Category Archives: fast & abstinence

Let’s Re-Ignite the Ember Days!

This is required reading for all SACC readers!   From the venerable Rorate Caeli:

Time for Worldwide Sacrifice: Ember Week in September

The equinox is coming. The Roman Church will once again remind us of the cycle of the seasons in this Ember Week in September.
We re-post, for those who are not aware of it, this article first posted by us in 2008, and reposted often since. May you all have a fruitful week of sacrifice.

By Michael P. Foley

A potential danger of traditionalism is the stubborn defense of something about which one knows little. I once asked a priest who had just finished beautifully celebrating an Ember Saturday Mass about the meaning of the Ember days. He replied (with an impish twinkle in his eye) that he hadn’t a clue, but he was furious they had been suppressed.

Traditionalists, however, are not entirely to blame for their unfamiliarity with this important part of their patrimony. Most only have the privilege of assisting at a Sunday Tridentine Mass, and hence the Ember days—which occur on a weekday or Saturday—slip by unnoticed. And long before the opening session of the Second Vatican Council, the popularity of these observances had atrophied.

So why care about them now? To answer this question, we must first determine what they are.
The Four Seasons
The Ember days, which fall on a Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday of the same week, occur in conjunction with the four natural seasons of the year. Autumn brings the September Embertide, also called the Michaelmas Embertide because of their proximity to the Feast of St. Michael on September 29.1 Winter, on the other hand, brings the December Embertide during the third week of Advent, and spring brings the Lenten Embertide after the first Sunday of Lent. Finally, summer heralds the Whitsun Embertide, which takes place within the Octave of Pentecost.
In the 1962 Missal the Ember days are ranked as ferias of the second class, weekdays of special importance that even supersede certain saints’ feasts. Each day has its own proper Mass, all of which are quite old. One proof of their antiquity is that they are one of the few days in the Gregorian rite (as the ’62 Missal is now being called) which has as many as five lessons from the Old Testament in addition to the Epistle reading, an ancient arrangement indeed.
Fasting and partial abstinence during the Ember days were also enjoined on the faithful from time immemorial until the 1960s. It is the association of fasting and penance with the Embertides that led some to think that their peculiar name has something to do with smoldering ash, or embers. But the English name is probably derived from their Latin title, the Quatuor Tempora or “Four Seasons.”2

Apostolic and Universal
The history of the Ember days brings us to the very origins of Christianity. The Old Testament prescribes a fourfold fast as part of its ongoing consecration of the year to God (Zech. 8:19). In addition to these seasonal observances, pious Jews in Palestine at the time of Jesus fasted every Monday and Thursday—hence the Pharisee’s boast about fasting twice weekly in the parable involving him and the publican (Lk. 18:12).
Early Christians amended both of these customs. The Didache, a work so old that it may actually predate some books of the New Testament, tells us that Palestinian Christians in the first century A.D. fasted every Wednesday and Friday: Wednesday because it is the day that Christ was betrayed and Friday because it is the day He was crucified.3 The Wednesday and Friday fast were so much a part of Christian life that in Gaelic one word for Thursday, Didaoirn, literally means “the day between the fasts.”
In the third century, Christians in Rome began to designate some of these days for seasonal prayer, partly in imitation of the Hebrew custom and partly in response to pagan festivals occurring around the same time.4 Thus, the Ember days were born. And after the weekly fast became less prevalent, it was the Ember days which remained as a conspicuous testimony to a custom stretching back to the Apostles themselves.5 Moreover, by modifying the two Jewish fasts, the Ember days embody Christ’s statement that He came not to abolish the Law but fulfill it (Mt. 5:17).6

Usefully Natural

This fulfillment of the Law is crucial because it teaches us something fundamental about God, His redemptive plan for us, and the nature of the universe. In the case of both the Hebrew seasonal fasts and the Christian Ember days, we are invited to consider the wonder of the natural seasons and their relation to their Creator. The four seasons, for example, can be said to intimate individually the bliss of Heaven, where there is “the beauty of spring, the brightness of summer, the plenty of autumn, the rest of winter.”7

