It’s not the start of a joke, but a question being asked in Catholic communities around the country.
When a feast day like St. Patrick’s, falls on a Lenten Friday, can you still eat corned beef and cabbage?
In 2017, the answer to the nation’s more than 69 million Catholics is most likely "Yes."
Canon law once called for the faithful of the Catholic Church to refrain from eating meat on Fridays. The act of penance was done in remembrance of the day Jesus was crucified, and it was followed for centuries by Catholics around the world.
In the 1960s, the church decided that bishops in individual archdioceses could take a look at the issue and decide for themselves if they wanted their congregants to have the option of eating meat on Fridays.
Many decided that abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent – the season between Ash Wednesday and Easter, when Christians observe a time of fasting and self-denial – was sufficient, and dropped the requirement to give up meat on Fridays during the rest of the year.
This year, however, Catholics who observe the tradition are running into something of a scheduling conflict.
Friday is St. Patrick’s Day. In addition to wearing green and hoisting a pint, the day is designated as a feast day on the Catholic Church’s liturgical calendar. A feast day in the church is celebrated with a feast, and included in most feasts is meat.
That’s where the problem – or, in the case of Catholics, the mortal sin – rests.
According to a story from the Catholic News Agency, more than 80 dioceses across the nation are offering congregants dispensation for the day, saying that if they want to eat a traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner, the church will look the other way for that one day.
These dioceses, along with others across the country, have approved the eating of meat on St. Patrick’s Day: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Philadelphia, Minneapolis-St. Paul and San Francisco. The Archdiocese of the Military Services is also offering dispensation.
Other archdioceses are asking members to abstain from meat on Saturday if they choose to feast on Friday.
Congregants are advised to check with their parishes to see what the policy is for Friday. As of Thursday, only two dioceses, the Archdiocese of Denver and the Diocese of Lincoln, Nebraska, have said that they will not grant dispensations, according to the Catholic News Agency story.
About half of the country’s dioceses granted dispensations the last time St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday in 2006.