Feasting & Asceticism

Every so often, Exodus 90 begins during the Christmas Season. 2024 happens to be one of those years. Some people might wonder how we can begin a spiritual exercise with so much asceticism on a solemn feast day, the octave

Every so often, Exodus 90 begins during the Christmas Season. 2024 happens to be one of those years. Some people might wonder how we can begin a spiritual exercise with so much asceticism on a solemn feast day, the octave day of Christmas honoring Mary the Mother of God. Doesn’t this entail a contradiction?

It’s amazing how many martyrs fall within the Christmas Octave. Jesus was born to die, and the very next day following Christmas we remember the first martyr, St. Stephen. Later in the week, we honor the Holy Innocents, who died for the birth of the Messiah, and St. Thomas Beckett who gave his life for the Church’s freedom. Even on the octave day of Christmas, we remember Jesus’s circumcision when he first shed his blood for us. The Christmas season, therefore, offers a great time to start a journey to uncommon freedom in Christ. 

Among the disciplines of Exodus 90, we fast and abstain from meat on Wednesdays and Fridays. When a solemn feast falls on one of those days, we lift the expectation of fasting and abstinence, which will happen this year on February 2nd, the Lord’s Presentation. For the Solemnity of Mary the Mother of God, on January 1st, each other solemn feast that falls during The 90, and all Sundays, we relax one of our disciplines. Right and fitting celebration of a feast day is itself a discipline of Exodus 90.

Some may still contend that it is wrong to do any asceticism on a feast day. Well, throughout Christian history this simply was not the case. In Lent, for instance, abstinence from all animal products traditionally lasted throughout the entirety of the forty-six days, including Sundays. The saints also maintained fasts over holy days, such as St. Francis beginning St. Michael’s Lent on the solemnity of the Assumption. St. Francis Paola kept up the rigors of Lenten fasting–only one meal a day and no animal products–for the entire year, along with the order he founded, the Friars Minum. Even today, we must fast in preparation for the reception of Holy Communion even on Sundays, solemnities, and other feasts.

Starting Exodus 90 during the Christmas season sanctifies the beginning of our spiritual exercise. Rather than taking away from the holy season, starting this journey during these days helps us to enter more deeply into the saving mission of Christ. In the Incarnation, Jesus emptied himself for us. By starting Exodus 90, we are trying to do the same for him. 


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Dr. Staudt serves as Director of Content for Exodus and as an Instructor for the Lay Division of St. John Vianney Seminary. He is the author of How the Eucharist Can Save Civilization (TAN), Restoring Humanity: Essays on the Evangelization of Culture (Divine Providence Press) and The Beer Option: Brewing a Catholic Culture Yesterday & Today (Angelico Press). He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from Ave Maria University and B.A. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas (St. Paul, MN). He and wife, Anne, have six children and he is a Benedictine oblate.

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