This is significant, for the Ember days are the only time in the Church calendar where nature qua nature is singled out and acknowledged. Certainly the liturgical year as a whole presupposes nature’s annual rhythm (Easter coincides with the vernal equinox, Christmas with the winter solstice, etc.), yet here we celebrate not the natural phenomena per se but the supernatural mysteries which they evoke. The Rogation days commemorate nature, but mostly in light of its agricultural significance (that is, vis-à-vis its cultivation by man), not on its own terms, so to speak.8

The Ember days, then, stand out as the only days in the supernatural seasons of the Church that commemorate the natural seasons of the earth. This is appropriate, for since the liturgical year annually renews our initiation into the mystery of redemption, it should have some special mention of the very thing which grace perfects.

Uniquely Roman

But what about Saturday? The Roman appropriation of the weekly fast involved adding Saturday as an extension of the Friday fast. And during Embertide, a special Mass and procession to St. Peter’s was held, with the congregation being invited to “keep vigil with Peter.” Saturday is an appropriate day not only for a vigil, but as a day of penance, when our Lord “lay in the sepulchre, and the Apostles were sore of heart and in great sorrow.”9 It is this Roman custom, incidentally, which gave rise to the proverb, “When in Rome, do as the Romans do.” According to the story, when Sts. Augustine and Monica asked St. Ambrose of Milan whether they should follow the weekly fasts of either Rome or of Milan (which did not include Saturdays), Ambrose replied: “When I am here, I do not fast on Saturday; when I am in Rome, I do.”10

Solidarity of Laity and Clergy

Another Roman custom, instituted by Pope Gelasius I in 494, is to use Ember Saturdays as the day to confer Holy Orders. Apostolic tradition prescribed that ordinations be preceded by fast and prayer (see Acts 13:3), and so it was quite reasonable to place ordinations at the end of this fast period. This allows the entire community to join the candidates in fasting and in praying for God’s blessing upon their vocation, and not just the community in this or that diocese, but all over the world.

Personally Prayerful

In addition to commemorating the seasons of nature, each of the four Embertides takes on the character of the liturgical season in which it is located. The Advent Ember days, for example, celebrate the Annunciation and the Visitation, the only times during Advent in the 1962 Missal when this is explicitly done. The Lenten Embertide allows us to link the season of spring, when the seed must die to produce new life, to the Lenten mortification of our flesh. The Whitsun Embertides, curiously, have us fasting within the octave of Pentecost, teaching us that there is such a thing as a “joyful fast.”11 The Fall Embertide is the only time that the Roman calendar echoes the Jewish Feast of the Tabernacles and the Day of Atonement, the two holidays that teach us so much about our earthly pilgrimage and about Christ’s high priesthood.12

The Ember days also afford the occasion for a quarterly check-up of the soul. Blessed Jacopo de Voragine (d. 1298) lists eight reasons why we should fast during the Ember days, most of them concerning our personal war against vice. Summer, for example, which is hot and dry, is analogous to “the burning and ardour of avarice,” while autumn is cold and dry, like pride. Jacopo also does a delightful job coordinating the Embertides with the four temperaments: springtime is sanguine, summer is choleric, autumn is melancholic, and winter is phlegmatic.13 It is little wonder that the Ember days became times of spiritual exercises (not unlike our modern retreats), and that folklore in Europe grew up around them affirming their special character.14

Even the Far East was affected by the Ember days. In the sixteenth century, when Spanish and Portuguese missionaries settled in Nagasaki, Japan, they sought ways of making tasty meatless meals for Embertide and started deep-frying shrimp. The idea caught on with the Japanese, who applied the process to a number of different sea foods and vegetables. They called this delicious food—have you guessed it yet?—“tempura,” again from Quatuor Tempora.

Dying Embers

While the Ember days remained fixed in the universal calendar as obligatory (along with the injunction to fast), their radiating influence on other areas of life eventually waned. By the twentieth century, ordinations were no longer exclusively scheduled on Ember Saturdays and their role as “spiritual checkups” was gradually forgotten. The writings of Vatican II could have done much to rejuvenate the Ember days. The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy decrees that liturgical elements “which have suffered injury through accidents of history are now to be restored to the vigor which they had in the days of the holy Fathers” (50).

