You Can Eat Turkey Today. Pope Pius XII Said So.

Editor’s note: This article, originally posted in 2015, has been reprinted today for the reference of our readers, many of whom are unclear about what permissions are available for the eating of meat on the Friday after Thanksgiving. We provide this reference so that our fellow Catholics know what is permissible, according to our best attempt to interpret the current Church law with reference to a traditional dispensation. We recognize that we live in challenging times, and that many of you would nevertheless prefer to retain the day of abstinence today as a penance offered up for the situation in the Church. This is a laudatory position, and we do not seek to discourage anyone from it if they so desire. For those asking for evidence of the so-called “Turkey Indult,” a reader supplied a link to this, taken from Bouscaren’s Canon Law Digests.


For as long as I can remember, there was this vague rumor floating around that on the Friday after Thanksgiving, it was allowable for Catholics in the United States to eat meat, dispensing with the usual day of abstinence (or, as the case is now, some other penance.)

I never knew how much truth there was to this rumor growing up, but it seemed well-founded, and leftovers are delicious. At some point, I think I saw something or other about a dispensation from the US Bishops. I can’t remember. I don’t really want to dig too deeply when it comes to eating meat on a Friday, lest my joy be brought to ruin.

Earlier this week, though, I stumbled upon a post from the Angelus Press blog on this very topic. My first thought was, “Huh. Angelus Press has a blog?” My second thought was, “Angelus Press is the publishing arm of the SSPX. Those guys are for real about Church disciplines. If they say I can eat meat this Friday, I’m listening.”

And so I read it. And I was surprised to learn that the indult dispensing the Friday abstinence today began with Pope Pius XII, way back in the 1950s, before Catholicism got all squishy:

His Holiness, Pope Pius XII did, in fact, grant a papal indult, lifting the abstinence requirement for Catholics on the day following Thanksgiving. This was not done, as many believe, because of poor refrigeration techniques, since this indult was given in the 1950’s, when refrigeration was nearly as good as it is today. It was granted to Americans as a fatherly recognition of our naturally good holiday, which centers around a tasty bird.

It seems pretty clear. But what muddies the waters are the new regulations on penance.  In past years the abstinence requirements have been greatly diminished, both in the declaration made by the American Bishops in 1966 and the new code of Canon Law from 1983.  This means that even without the indult, eating leftovers on the Friday after Thanksgiving would carry no weight of sin – as long as other penance is substituted.

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.

This leaves Catholics with the opportunity to substitute some other form of penance on Fridays. So, very technically speaking, the  “Turkey Indult” of Pius XII has been abrogated, since the new Code of Canon Law supersedes it.

However, many of us Catholics still traditionally maintain abstinence from meat as their chosen form of penance on Fridays. At Angelus Press, we list the traditional days of fast and abstinence on our calendar, noting that they are no longer sinfully binding, but traditional – except, of course, Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Conclusion: This leaves us with a traditional practice that stems from an old church law – a church law that was lifted for this specific day for American Catholics. It follows, then, that traditionally, one could, in a clear conscience, follow the indult of Pius XII.

Say no more, intrepid Angelus Press blogger. There’s Ham and Turkey in the kitchen waiting for me, and it’s fantastic.

Originally published on November 27, 2015.

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