St. Patrick’s Day has long been one of my favorite holidays. Long before I met and married my husband with Irish roots, and well before I set foot on the Emerald Isle. I have always been fascinated by the Celts, their people, their land, their culture, especially in relation to ancient and medieval culture. I have also been a questioner. Why? Why do we do this? Why don’t we do that? As a young child being told that I couldn’t write during Rosh Hashanah, I was devastated. But writing isn’t work; it’s writing, I whined to no avail. Becoming Catholic has not broken me of that – is it really a – failing.
And so, I question – why?
Why can’t we eat meat on Friday? Is it because Peter was a fisherman? Will there be a dispensation for today? It is a saint’s feast day after all. I waited for Pope Francis, and then was told that it’s up to the local bishops. I still couldn’t find it, so I texted my godmother and she okayed the corned beef which made my husband happy (as if he wasn’t going to indulge on his holiday).
But I still wondered: Why?
In googling and asking my questions of the internet, I discovered the controversy that is North Dakota. Apparently, they have three dioceses, and two have them have allowed meat today, and one has not. The idea that North Dakota has three dioceses makes little sense to me, but I found no less than twenty-five separate links about St. Patrick’s Day in North Dakota. Amazing.
Archbishop Nelson Perez of Philadelphia popped up as did Cardinal Dolan in New York City’s Diocese. I didn’t see Boston, but I came to the logical conclusion that there would be dispensation for Boston Catholics. What holy hell would be raised if even one of those cities banned meat on St. Patrick’s Day? I hope we never find out.
During Pope Nicholas I in 866 CE, Friday abstinence became a universal rule. Fasting also on Fridays was common by the twelfth century. It was expected for everyone, including those as young as twelve with very few exceptions.
It also used to be that you couldn’t eat any animal products on Fridays, not just during Lent, but ALL YEAR. I learned that Fat Tuesday began as a way to use up all of the animal products that you couldn’t eat – butter, cheese, eggs, lard, and of course, meat.
Pope Paul VI changed things in 1966 in his Paenitemini. His object wasn’t to end abstinence and fasting but for Catholics to choose to abstain and fast as part of their own penance practices; let their conscience be their guide.
With Sunday being a weekly Easter, shouldn’t every Friday be a Good Friday? This was asked by the US Bishops in 1966 and I tilt my head wondering the same thing.
Lent is an opportunity to lend mutual support on our spiritual and faith journey. We are in it together and have a shared experience through Christ’s death and resurrection.
So why the exception for St. Patrick’s Day?
I mean, look at this filled soda from Northern Ireland! Resistance is futile. This was a breakfast sandwich shared between my husband and myself (and after twenty-three years of marriage he still had to take it under consideration).
But also, according to Mental Floss, it’s complicated.
I can imagine that they might have thought they’d lose all the Irish American Catholics if they said no corned beef on Friday of St. Pat’s Day, although this quandary occurs once or twice a decade, so it isn’t exactly a pressing issue.
I would also note that the traditional St. Patrick’s Day celebration food in Ireland is different from the traditional food eaten in the US. In Ireland, sausage is usually eaten, and not your teeny-tiny frozen breakfast sausage, but a lovely, large, grilled bit of deliciousness. Bangers and mash. In the US, we serve corned beef and cabbage with mashed potatoes and carrots. Yesterday, I had cabbage with leeks, and it really boosted the flavor.
What are you to do?
It becomes a crisis of conscience.
Well, as I mentioned, dispensations are local, so check with your diocese.
Is it a pass? Not really. You’re expected to abstain from meat on a different day during the week.
Usually, you’re expected to give up meat on a day before the next Friday after St. Patrick’s Day and (or) perform acts of charity and good deeds to atone or call it even with the meat eating.
We’ll be having corned beef, cabbage, mashed potatoes (possibly champ), carrots, and Irish Soda bread with Kerrygold butter.
My mouth is watering in anticipation.