But what came instead was the Sacred Congregation of Divine Worship’s 1969 General Norms for the Liturgical Year and the Calendar, where we read:

On rogation and ember days the practice of the Church is to offer prayers to the Lord for the needs of all people, especially for the productivity of the earth and for human labor, and to give him public thanks (45).
In order to adapt the rogation and ember days to various regions…the conferences of bishops should arrange the time and plan for their celebration (46).
Happily, the Ember days were not to be removed from the calendar but tweaked by national bishops’ conferences. There were, however, several shortcomings with this arrangement. First, the SCDW treats Rogation and Ember days as synonymous, which—as we saw in a previous article15—they are not. The Ember days do not, for example, pray for “the productivity of the earth and for human labor” in the dead of winter.

Second, by calling for an adaptation to various regions, the SCDW allowed the Ember days to take on an indeterminate number of meanings that have nothing to do with nature, such as “peace, the unity of the Church, the spread of the faith, etc.”16 Unlike the organic development of the Ember days, which preserved its basic meaning while taking on others, the 1969 directive has no safeguards to keep newly assigned meanings from displacing the Embertides’ more fundamental purpose.

Third, the national bishops’ conferences were supposed to fix the dates of the Ember days, but none, as far as I can tell, ever did.

Dead Embers & Lively Debates

In the wake of this ambiguity and indirection, the Ember days disappeared from the celebration of the Novus Ordo, and at one of the worst possible times. For just as the Church was letting its liturgical celebration of the natural slip into oblivion, the West was going berserk over nature.

Ever since the publication of Machiavelli’s Prince in the sixteenth century, modern society has been predicated on a technological war against nature in order to increase man’s dominion and power. Nature was no longer a lady to be wooed (as she had been for the Greeks, Romans, and medieval Christians); she was now to be raped, beaten into submission through evermore impressive technological advances17 that would render mankind, in Freud’s chilling words, “a prosthetic god.”

While there were some strong reactions against this new attitude, the modern hostility to the God-given only expanded as time went on, growing from a war on nature to a war on human nature. Our current preoccupations with genetic engineering, sex “changes,” and same-sex “marriage”—all of which are attempts to redefine or reconfigure the natural—are examples of this ongoing escalation.
The environmental movement that began in the 1960s has helped bring to light the wages of ruthlessly exploiting nature, and thus today we have a renewed appreciation for the virtues of responsible stewardship and for the marvels of God’s green but fragile earth. Yet this same movement, which has served in many ways as a healthy reawakening, is peppered with absurdities. Often the same activists who defend endangered tadpoles go on to champion the annihilation of unborn babies. Recently, after liberalizing their abortion laws, Spain’s socialist government introduced legislation to grant chimpanzees legal rights in order “to preserve the species from extinction”—this in a land with no native ape population.18

Contemporary environmentalism is also sometimes pantheistic in its assumptions, the result being that for many it has become a religion unto itself. This new religion comes complete with its own priests (climatologists), its own gospels (sacrosanct data about rising temperatures and shrinking glaciers), its own prophets (Al Gore, who unfortunately remains welcome in his own country), and, most of all, its own apocalypticism, with the four horsemen of deforestation, global warming, ozone depletion, and fossil fuels all leading us to an ecological Doomsday more terrifying to the secular mind than the Four Last Things.19


My point is not to deny the validity of these anxieties, but to lament the neo-pagan framework into which they are more often than not put. Modern man is such a mess that when he finally recovers a love of nature, he does so in a most unnatural manner. Both the early modern antipathy to nature and the late modern idolatry of it stand in dire need of correction, a correction that the Church is well poised to provide. As Chesterton quipped, Christians can truly love nature because they will not worship her. The Church proclaims nature’s goodness because it was created by a good and loving God and because it sacramentally reflects the grandeur of God’s goodness and love.

