ASK FATHER: Parish fundraiser serves meat on 1st Fridays

GrilledT-BoneSteakFrom a reader…


Every First Friday, a neighboring parish hosts a fundraiser dinner at which they serve beef or chicken, except during Lent. Many of our friends (homeschooling families) are parishioners there and attend every month. We hear that it’s delicious fare and as I know who’s doing the cooking, I’m sure it is. Nonetheless, advertisements go out via email and social media a few days before and every month it drives me to distraction!
I know that my homeschooling friends, at least, are aware that every Friday is a day of penance and know they need to do an alternate penance if they don’t abstain from meat. So I don’t want to annoy them or present myself as holier-than-thou with such a reminder whenever posts about the dinner circulate. The parishioners there are remarkably committed to supporting the pastor, who is a good priest, but doesn’t get this.

This parish is in the United States. Unlike England and Wales, which has – God be praised – gone back to abstinence from meat on all Fridays of the year (except for Solemnities), the requirement to do penance on Fridays in these United States is fatally vague.

Catholics are required to do penance on all Fridays (except Solemnities). However, the US bishops have, for the most part, been anything but clear or forceful in teaching about Friday penance. Catholics in America are permitted to choose another penance other than abstinence from meat. This is entirely at the discretion of the individual. All that was heard, and remembered, from 1966 when the US bishops (with the approval of the Holy See) changed the requirement was, “We don’t have to eat fishsticks anymore!”

The USCCB, while permitting Catholics to choose other options, still recommends abstaining from meat on Fridays.  But you would never know it.

It is bad form for a Catholic parish to host a fundraising dinner which goes against the recommendations of the bishops’ conference.

Mind you, fundraising dinners are optional events. No one is required to go, and those who do are not obliged to eat meat.  Still, it sends a bad message about our commitment to our Catholic identity.

It puts people in an awkward position.  Do I support my parish and go to a beef dinner on Friday? Or do I follow the bishop’s recommendation and abstain from meat?

It would be better for the pastor to think the matter through and either switch to non-meat options or move the dinner to another night of the week.  Admittedly, that might cut into profits.  Even as we understand that parishes must be creative about raising money – because Catholics are generally not as good as our Protestant neighbors at supporting parishes – in the end, it’s the right thing to do.

Meanwhile, I have an ongoing POLL:

Should the US Bishops have us return to obligatory "meatless Fridays" during the whole year and not just during Lent?

View Results

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About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. ajf1984 says:

    The question, of course, becomes academic if the parish were to add a fish or vegetarian option to its menu. In Milwaukee (and I assume other parts of WI as well), the Friday Fish Fry is standard fare year-round, both at parishes and restaurants. Perhaps following that example would be a good compromise!

  2. rtjl says:

    Simple solution here. Add a non meat opton that can be had a reasoble price and meat options that can be had at a penitential price – say $40 for a hamburger, $50 for a chicken breast and $75.00 for steak.

  3. Andrew says:

    While many catholics are ever ready to question the prudence of fasting and abstinence (what good does it do?) Hollywood “stars” are never shy to publicize how they nearly starve themselves in order to present a slimmer figure for public admiration.

    Also, while many catholics scoff the elegance of certain liturgical vestments they are captivated by the excesses of Hollywood fashion paraded at so called ‘red carpet’ events.

    They also applaud “stars” who purchase castles in remote areas of Europe while they deride any cleric who lives in something elegant, even when it doesn’t belong to him.

    And diamond studded shoes worn by “entertainers” worth millions are greeted with “uhh ahh” while any cleric with red shoes costing about the price of the leather from which they were made … nuff said.

    Par pari refertur et invicem nobis videmur insanire.

  4. Imrahil says:

    It does seem, to the contrary, that the parish respects the regulations on penance (as presently in force). So, while abstaining even lacking the law is of course (generally) recommendable, it is not obligatory; and helping the parish, or even being present at parish events, is recommendable too (at least in general).

    So, it’s right to not eat meat on Fridays. But it would not be right to treat it now as sinful or banned when it isn’t – however right it may be to reintroduce the ban. (And I’m rather convinced it is – so, count me right in between option 1 and option 2 in the poll.)

    What is obligatory, if meat is eaten, is substitute penance. (The most foolproof way to do so is saying some prayer, e. g. a Litany of the Sorrows of Christ from some prayer book.)

    So I don’t want to annoy them or present myself as holier-than-thou with such a reminder whenever posts about the dinner circulate.

