Don’t fry up that fish just yet!
Bishop Richard Pates of Des Moines offered local Catholics a dispensation to the Lenten ban on eating meat on Fridays in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, a celebration traditionally marked by hearty servings of corned beef and cabbage.
Pates said Thursday he offered the dispensation after a number of parishioners inquired as to whether they would be able to indulge in meaty stews and other fleshy fare on St. Paddy’s — or have to settle for just soda bread.
“I was happy to do it and, frankly, I was very impressed that people said they would like to have this dispensation as it indicates that they are taking Lent and the Lenten season seriously,” he said.
With Pates’ announcement, the Des Moines diocese joins more than 80 others across the country that have offered a St. Patrick’s Day exemption to the Friday meat ban. Unlike the dispensation offered in the metro — which comes with “absolutely no strings attached,” Pates said — the bishops in Sioux City and Davenport granted “commutations,” meaning Catholics in those areas should choose a different day to forgo fowl and their land-roaming friends. (Salmon Saturday, anyone?)
The archbishop in Dubuque, like Cardinal Blasé Cupich in Chicago, encouraged those who take advantage of the dispensation he issued to “perform some other good work.”
“For example, participating in Holy Mass that day, or abstaining from watching television, or donating to charity the same amount of money spent on food and beverage at the St. Patrick’s Day celebration,” Archbishop Michael O. Jackels said in a statement.
Offering a pass on the no-meat-on-Fridays edict for St. Patrick’s Day has become a kind of tradition for Catholics over the years, said Pates, who is Irish. He issues a dispensation every time the festivities fall on a Friday because while the messaging surrounding the holiday may have changed, St. Patrick’s Day is, at its heart, about honoring a Catholic saint.
“The foundation of the occasion is to celebrate St. Patrick’s good deeds and his bringing the gospel to Ireland,” he said. “Over time, the celebration has evolved, obviously, but this is a holiday that manifests both spiritual and cultural heritage and I think that is worth celebrating in whatever way you want to celebrate.”
For centuries, Catholics were asked to abstain from meat every Friday, the day of the week that Jesus died, as a way to show penance. But after the Second Vatican Council, during which many issues surrounding the faith’s traditions were addressed, individual bishops were given authority to determine how their parishes would address the meat ban. In the years since, the common practice has become for Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays only during the season of Lent, which runs from Ash Wednesday to just before Easter.
Outside of those few weeks, Catholics are free to fire up their grills for steaks, burgers and kabobs no matter the day.
While parishioners are welcome to have a meat extravaganza Friday, Pates did encourage Des Moines Catholics to visit their local fish fries if they are so inclined.
“Many of our churches will still be running their fish fries and that is a great way to celebrate, too,” he said. “Fish on Friday, even this Friday, is certainly not a bad thing.”
As for Pates, he may venture out for a Friday-evening fry, but his lunch menu is already set.
“Corned beef and cabbage!” he said.