The Church does this liturgically with its observance of the “Four Seasons,” the Embertides. Celebrating the Ember days does not, of course, provide ready solutions to the world’s complicated ecological difficulties, but it is a good refresher course in basic first principles. The Ember days offer an intelligent alternative to pantheist environmentalism, and they do so without being contrived or pandering, as a new Catholic “Earth Day” or some such thing would undoubtedly be.

It is a shame that the Church unwittingly let the glow of Embertide die at the precise moment in history when their witness was needed the most, but it is a great boon that Summorum Pontificum makes their celebration universally accessible once again. What remains is for a new generation to take up their practice with a reinvigorated appreciation of what they mean. At least then we’ll know why we are so furious.

Call to Prayer and Fasting
This year, the Autumn Ember days are on September 21 [Feast of Saint Matthew, Apostle], 23, and 24. They follow the Feast of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14), the [fourth] anniversary since  the motu proprio took effect. Let all traditional Catholics unite to observe the traditional Ember fast on these three days: 1) to pray for the Holy Father’s welfare, 2) to thank Almighty God for the motu proprio Summorum Pontificum, and 3) to pray for its full implementation in every parish around the world.
Michael P. Foley is an associate professor of patristics at Baylor University. He is the author of Wedding Rites: A Complete Guide to Traditional Music, Vows, Ceremonies, Blessings, and Interfaith Services (Eerdmans) and Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything (Palgrave Macmillan).

This article appears in the Fall 2008 issue of The Latin Mass Magazine, vol. 17:4; web publication at RORATE CÆLI authorized by author and periodical. Images related to the First and Second Lessons and to the Gospel of Ember Saturday in September: in the first image, Aaron and Moses offer a holocaust to the Lord.
1.Officially, they fall on the first [full] week after the Feast of the Holy Cross (September 14).
2. Another theory is that “Ember” comes from the Old English, ymbren, meaning time or season.
3. The one reason stated by the Didache is more polemical: Christians fast on different days in order to be different from the “hypocrites,” i.e., the Pharisees (8.1).
4.Cf. Francis X. Weiser, Handbook of Christian Feasts and Customs (New York: Harcourt, 1958), 31-32.
5.Weiser does claim, however, that voluntarily fasting or abstaining on Wednesdays was still alive in some areas when he was writing (1958). Of course, the other remnant of the weekly fast is Friday abstinence from flesh meat.
6.Technically, neither Jewish fast was part of the Mosaic Law, though both were, I would argue, part of the Mosaic way of life.
7.From a prayer by St. Thomas Aquinas.
8.Cf. my article, “The Rogationtide,” TLM 17:2 (Spring 2008), pp. 36-39.
9.Jacopo de Voragine, “The Ember days,” in The Golden Legend.
10.Cf. Michael P. Foley, Why Do Catholics Eat Fish on Friday? The Catholic Origin to Just About Everything (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 148-49.
11.The medievals called this the jejunium exultationis—the fast of exultation.
12.There are relevant readings from the Old Testament and from the Letter to the Hebrews that are used throughout the year in both the 1962 and 1970 lectionaries, but the September Embertide is the only time that these readings are used in order to coincide with the autumn festivals of Sukkot and Yom Kippur. Again we see the principle of fulfillment rather than abolition liturgically enacted.
13.Cf. The Golden Legend, Volume 1, “The Ember Days.”
14.In the Middle Ages, the Ember days were kept as holydays of obligation, with rest from work and special acts of charity for the poor, such as feeding and bathing them. There was also an old superstition that the souls in Purgatory were temporarily released from their plight in order to thank their relatives for their prayers and beg for more.
15.Cf. my article, “The Rogationtide,” TLM 17:2 (Spring 2008), pp. 36-39.
16.Response to the query “How should rogation days and ember days be celebrated?” (, retrieved 2/20/08).
17.Cf. The Prince, ch. 25.
18.“Spain to Recognize Rights of Apes?” Catholic World News, 6/27/08,
19.This is not a parody. Cf. Peter Montague, “The Four Horsemen—Part 1,” Rachel’s Environment & Health Weekly, #471, 12/7/95 (

The “Woosi-fication” of our Catholic Faith by Vatican II

By Allan Gillis

I found this basic schedule of pre-V2 liturgical discipline this morning as a blog discussion on Rorate Caeli spoke of the First Friday/Feast of the Most Precious Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ presenting a dilemma posed when one is “twixt & between” the two calendars – the Novus Ordo and the 1962 liturgical calendar – mind you; the latter has NOT been suppressed.  This was when Catholic men were men.  Our Roman Catholic faith meant more because it called upon us to sacrifice more and deny ourselves – mortifying the flesh, thereby quietly – without “charismatic”, ostentatious display – cultivating a sanctified life “in the spirit”. The REAL Holy Spirit.