    Good idea (in my view – said, of course, without knowing the precise situation). Repeating known information may be counterproductive. That said if you insist to make sure, maybe you can go to Church to pray, say, the Sorrowful Mysteries together (though that’s distinctly more, I’d assume, than would be required for substitute penance in form of prayer) without having to mention it.

    I’m rather surprised, though, that a Fundraiser dinner on whatever day of the year has neither vegetarian nor fish alternative.

  5. Traductora says:

    The whole point of getting rid of meatless Fridays after Vatican II was not to make things easier or encourage more “genuine penance” among Catholics, but to remove a distinguishing sign of being Catholic. Not eating meat on a Friday is no big deal in terms of penances…after all, you can eat everything else, and it’s not like you’ve been held prisoner and starved for a month and then offered this one option, meat, on a Friday.

    But it was something that was distinctive, and when you went out to eat on a Friday, you would covertly watch to see who ate meat and who didn’t so you could see if there were any fellow-Catholics there. Of course, other people used to watch, too. I had a friend who grew up in a city in Pennsylvania (perhaps Pittsburgh?) in the 1950s, and she said that the only food “tradition” there was eating bacon on Fridays…probably so you could prove you were neither Jewish nor Catholic!

    Much of the motivation for changes in the US Church, ranging from meatless Fridays to the liturgy, was because there was a feeling that this would ingratiate us with Protestants and not make Catholics stand out. Bring back meatless Fridays.

  6. Patti Day says:

    About 5 years ago, when I was newly returned after many years away from the church, a group got together for a spontaneous lunch after the noon Mass on Friday. The restaurant featured grilled fresh fish, so it was no penance but a pleasure to order fish. I hadn’t paid attention to who ordered what, so when the server placed father’s eight-oz. bacon cheeseburger in front of him, I almost fell off my chair. Bring back meatless Fridays.

  7. Dr. Edward Peters says:

    I have long, long, been in favor of reinstituting meatless Fridays as a matter of LAW (for a million reasons, none but one of which is satisfied my observing abstention a personal practice), but, unless and until they are so required, when I am invited to, or just feel like, eating red meat on Fridays (outside of Lent)–and making sure to honor what the law does so minimally call for nowadays, some act of penance–may response is “Please pass the steak sauce.”

  8. Geoffrey says:

    I voted “Yes, and I think this is very important.” If the Dioceses of England and Wales have done it, why can’t the U.S.?

  9. Jack007 says:

    Sorry, but I’m not a huge fan of meatless Fridays.
    It just so happens that for many working folks, Friday night is the social outing night of the week. Sat night often is an early night, kids, early Mass, etc…
    No meat is simply an annoyance to me. No big deal. But when I have to constantly advise friends that I can’t make it or have dietary concerns, that’s where I draw the line.
    The whole idea of meatless Fridays as a penance is a beautiful tradition, but not nearly as relevant in today’s world. Eating meat is not the luxury or delight it was in medieval times. I know tons of people, especially YOUNG people, who eat almost NO meat, period.
    A far more relevant penitential practice might well be, no social media on Fridays! See how THAT would play? LOL
    Jack in KC

  10. Ed the Roman says:

    Duck? Alligator?

  11. mamamagistra says:

    For an individual or even a family to opt for an optional penance is one thing, but it’s just not Catholic for a parish to encourage eating meat on a Friday. Selling hot dogs at Friday night CYO basketball games has got to go, too!

    Having fish or vegetarian choices in addition to beef or chicken is only a little bit better — especially if the flyer for the fundraiser dinner in the bulletin doesn’t have a reminder / little bit of catechesis about Friday penance. Now that $75 steak sounds like a win-win situation, at least until the bishops straighten up their act.

  12. acardnal says:

    If some find that forsaking meat on Fridays is inconvenient or disagreeable or not pleasant, good! That’s why it’s considered a penance and a sacrifice. It’s not suppose to be easy!

    It’s important to remember that just because one’s sins have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance or by making an Act of Contrition or some other devotional act, the punishment due to those sins – including venial sin – must still be remitted either in this life or in Purgatory. I’d rather do my penance here on earth.

  13. Blaise says:

    Interestingly the bishops conference of England and Wales issued a statement clarifying that Catholics were not required to abstain from meat on the Friday after Christmas (boxing day this year). I understand this ranks as a Feast rather than solemnity but presume the same will now also apply on Easter Friday.
    I am surprised if they don’t offer a non-meat option even but agree that really it would be better if they made it non-meat altogether.

  14. APX says:

    Those who complain about how fundraiser dinners are planned and organized should plan and organize one themselves. It’s a lot of work, especially with keeping overhead costs down. Maybe someone donated steak and that’s what they have, and Friday is the night that will draw the most people, thus raise the most money, or the only night they could get the venue.

