Friday After Thanksgiving: Abstinence-Free?

November 22, 2016
Source: District of the USA
Pope Pius XII, who provided the indult for American Catholics.

Is there really a specific indult for American Catholics to eat leftover turkey on the Friday following Thanksgiving? 

As Americans prepare to celebrate the secular holiday of Thanksgiving with their friends and family, some Catholics wonder whether or not it is acceptable to eat meat on the Friday following. According to both the 1966 American Bishops’ Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence and the 1983 Code of Canon Law, eating leftovers on the Friday after Thanksgiving does not carry the weight of sin.

Pastoral Statement on Penance and Abstinence – 1966

This said, we emphasize that our people are henceforth free from the obligation traditionally binding under pain of sin in what pertains to Friday abstinence, except as noted above for Lent."

Code of Canon Law – 1983

Can. 1253: The Episcopal Conference can determine more particular ways in which fasting and abstinence are to be observed. In place of abstinence or fasting it can substitute, in whole or in part, other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety."

Despite this, many Catholics continue to piously observe the older rules by abstaining from meat on all Fridays (except exempted major holy days). Those looking to follow the traditional rules can take comfort in knowing that Pope Pius XII granted the so-called “Turkey Indult” in the 1950s, allowing Catholics to freely consume their leftovers on Friday. Contrary to some speculation, this indult was not given due to poor refrigeration techniques, but rather Pius XII’s fatherly recognition that the Thanksgiving holiday is centered on a tasty bird. As such, traditional Catholics may consume their leftover turkey and other meats on Friday with a clear conscience knowing that they do so with Pius XII’s blessing.

If the faithful have a desire to infuse Thanksgiving with a Catholic spirit, we would suggest attendance at Mass this Thursday and give thanks to God for all of the blessings He has given during the past year. Later, after gathering around the table with loved ones, a family Rosary could be offered to the Blessed Virgin Mary, asking that she continue to protect the Catholic Church in this difficult times. We can think of no better addition to the traditions of this holiday.

And finally, you could offer a prayer for the canonization of Pius XII, a holy pope who steered the Barque of St. Peter through many troubled waters and whose teachings continue to inspire the Society of St. Pius X’s traditional apostolate to this very day.