With all this talk today among the Nouveau-Catholics about life “in the spirit”, I am convinced that the fervor is often an acquired affectation. I used to be one of those “chandelier-swinging”, guitar and tambourine-banging, “slayed-in-the-spirit” born-again firebrands.  I know the type well. Back in the sixties and seventies, we traded real religion (with its concomitant reverence and sacrifice) for drama and feel-good emotional highs. Presented below is a reminder of how real Catholics lived within the spiritual regimen of Christian discipline and devotion – a way of life that surrounded the globe and expanded our faith for nearly two thousand years – creating REAL saints and furthering the Kingship of Jesus Christ.

The Discipline of 1962  

Laws of Days of Abstinence

Applies on one’s 7th birthday.

Complete Abstinence: all Fridays of the year, Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the Vigil of Christmas.

Partial Abstinence (meat and soup or gravy from meat permitted once a day at the principal meal): all the days of Lent, the Ember Days of Wednesday and Saturday, and the Vigils of Pentecost and the Assumption.

Abstinence from meat is dispensed on Holy Days of Obligation.

Laws of Fast

Applies for those aged 21 to 59, inclusive. [N.B. post-’62 law lowers this to 18.]

Days of Lent from Ash Wednesday inclusive, Ember Days, and Vigils of Christmas, Pentecost, and the Assumption.

One full meal permitted and two other meals may be taken which, when combined, are less than a full meal.

The Law of the Eucharistic Fast
The complete fast from all food and drink (except water or medicine) for three hours before the reception of Holy Communion. Those who are able to maintain the midnight fast, which was the previous discipline, are still encouraged to do so.

This was when Roman Pontiffs had a REAL “loving response”!    Giuseppe Sarto.    Now there was a real man!

Pope Saint Pius X – PRAY FOR US!

The attack on traditionalist bloggers

By Augustinus

The usually sensible Fr Longenecker has a piece over at Crux on the scandal involving a Fr Rosica who began to sue a traditionalist blogger Vox Cantoris  last year. Rosica claimed that this blogger practiced character assassination and was filled with too much venom and hatred. It is not clear what Fr Rosica was suing about because you cannot sue someone for being full of hatred. Anyway the usually sensible Fr Llongenecker wrote a piece yesterday over at Crux arguing that suing traditionalist bloggers would do no good as they ‘will remain a cesspool of hate and venom’. I would have thought that  the usually sensible Father would have denounced the practice of suing fellow Catholic bloggers, traditionalist or otherwise as being immoral in itself unless there was a case for something like libel. But Longenecker instead more or less endorsed the view that traditionalist bloggers were filled with hate and were simply spilling bile. I am amazed someone as sensible as Longenecker can think this about people who dedicate their lives to fighting for the Church! When I review the traditionalist blogs mentioned in his piece I do see a lot of venom and some crazy stuff but no more than I see in the mainstream catholic bogs I visit. There is hatred, venom, shrill wild claims, nonsense, and character assasination all over the Catholic blogosphere.–both in mainstream Vatican II Catholics and among traditionalists….though I have to say that the only heresies I see are promoted by Vatican II Catholics not the traditionalists. I do not see the traditionalists claiming that all religions are equally true and that there is salvation outside the catholic church but I have seen that argued in many mainstream catholic blogs.   Among the blogs that Longenecker dissed was ipeter5….Now take a look at who writes for that blog


Obviously these are good, smart, competent, accomplished people all of whom are orthodox Catholics and all of whom are in good standing with the Church. Instead of threatening to sue them we should be cheering them on even when we do not agree with some of the things they say. When they say crazy stuff we should critique it just as we do when non-traditionalist bloggers do so. In Fr Longenecker’s account of the Rosica affair, Rosica dropped the suit against Vox Cantoris when Michael Voris created bad publicity over the whole thing but in my reading of the affair Rosica dropped the suit when figures within the Church hierarchy commented in the press that church figures should NOT be attempting to silence militant bloggers.

