Supplement to Fasting Instructions

This commentary is taken from the traditional Catholic Calendar and Ordo compiled by Father Louis Campbell and is intended to assist the laity in better understanding some of the changes that were made in the 1950s regarding previously mandatory fasting and abstinence laws.

Editor's note: Paragraph headers and breaks have been added for easier readability, as well as emphasis to certain portions of the text, as seen in bold type. No body text (content) has been altered in any form.

Understanding the Necessity of Clarification

This supplement page will attempt to answer ongoing questions that have been raised about the modifications in liturgical practice and penitential discipline that were enacted in the mid-1950s, during the final months of the pontificate of Pius XII. Of particular concern are the innovations that occurred shortly before the death, on 9 October 1958, of that last unquestionably lawful and publicly functioning Pope. A growing number of informed Catholic researchers now doubt whether these alterations came about with the full knowledge and consent of the head of the Church, since the pontiff had nearly died in 1954 and was in frail health throughout the remaining four years of his life.

Hannibal Bugnini

The primary architect of the liturgical changes from 1948 to 1975 was Msgr. Hannibal Bugnini, who was exposed by the Italian Government as a secret Freemason in 1977. What gave initial momentum to the wave of experimentations that ultimately lead to the total overthrow of the ancient Roman Liturgy and its replacement with Bugnini’s “New Mass” in 1969, were the changes in the Holy Week observances in 1956.

Holy Week changes

The restoration of the evening/nocturnal time of the celebration of the Easter Vigil on Holy Saturday was, by itself, completely legitimate. For even though the practice of early morning, pre-dawn Holy Week ceremonies had been in place for centuries, it had no basis in Apostolic Tradition but had come about hundreds of years later due to social conditions distinctive of the 12th century. By the late 19th century those factors were largely mitigated, and the bishops rightly began to petition Rome to restore the former time of the rites to facilitate greater attendance by the faithful at the solemn ceremonies of the Pascal Vigil. After decades of considerations by successive pontiffs, Pope Pius XII in 1951 finally allowed, on a trial basis, the observance of the Holy Saturday rituals to begin no earlier than sundown and as late as midnight. This would thereafter oblige the extension of Lenten fasting and abstinence beyond the previously-observed 12 Noon cutoff time on Holy Saturday until the conclusion of the Pascal Vigil Mass, usually 60 to 90 minutes before midnight, but only for those present. For all others, the obligation would end at 12 A.M. Easter Sunday.

After an overwhelmingly positive response from clergy and laity, the old practice became the norm once again by the promulgation of the 1955 papal constitution, Maxima Redemptionis, and by 1956, celebration of the Holy Thursday liturgy was also restored to the evening, and Good Friday to 12 Noon. Unfortunately, this reasonable accommodation to the needs of the faithful presented an opportunity for liturgical revolutionaries to introduce alterations and omissions in the ancient rites themselves, for which no specific authorization can be found in the constitution of Pius XII – who was once described as, “a prisoner in his own palace.” These changes to (and omissions from) the Holy Week ceremonies are steadfastly avoided at Saint Jude’s, while the Pope’s legitimate order for the resumption of their celebration during later hours is faithfully observed at the shrine.

Fasting on the Vigils of All Saints and the Assumption

This brief historical background serves as an introduction to the main purpose of this advisory, namely, to address the questions surrounding the abrogation of the Vigils of All Saints and the Assumption, and the suspension of the fasting and abstinence regulations for those two vigils. Both were abolished in the 1950s, quite possibly as the first phase of “change for the sake of change,” engineered by the aforementioned Masonic infiltrator, Hannibal Bugnini.

When the American Bishops requested an official determination from Rome on whether the custom of fasting and abstinence on the suspended Vigil of All Saints had been terminated, they received only a pre-printed notice, dated 15 March 1957, stating that, “The Decree of the Sacred Congregation of Rites ... looks simply to the liturgical part of the day and does not touch the obligation of fast and abstinence that are a penitential preparation for the following feast day.”

Thus, without any official confirmation from the Vatican that the disciplines associated with the Vigil of All Saints no longer applied, the U.S. Bishops unilaterally dispensed American Catholics from those long-standing regulations. In 1957, the power of the still-valid and legitimate American bishops to bind and loose in disciplinary matters pertaining to the faithful under their care was certainly lawful. However, the bishops’ decision to abolish the All Saint’s vigil fast was likely in reaction to the first wave of Vatican innovations that would soon morph into an all-out, anti-Catholic assault on worship, doctrine, and tradition that was spring-loaded to be unleashed upon the death of Pius XII.

Just fourteen months before the demise of that aged and ailing pontiff, the penitential custom of fasting and abstinence on the Vigil of the Assumption was also effectively eliminated by its transfer to the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception, this time by official decree of the Sacred Congregation of the Council on 25 July 1957. This unusual move seemed to contradict the Pope’s prohibition against rearranging the liturgical calendar, issued by his encyclical, Mediator Dei, ten years earlier. It is beyond the scope of this brief review to provide an analysis of this legislation, or, for that matter, to challenge every alteration in discipline that was enacted during the pontificate of Pius XII. Indeed, three of them turned out to be providential just a few years later, after the true Mass had been taken away from parish churches.

Other major changes

The exemption of water from the Eucharistic fast in 1953; the shortening of the Eucharistic fast from Midnight to three hours; and the simultaneous introduction of Sunday Evening Masses in 1957, made it possible for circuit-riding, Latin Mass clergy to bring valid Sacraments to remote groups of traditional Catholics on Sunday nights, sometimes hundreds of miles away from the priests’ home churches, after assisting their own congregations earlier in the day. Thus, legislative revisions in the waning years of Pope Pius XII may be viewed as a “mixed blessing,” with some seemingly inspired by the Holy Ghost and others considered a “gray area” of doubtful origin.

In any case, there can be no imputation of sin to those who no longer observe the old rules for fasting and abstinence on the Vigils of All Saints and the Assumption. The faithful who are able to continue those traditions (while retaining the practice also on the Vigil of the Immaculate Conception) are encouraged to do so, as voluntary acts of penance win greater spiritual merit than those done purely for compliance with the law.

Finally, the rules for fasting and abstinence on the Vigils of Pentecost and Christmas were not affected by the changes in question, and therefore, are still listed as obligatory by this calendar.