When St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, as it does about every seven years, the Lenten rule requiring Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays collides with the long-held tradition of eating corned beef and cabbage.
The two occasions meet this year. March 17 marks the celebration of
St. Patrick — known as the Apostle of Ireland for his years of
missionary work there — and it also is a celebration of all things Irish
and even green.
This March 17, since it falls on a Friday in Lenten,
also is a time of penitence.
The timing has not gone unnoticed by some U.S. bishops.
even started, many of them issued dispensations for Catholics in their
dioceses allowing them to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day.
The dispensation does not take Catholics totally off the hook.
bishops advised Catholics over age 14, who are required to abstain from
meat on Friday, to do an extra act of charity or penance in exchange for
Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, took it a step
further. In a statement, he said Catholics should also “exercise due
moderation and temperance in festivities and celebrations of the
memorial of St. Patrick, in keeping with the solemnity and honor that is
due to so great a saint and his tireless efforts to inspire holiness in
the Christian faithful.”
He tempered that by also saying the day should “foster a joyful and
reverent devotion to that great saint” and should also “honor the
patrimony of the Irish people to whom he first preached the good news of
As of Feb. 27, the following dioceses or archdioceses had announced
giving the clear for Catholics to eat meat March 17: Baltimore; New
York; Milwaukee; St. Paul and Minneapolis; Atlanta and Savannah,
Georgia; Omaha, Nebraska; and Jefferson City, Missouri.
The bishops primarily announced the one-day lifting of the church rule in statements posted on their diocesan websites.
Omaha Archbishop George J. Lucas granted a dispensation from the meat
observance but those who eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day must abstain the
next day, March 18.
New York Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan sent archdiocesan pastors a letter
in late January notifying them of the dispensation and asking them to
let their parishioners know about it.
Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome E. Listecki noted that abstaining from
meat on Fridays in Lent is an “important dimension of the penitential
nature of the season,” but he said Catholics in the archdiocese that day
would not be required to give up meat “given the many celebrations that
occur on this day,” which in the archdiocese also includes the
ordination of two auxiliary bishops that afternoon.
Catholics in the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis received a
letter in late February from Susan Mulheron, chancellor of canonical
affairs, saying the dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day had been issued
by Archbishop Bernard A. Hebda after consulting archdiocesan leaders.
She said the archbishop considered past practice and present
circumstances and decided the dispensation “would serve the common
“As a general rule, a request for a dispensation from the obligation
of abstinence on Fridays of Lent will not be considered unless some
serious reason is present,” she wrote, adding that St. Patrick’s Day has
“traditionally been an occasion for joy-filled celebrations in this
Archbishop Hebda hinted he might grant the dispensation when he spoke
at a Theology on Tap gathering Feb. 8 in St. Paul. When someone in the
crowd asked him about the possibility of eating meat on St. Patrick’s
Day, the archbishop asked for a show of hands of those who wanted to eat
corned beef to honor St. Patrick.
“When you get a dispensation — and I think it’s coming — you should
do penance on another occasion,” he told the crowd. “So, it’s like a
get-out-of-jail-free card, but you have to pay sometime.”