From a reader:
This year, the Annunciation to the Blessed Virgin Mary falls on a Friday. In the Extraordinary Form, it’s a first class feast. Meat would normally, therefore, be allowed (despite the Friday).
However, in the universal calendar (ordinary form), it’s a big-F Feast (analogous to a second class feast in the Extraordinary Form). This is not sufficient rank to waive the Lenten rules.
What to do? I’m not sure if it matters, but I pray the entire Extraordinary Form Divine Office, so I am more than a casual participant in the older form.
Notice that it is almost always about eating. This may be a reason why Paul VI, in his perhaps less than fully considered document Paenitemini attempted to get people to see “doing penance” in a fuller way.
This sort of question pops up during Lent every year, usually for the bizarre way in which people think St. Patrick’s feast day is to be celebrated. During Lent we usually have important feasts, such as St. Joseph and the Annunciation. This also arises concerning Sundays. Some will say that all Sundays are “little Easters” and therefore one should not fast, etc.
I think the best approach to maintain the discipline of the season. It is still possible to mark these days with good fare and yet maintain your Lenten discipline.
Consider it this way: if you have undertaken a solid project for your Lent, then a momentary relaxation will not ruin your discipline. That doesn’t mean “act as if it is not Lent”, even on those feast days.
There are always alternatives to eating flesh. There is no reason that you must have meat or dessert on a feast day. If you do, it doesn’t have to be something extravagant. A pear is a splendid dessert. You could also choose to have a steak, and omit a dessert if you normally eat one.
There are all sorts of choices you can make. For example: eat well, but don’t use the computer or turn on the television of radio for the entire day, visit someone who is shut in, for your nice meal invite someone who is alone. It is an Italian custom for the well-to-do to feed the poor on St. Joseph’s Day.
Also, people should have freedom to observe Lent in a manner which is fitting for them. I remember being upbraided for posting about having had a steak on Laetare Sunday when I was a guest at someone’s home. The nitwits had not a clue about other things I may have done that day and seemed not to know that the Church herself relaxes her Lenten stance for a moment that Sunday. We should be respectful of other people’s choices.
In the final analysis, there are all sorts of ways to fast and do penance during Lent. One of them – though a good one – involves food.
I will end with St. Jerome’s remark that “plenus uenter facile de ieiuniis disputat“, or, it is easy to talk about fasting when your stomach is full. This discussion becomes easier when people undertake a serious Lent.