The liberalisation did not start with Vatican II and Paul VI. Matthew explains when and how it began.
From A Catholic Life
By Matthew P.
Pope St. Pius X is regarded as a champion by traditionalists for good reasons. There is no doubting his personal sanctity and the motivations that inspired some of his actions (e.g., lowering the age for First Holy Communion and recommending frequent - even daily - reception of our Lord in Holy Communion). His crusade against modernism and his actions for the liberty of the Church and for the spread of Christ's reign are certainly praiseworthy.
But we who have the luxury of seeing how history unfolded can observe how this holy pope's actions in regards to holy days of obligation, fasting, and abstinence sadly led to a collapose of Catholic practice. We would do well to keep the practices before St. Pius X, which had already been eroded by dispensations and changes for several centuries. St. Pius X merely helped accelerate this erosion.
What exactly did he change in regards to these disciplines? There are three main changes as they concern the Church's discipline: reducing the number of Holy Days of Obligation for the Universal Church, altering the days of fasting, and altering both when and how to observe days of abstinence.
There are more actions done by St. Pius X that some also rightfully criticize such as the change in the Breviary (e.g. abandoning the use of 12 psalms at Matins, abolishing the "Laudate Psalms" at Lauds) and effectively abolishing in practice the five simple octaves but those are outside the scope of this article.
St. Pius X Drastically Reduced the Number of Holy Days of Obligation
The first catalog of Holy Days comes from the Decretals of Pope Gregory IX in 1234, which listed 45 Holy Days. In 1642, His Holiness Pope Urban VIII issued the papal bull "Universa Per Orbem" which altered the required Holy Days of Obligation for the Universal Church to consist of 35 such days as well as the principal patrons of one's one locality.
However, due to dispensations, differences ranged drastically as to which days were kept as holy days throughout the world. As of the founding of the United States, the Holy Days of Obligation, in addition to every Sunday, were as follows: the feasts of Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Annunciation, Easter Monday, Ascension, Whitsun Monday, Corpus Christi, Ss. Peter and Paul, Assumption, and All Saints. In 1837, Pope Gregory XVI dispensed all Americans from the obligation as to Easter Monday and Whitsun Monday and in 1840 from that of the feast of St Peter and St Paul. The Feasts of Epiphany, Annunciation, and Sts. Peter and Paul were abolished as Holy Day of Obligation in the United States in 1885.
But, in the largest change to Holy Days in centuries, Pope St. Pius X in Supremi disciplinæ in 1911 drastically reduced the number of Holy Days of Obligation in the Universal Church to merely eight!
- Immaculate Conception
- Assumption of the Blessed Virgin
- Sts. Peter and Paul
- All Saints
This reduction, rather than just tweaking one country's disciplines, reset the Universal Church to a minimal number of Holy Days - the lowest ever. While some localities kept other feastdays of importance (e.g. St. Patrick's Day as a Holy Day of Obligation in Ireland), most did not. Shortly thereafter in 1917, however, Corpus Christi and St. Joseph were added back by his successor, bringing the total to 10. The 10 currently observed on the Universal Calendar are the same as from 1917.
The 1917 Code Liberalized Fasting
Called the Pio-Benedictine Code, the 1917 Code of Canon Law was started by St. Pius X in 1904 and completed under his successor, Pope Benedict XV, in 1914. The Code had a number of effects on fasting and abstinence, beyond codifying the changes to Holy Days of Obligation.
Fasting and abstinence were no longer observed should a vigil fall on a Sunday as stated in the code: "If a vigil that is a fast day falls on a Sunday the fast is not to be anticipated on Saturday, but is dropped altogether that year." Before 1917, the fast of a Vigil that fell on a Sunday was observed instead on the preceding Saturday, which helped prepare the faithful not only for the feast that was transferred to Monday but also for Sunday.
Likewise, effective per the 1917 Code of Canon law, the Wednesdays and Fridays of Advent were no longer fast days for the Universal Church. The last remnant of St. Martin's Lent and the Advent Fast was gone. Wednesdays of Advent had previously been abrogated as fast days in America in 1837. Now Fridays in Advent likewise ceased being required days of fast not only in America but universally. The Vigil of St. Peter and Paul also ceased as a fast day on the Universal Calendar, although it had already been abrogated in the United States.
The 1917 Code Liberalized Abstinence
The 1917 Code also universally removed Saturday abstinence. Unknown to most Catholics, abstinence from meat was previously required on both Fridays and Saturdays! In the United States, Saturday abstinence ceased around 1837 because the Baltimore fathers requested from Pope Gregory XVI a dispensation from Saturday abstinence. It was a 20-year dispensation that was renewed up until the 1917 Code dispensed the venerable practice of Saturday abstinence universally.
But one of the more drastic changes was that eggs and dairy products (i.e. lacticinia) became universally permitted on fasting days - continuing the weakening of discipline introduced by Pope Leo XIII in 1887. The 1917 Code explicitly and universally stated: "The law of abstinence prohibits meat and soups made of meat but not of eggs, milks, and other condiments, even if taken from animals" (1917 Code, Canon 1252 § 4). [Translation taken from THE 1917 OR PIO-BENEDICTINE CODE OF CANON LAW in English Translation by Dr. Edward Peters]. Gone was the significance of Easter eggs, celebrating the end of a long Lent.
Dispensations From Abstinence Were Previously Required Even for Holy Days of Obligation Outside of Lent
"To encourage her children in their Christmas joy, the Church has dispensed with the law of abstinence, if this Feast fall on a Friday. This dispensation was granted by Pope Honorius III, who ascended the Papal Throne in 1216. It is true that we find it mentioned by Pope St Nicholas I, in the ninth century; but the dispensation was not universal; for the Pontiff is replying to the consultations of the Bulgarians, to whom he concedes this indulgence, in order to encourage them to celebrate these Feasts with solemnity and joy: Christmas Day, St Stephen, St John the Evangelist, the Epiphany, the Assumption of our Lady, St John the Baptist, and SS Peter and Paul. When the dispensation for Christmas Day was extended to the whole Church, these other Feasts were not mentioned."