  15. JARay says:

    It was a cousin of mine who got me back into the way of sticking to the old rule of “no meat on a Friday”. We here in Australia follow the same ‘non-observance’ of meatless Fridays as you do in the USA. I have several times had to make a stand on this issue in my own parish when they hold parish events like a social evening on a Friday in a local restaurant. I have had to insist that a fish dish is offered as well as all the meat dishes or I would pointedly refuse to attend. This issue is coming up again in February with the celebration of Chinese New Year in a local, very good, Chinese restaurant and only meat dishes are on offer at the moment! It is intended to have a parish gathering for this event on Friday the 13th at this restaurant. At this moment I am refusing to attend.

  16. Mary Jane says:

    Jack007, you can certainly substitute “no social media” instead of “no meat” for your Fridays-outside-of-Lent penance. :)

  17. Traductora says:

    Actually, it just dawned on me that our parish has its parish carnival during Lent, something I have always found objectionable. They do it because it’s cheaper to get the carnies.

    We don’t have a simple parish carnival. Parish organizations do some of the organizing, but mostly we hire a carnival company and we make a lot of money because the county fair was cancelled a couple of years ago. So now we’re the only group with prison-tattooed carnies, paintings on the rides that are so bad that one year the new bishop requested that they be covered up, and virtually no parish participation other than buying raffle tickets. And of course nothing but meat on Fridays.

    This is not uncommon. Our bishop is very good and he inherited this, but the money goes to the parish school so he hasn’t wanted to interfere. That part of it is fine. but surely there must be some way of making things a little tiny bit more Catholic.

  18. We here in Australia follow the same ‘non-observance’ of meatless Fridays as you do in the USA. I have several times had to make a stand on this issue in my own parish when they hold parish events like a social evening on a Friday in a local restaurant. I have had to insist that a fish dish is offered as well as all the meat dishes or I would pointedly refuse to attend.

    I’m curious. Have they ever just gone ahead without you? To me, it gets back to St Paul and the scrupulous giving way to the non-scrupulous (Romans 14:1-12). Also, good manners.

    On a lighter note,I’m amazed that anyone these days gets away with any solely-meat function of any kind, because every second person I know seems to be vegan, vegetarian, piscaterian, ovo-lacto-piscaterian, vegetarian-when-the-moon-is-waxing, etc.

  19. xylkatie says:

    I thought the reason to allow meat the day after Christmas (when if falls on a Friday) was to make better use of leftovers. You aren’t eating a new meal, you are eating the scraps from the day before. [Traditionally, the day before feasts are days of fasting! That’s what a VIGIL is all about: self-denial in preparation. Traditionally, Catholics ate fish on the Eve of Christmas. No meaty scraps.] (The pope is known to be an advocate of eating leftovers: “throwing away food is like stealing from the table of those who are poor and hungry”.)

  20. LuisaP says:

    My husband (a professional man) and I have been to many a function on a Friday where only meat is offered. We just say: We don’t eat meat on Friday. If there is no alternative available, we just eat what we can..which makes it a decent little penance, doesn’t it ? Who says we need three squares EVERY day – especially in the US of A. Bon Appetit !

  21. Gerard Plourde says:

    I think that the decision of the bishops to make us engage in a conscious practice of penance in memory of the Sacrifice that redeemed the world is a good thing. While being required to refrain from eating the meat of mammals, reptiles and birds made us culturally identifiable and became habitual, the fact is that many aquatic meat dishes are far from penitential – for example, lobster with drawn butter, a grilled salmon steak, sushi dishes, or even shrimp Scampi. Certainly the popularity in the primarily Protestant U.K. of take-away fish and chips purveyors is strong evidence that this choice is pleasurable rather than a burden.

  22. Mac_in_Alberta says:

    I don’t think the Canadian bishops (and as a Canadian I won’t comment on what the American bishops should or should not do) should make meatless Fridays compulsory. I am selfish about this: I think I am gaining more by voluntary abstinence.

  23. Tony Phillips says:

    Just a reality check on meatless Fridays here in England. I’d wager that the vast majority of the folks in the pews–and most Catholics here aren’t even in the pews–know nothing about it. The bishops’ decision was read out with embarassment in the parishes and hasn’t been mentioned since. When parents were planning the post-Confirmation gathering in the parish hall last year, sausage rolls and chicken thingies were already on the menu before someone observed that the Confirmation was being held on a Friday. Puzzled comments from the other parents followed: ‘I thought they’d done away with that years ago’–that sort of thing. Finally the deacon made an ‘executive decision’: it’s a celebration, we can suspend the rule (which hardly anyone knew about anyway). The bishop didn’t seem to mind, when he was there. Maybe he was just being polite, or pastoral, but I doubt it.