May I recommend to my fellow Catholic bloggers, traditionalists and mainstream alike, the model we have adopted here at saveourcatholicchurch? We publish both traditionalist views and mainstream Vatican II, pro Pope Francis views and everything in between. I myself have written pieces that many consider traditionalist and other pieces in praise of Pope Francis (for his encyclical on climate change for example).  We cannot arrive at the truth without talking to one another, without conflict and debate. Error has no rights it is true but we first need to decide where the error lies in our Church today and that can only be decided via prayer, open debate and fasting.

Susan Claire Potts At The Remnant

Brought to you by Allan Gillis
Check this out!  Better still, go there and read it!

Apollyon Unleashed: Hell’s Attack on the Kitchen Table  

Written by  Susan Claire Potts

No one thought it was an attack when Pope Paul VI set aside the Friday Law of Abstinence. But it was. Why did they do it?

It’s early morning, still dark in Palmer Woods. The street lights are on, shining on the glaze of frost that covers the ground. There’s not a sound in my writing room, but the silence won’t last. Soon the rumble of engines and the thud of wheels on the pavement will break the quiet dawn

The neighbors are going to work. The few children who live in the great old houses will be shuttled off to school. An hour more, and the houses will be empty.

The life has been sucked right out of the neighborhoods.

The mothers are gone. Not just here, but all across America. There are a few who are holding on, raising their children, creating a home. But it’s a lonely task. Pope Pius XI wrote that woman is the heart of the home.[1] That heart has been broken.

Women have changed. They had to, in order to adjust to what Pope Paul VI called “the recent evolution of society,”[2] wherein “a change is also seen both in the manner of considering the person of woman and her place in society.”[3]

It changed, all right.


And the Pope didn’t fight it. The bishops accepted it. The professors extolled it. And married Catholic women had to figure out what to do with their lives once their femininity was distorted and their queenship taken away. The home and woman’s place in it were reduced to an after-thought. Home became where you go after work.

Manners are different now that women have that “new place in society.” Men don’t stand up in a restaurant when a woman approaches the table. They don’t take off their hats in her company or watch their language. They don’t nod respectfully when she passes by on the street nor walk on the outside of the sidewalk. Nobody says ma’am.[4] Why bother?

A new imperative, an artificial “gender equality,” has rendered these courtesies obsolete. Old women lament their loss; young women never knew such gallantry. Who remembers the reason for them? Who knows what they meant?

Please, may I remind you?

Men did all these things because women weren’t like them. There was something about womanhood, a dignity that commanded honor. It had nothing to do with business success or graduate degrees or winning elections. Her dignity was rooted in maternity—either actual or potential. It was the source of her power and her mystery. No man could do what she did. She could bring forth life. No worldly accomplishment could ever equal that.

So, of course, it had to be destroyed. The woman’s focus had to change. Her fecundity had to be monitored; her life had to be sterilized. It was all part of the transformation.

And Rome was complicit. Using their power to bind and loose, the popes of the Decade of Revolt engineered and imposed a systematic unravelling of the Catholic way of life. As I wrote in Parts I and II of this essay, there were three major attacks that destabilized the home and pushed the woman out: (1) The end of obligatory Friday abstinence; (2) The radical changes in the Roman Calendar; and (3) most lethal of all, the years-long “taking under advisement” the morality of the Pill, which will be treated in Part IV.

The attacks came in waves, spanning the decade of the sixties. Sometimes they were separate; sometimes they overlapped. Whether the onslaught was deliberate or merely misguided, only God knows. But even before the sacred liturgy was ravaged, the groundwork was laid. Tradition was shattered. The arrows of destruction hit their mark. Woman was weakened; her maternal governance, undermined. The home couldn’t stand.

