March 25 is a day to celebrate! It’s the solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord — the day of the archangel Gabriel’s announcement to Mary, upon which she sang her “fiat” and conceived Christ in her womb by the power of the Holy Spirit. It’s the day on which our redeemer took on human flesh so that he might become like us in all things but sin — to die on the cross to win our salvation. It’s one of the most important days on the Church’s calendar.
This year, the Annunciation falls on a Friday in Lent. Can we still celebrate? What about the penances we’ve taken upon ourselves for the season? And no meat, right?
Looking at the calendar, the days of obligatory abstinence from meat for Catholics in the United States are very few. Counting Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, which are also days of fasting, there are only eight such days. So is eating meat on a Friday of Lent—even if a solemnity—just a loophole that makes it easy to ditch the penance?
No. The Church encourages us to take up the celebration of solemnities, the highest ranking of feasts on the Church’s calendar, which also take precedence over all else, even the obligations of our penitential season. This means that, in the expectation that our lives are meant to be lived liturgically, we are encouraged to set aside Lenten penances on solemnities, in a spirit of true joy, celebration and thanksgiving. Which is the case for March 25, the day on which we celebrate the Lord’s incarnation. The Church’s Code of Canon Law explains that Friday abstinence from meat is not observed when a solemnity falls on a Friday (see Can. 1251).
So, if we are living liturgically, we have reason to celebrate (of course, while avoiding gluttony). As Catholics, we celebrate in the true spirit of the day. It’s OK — even fitting and right — to set aside Lenten penances for a day so that you can take the opportunity to celebrate this pivotal day in salvation history.
And since Lent is really just as much an opportunity for doing more as it is giving things up, perhaps you can live in the joy of the Lord’s Annunciation by doing something to celebrate as a Catholic? Nothing more so than by going to Mass, right? On such a day of solemnity and rejoicing, the Church even gives up its liturgical penance of not reciting or singing the Gloria. And, sure, feel free to eat meat, too.
Michael R. Heinlein is editor of OSV’s Simply Catholic. He writes from Indiana.