This year March 17 falls on a Friday. In Lent. It’s certainly a day to celebrate, as St. Patrick had a fearless apostolic courage in sharing the Gospel throughout today’s Ireland. And the Irish people greatly built up the Church in the United States, too. While St. Patrick’s liturgical commemoration is only a memorial most places outside of Ireland (like on the calendar here in the United States) meaning it’s not a feast or solemnity — the contributions of the Irish to the Catholic experience in the United States are widespread and numerous. St. Patrick is patron of several dioceses, schools, parishes and schools throughout the U.S.
So even if St. Patrick’s memorial is on a Lenten Friday this year, 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 additionally days of fasting, there are only eight such days. So is eating meat on a Friday of Lent — especially when it’s only a memorial that doesn’t take any liturgical precedence during Lent — just boil down to being a loophole to make it easy to ditch our Friday penance?
In ordinary circumstances for Catholics in the U.S. to eat meat on a Lenten Friday — thus avoiding the requirement of abstinence on Lenten Fridays — the local bishop needs to dispense of the obligation. There can be mitigating circumstances that necessitate eating meat on a Lenten Friday, such as travel or poverty.
Some bishops are, therefore, dispensing Catholics from abstinence from meat outright on March 17 this year. But some bishops are asking Catholics to observe a meatless day on another day ahead of St. Patrick’s Day, and others are asking for some kind of spiritual work to be taken up in lieu of abstaining from meat — such as attending Mass, praying the rosary or adoring the Lord in the Eucharist. Check your local diocese’s website or social media accounts to find out if such a dispensation applies for Catholics in your diocese.
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 spirit of St. Patrick’s faith and life of virtue, even if your bishop doesn’t beckon you to do so? Perhaps attend Mass? Perhaps take up an act of charity? Perhaps make some kind of contribution to a catechetical ministry? If you’re eating meat on March 17, somehow imitate the legacy of St. Patrick with thoughts, words and deeds before eating meat (as long as your bishops says it’s OK).