No human society can survive once the home is ruined. The Church would endure, the Faith would live, but Christendom was doomed.

Let history record: we are witness to its collapse.

The First Target: The Kitchen Table

No one thought it was an attack when Pope Paul VI set aside the Friday Law of Abstinence. But it was. The relaxation toppled the universal order and discipline of the Church Militant. Abstaining from meat on Friday was part of our uniform. We wore it proudly. It was a mark of distinction and honor, demonstrating to everyone that we were in the world, but not of it.

We were soldiers of Christ.

The woman kept the uniform pressed. The iron was in her hand. As part of a sisterhood of homemakers, united in ancient custom and fidelity, she could carry out her mission undisturbed. Her house was in order. There were no arguments; the Friday abstinence was not open to negotiation. She planned the meals, made sure the discipline was observed at her table. It was under her control; she made it happen.

The tradition was safe. But Rome stripped it away.

No longer backed by law, the woman lost her authority. If her husband wanted steak and the children wanted hot dogs on Friday, who was she to say no? Her talent to unite and her role in remembrance were snatched from her.

She could try to carry on, but it wasn’t the same once everything was optional. The discipline she had upheld and the customs that flowed from it were gone. Now, she was subject to the vagaries of everybody else’s appetites.

The ranks were dispersed. Unit cohesion was gone. It was every man for himself.

The ramifications of the breakdown were horrific, and the effects are still felt. The Church wasn’t supposed to change—everybody believed that back then. Little things, maybe, but nothing important. God didn’t change, and the Church reflected His changelessness. There was security in that certitude and hope for Heaven.

But the pope pulled the rug out from under the people by destroying an integral part of Christian life.

What did it mean? people wondered as they tried to reason it out. This whole Friday thing must not have been God’s will to begin with—it’s all just human stuff. They say it’s discipline, not doctrine. What’s the difference? Something’s sin one day and not the next? First you go to Hell for eating meat on Friday and now you don’t? Doesn’t make sense.

Confusion took hold. And Apollyon marked his first victory.

People forgot what the rule was all about. They weren’t reminded that the law of Friday abstinence was not an arbitrary obligation. It had deep meaning and substance: the virtue of obedience lay behind it.

That’s what the devil was after. We know his character—from the very beginning, from the Temptation of Eve, he wanted that obedience gone. He lusted for the submission of Christ’s bride, the subjection of the Church to himself.

The wind blew from the fires of Hell, and a new teaching took hold—the idea that the penance a person chooses for himself is better than that he does because he has to. It was more than error; it was a lie, but it went largely unobserved. People were no longer told that something done under obedience to the discipline of the Church is superior to that chosen by themselves because it entails a voluntary submission to the will of God.

It was the demon’s masterstroke. By taking away the obligation—an easy one, at that—people lost the sense of obedience to the Church. Worse, they lost the knowledge that the Church spoke for Christ—that He manifested His will through the disciplines and rules of the Catholic Church. All that was set aside. It was each man for himself. Everyone became his own general, making his own rules, deciding what he would do, never mind regulations. There weren’t any.

At first, people might have tried to do something—give up meat, do an act of charity, give alms. But after awhile, the penitential aspect of Friday faded. One thing followed another. First, the fear of breaking the rules died away, soon followed by the loss of the fear of Judgment. Last, and most devastating, people lost their fear of God. What’s to fear? they said to themselves. It doesn’t matter. Rules can be broken. And they went their merry way.

But the fear of God is beginning of wisdom the Holy Scriptures say—and any fool can see there’s not much wisdom in the world.

All because of the relaxation of a simple rule.

The Second Target: The Calendar

The next attack was the radical reorganization and revision of the liturgical year. Like the relaxation of Friday abstinence, the changes in the calendar hit the woman first and hardest because she was the guardian of the culture, the Mistress of Ceremonies of daily life. Without even having to think about it, Catholic wives and mothers lived by the calendar. It marked the rhythm of their lives. There was always something to observe, something to mourn or to celebrate. They were the ones to do it.

