From a reader:
Friday is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. I know that according to canon law, solemnities take precedence over any day of penance, at least in ordinary time. Are we still bound to abstinence from meat on March 19?
This sort of question comes up almost every year. At least we won’t have the irritating problem of the Feast of St. Patrick this year.
The 1983 Code of Canon Law states:
Canon 1251: "Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless (nisi) they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ."
Friday 19 March is the Solemnity of St. Joseph. Therefore, because of the solemnity, Friday Lenten abstinence is not required.
Of course you are not obliged not to abstain either. You can voluntarily abstain from meat on a solemnity if you choose.
We should take into consideration that in some places where there are people of Italian origin there is custom of preparing a free and open "table" dedicated especially for the poor. Such initiatives will often include dishes with meat. The Church’s law should put people at their ease that, were they to eat meat on the Solemnity of St. Joseph, they would not be breaking the Church’s law on abstinence on Fridays of Lent.
That said, on a personal note I will for at least part of Friday not eat an meat in public. I will be traveling during the day and if in the airport or on the plane I have the opportunity to grab a bite to eat, it will not include meat. I don’t want to have people looking at a priest eating a cheeseburger on a Friday of Lent (which is, coincidentally, when I usually crave a cheeseburger), even though it is a solemnity.
Remember: If you are in doubt, you can call your local chancery.
Canonist Ed Peters, who comments below, has an entry on his blog about this issue.