.

In other words, if there is an obligation to attend Mass on Sunday (a day that begins at midnight and ends at midnight, and is 24 hours long), it may be fulfilled on the 24 hours that is Sunday, or else on the evening of the day before (Saturday, a day that begins at midnight and ends at midnight, and is 24 hours long).

A day of abstinence or of fasting and abstinence is governed by this canon:

Can. 1251 Abstinence from eating meat or some other food according to the prescripts of the conference of bishops is to be observed on*** every Friday of the year*** unless a Friday occurs on a day listed as a solemnity. Abstinence and fasting, however, are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Notice that it says nothing about the evening of the previous day, as does the canon on Mass attendance. It simply specifies the days, that is, the 24 hour periods, on which someone is to fast or abstain from meat. And note as well that in most dioceses in the United States, there is no obligation to abstain from meat on Fridays, although some other penance is still encouraged.




First of all, you can never think too much about canon law. Second, as “edward_george” indicated, the obligation to attend Mass only begins on the day of the obligation–it does not “start the night before.” The Church generously allows people to fulfill that obligation on the day before but the obligation itself does not start until midnight. The obligations regarding days of penance also begin at midnight.



Just a clarification. The day of precept begins at midnight. One may fulfill the obligation on the day itself or the evening before. I wouldn’t say “the obligation does not start until midnight,” just that the day itself does. The obligation to do penance by fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday only applies to those days.




Could you explain why you would say that the day of precept begins at midnight but would *not *say that the obligation does not start until midnight (sorry for the double negative…)?



It’s an attempt on my part to more precisely reflect exactly what the law says. It’s easy to become confused if we cross up the language. Hence, I pointed out that there are two concepts at work here: first, what a day is, and second, when one may fulfill an obligation for a day of precept. Sunday begins at 12:00 AM and ends at 11:59:59 PM. One may fulfill the obligation anytime on that day, during that period, but also the evening of the day before, which is a separate 24-hour period (the day, obviously, not the evening). In short, the obligation is attached to the day of the feast, to period within which it may be fulfilled is longer than the day itself.

Sorry if this isn’t more clear.



Thank you all so much for the answers!!! As usual, I tortured myself with worries for nothing…


I don’t think this is the case because the Church would have clarified that. I’ve been Catholic for 17 1/2 years and no one ever stated that days of penance began the evening before. That being said, you could voluntarily adapt this practice to better aid your spiritual life. As long as it doesn’t lead you to temptations of legalism or self-righteousness, but in increasing your faith and better helping you to practice virtue you would be alright.:smiley:


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