It was different then. I remember the women at Holy Family long ago—aged Sicilian women, long departed, who took me under their wing while revolution rocked the church. They were holding on, refusing to change, keeping the customs of the Old World in the middle of Detroit.

Like mothers, they taught me how to keep the liturgical year in the kitchen. The calendar was our guide. There were different foods for different days: wheat for Santa Lucia, fava beans on St. Joseph’s Day, keep quietly during Lent, artichoke frittata and sweet peppers in sauce after Holy Face devotions on the third Thursday of every month. The rhythm rolled on, year after year.

But then the jolt came that disrupted everything. With cold disregard to Catholic sensibility, the old calendar was removed and a new one imposed. There were over two hundred changes. Two-thirds of the year jumbled! No one knows what day it was anymore.

It happened a long time ago, before the present pope was even ordained, and the wounds have not yet healed. How could they? Things have gotten even more confusing with Pope Benedict XVI bringing back the 1962 calendar for use with the Old Mass.[5] So now we have two calendars! How’s that for the hermeneutics of continuity? Talk about confusion. The problem is, neither one seems real now. The connection to the past was broken.

But let’s go back to 1969 and Mysterii Pachalis, Pope Paul VI’s radical motu proprio that reorganized the liturgical year and “revised the liturgical celebrations of Jesus Christ and the saints.”[6] It was done, the experts said, because of the “progress in historical understanding and hagiographical studies.”

The Roman Calendar had been changed numerous times over the centuries—a saint moved here or there, new ones added, new Feasts promulgated. It was development and growth of a living thing, the young sapling growing into a towering tree, rich and heavy with fruit.

This change was different. The New Calendar rocked the lives of ordinary Catholics. It was catastrophic. Feasts were moved; names were changed. Beloved saints were removed, cast off like dead fish. It was said that the lives of certain friends in Heaven could not be verified; their acts were “fabulous,” and not in the wonderful sense of the word, but pertaining to fables. A stinking pall of falsity and historical revisionism lay over the holy calendar.

This was dishonor at the highest levels. St. Barbara was gone, and St. Christopher. They were the most well known, but there were so many others—Telephorus, Domitilla and Marcellus. Symphorosa and her seven sons. The list was long. Other saints were determined not to be “of universal importance,” and were relegated to a few local celebrations: Valentine, Anastasius, and Canute. The glorious Passion of St. Boniface and the acts of Prisca, Dorothy, Eustace, and Giles were declared unhistorical. Two others, a certain Cyprian and Justin, were declared “fictional.”

So where was the certainty about canonizations, about the Church’s knowledge of heavenly things? Gone. Cast aside.

The psychological impact was profound. In days past, mothers of families, teachers, and nuns would mark the Saint of the Day, relating the wondrous works of virgins and martyrs, of popes and kings, of nuns and queens. Soldiers and sailors and confessors of the Faith were remembered.

But they couldn’t be sure anymore, could they? The past was mocked, as if previous popes and councils, the guardians of the Faith, were a bunch of medieval ignoramuses.

Nobody could really know for certain who was in Heaven and how they got there. A general conclusion was reached: Everything can change. It’s impossible to hold on, so why try? Better not be too rigid about anything. Things can change any minute.

And they were right. They did.

The third arrow was the worst of all. Worse than disciplines and days, human life itself was under attack.

The woman was stricken at the very heart of her nature—her maternity. So many staggered. So many fell. And the Catholic home was razed.

It will take the Hand of the Carpenter to rebuild it.


[1] Pius XI, Casti Connubi, December 31, 1930
[2] Paul VI, Humane Vitae, July 25, 1968
[3] Ibid.
[4]That noun of address is disparaged, as if it is insulting somehow, indicating a woman is—God forbid! —old. Foolish arbiters of how we talk. Don’t they know ma’am is short for madame, which means My Lady?
[5] I won’t call it the Extraordinary Form. The Novus Ordo is the thing that’s “out of the ordinary.” And Tridentine is imprecise. The Old Mass (old form, if you must!) predates Trent by hundreds of years. I much prefer simple words: old and new. The qualifiers are understood.