    I’m in favour of penance in principle (actually doing it is a bit of a struggle), but when it comes to this Friday thing the phrase about horses and barn doors comes to mind. There’s an awful lot the bishops could do to improve Catholic life in England–like banning the ubiquitous 10 am parish daily Mass and insisting Mass be celebrated at times that students and working people can actually attend, or like encouraging kneeling at communion, etc, etc–but restoration of Friday abstinence has done nothing. I find it annoying because I see leftovers go to waste–I’ve got the fag end of a very nice pork pie someone brought down on Boxing day, I’ve been nibbling at it every day and it’s probably got one day’s life in it before the mould sprouts on it, but I can’t eat it today. So tomorrow it’ll go in the bin. That bothers me.

    It would have meant a lot more if the bishops had announced that they (and perhaps the rest of the clergy?) were going to abstain from meat and from luxury fish/shellfish on Fridays in reparation for the hierarchy’s failure to curb child molestation in their ranks, and to INVITE the laity to join them. Always nicer to lead by example than by executive fiat.

  24. asperges says:

    Before the bishops of England and Wales reimposed the meatless Fridays a couple of years ago, most Catholics did nothing and the whole subject of Friday penance was largely relegated to history. Since its reimposition, it is, frankly, often an annoyance to observe it.

    Whether fish dishes are nicer than meat or social events happen on Fridays is irrelevant. I find it a nuisance and for that I am grateful. It does me good to be put out and inconvenienced once a week. I am a Catholic and that – and what stands for – should mean everything.

  25. Tony Phillips says:

    I just hate to see a good pork pie go to waste.

  26. JARay says:

    @Tony Phillips…a good pork pie will certainly last until the following day!!!It would never go to waste with me!

  27. LuisaP says:

    to Asperges……. exactly so ! the Friday Abstinence is a mild penance and is intended to be so. A more rigorous ‘food’ penance would be of fasting entirely from a meal. To merely obey a directive of Mother Church is penance enough. After all…….consider the Original Sin – it was about obedience, wasn’t it ? All sorts of other delicious things in the Garden were allowed; it was the bending of the will that counted….. as meaningless as the directive might have seemed. I would kindly recommend this thought to Mac in Alberta

  28. dr.avila says:

    from Blaise above: the bishops conference of England and Wales issued a statement clarifying that Catholics were not required to abstain from meat on the Friday after Christmas

    During the octave of Christmas (also Easter and Pentecost) all 8 days of the octave are considered the same as Sunday (a solemnity). Therefore, no penances and meat is allowed. So any Friday after Christmas which falls within the octave would be a bacon-friendly Friday. Fr. Z, please correct me if I am wrong.

  29. Sonshine135 says:

    My wife and I are going to make a concerted effort to return to meatless Fridays this year. We have also fallen into that trap of “doing penance so eat what you want” where penance equals whatever. Furthermore, I think it is another example of where we are losing our Catholic identity.

  30. Giuseppe says:

    When we were kids, we had pizza at school on Fridays and then pizza for dinner at home. I had no idea there was anything penitential about ‘no meat on Fridays’ back then, as 2-pizza days were the highlight of the week for kids. We are a family of fish and shellfish allergies, so pizza was standard Friday fare and not fish.

  31. Indulgentiam says:

    Tony Phillips says:It would have meant a lot more if the bishops had announced that they (and perhaps the rest of the clergy?) were going to abstain from meat and from luxury fish/shellfish on Fridays in reparation for the hierarchy’s failure to curb child molestation in their ranks, and to INVITE the laity to join them. Always nicer to lead by example than by executive fiat.”
    Wow, why so bitter over a little penance? And it is little. One day a week. Being from the south I love pie more than most folks. Put anything in pie and I’ll be the first to fall in love with it. But even I prefer the good of my soul over pie.
    And Priests do more penance, for we ungrateful souls, than anyone will ever know in this life. Praying the Breviary, hearing confessions, saying endless Masses for dearly departed etc… Working like slaves to keep a blog going. Not cuz they don’t have anything else to do, heaven knows, but b/c the sheep came to him and keep coming for guidance and answers they get no where else. So how bout you let Priests enjoy a little of what we take for granted every day. I find it sadly hypocritical that someone who whines about having to do a tiny penance should then cast aspersions on men who’ve dedicated their lives to the service of others.
    Btw nothing precludes any of us from doing penance for the outrageous insults to GOD. Be they the abuse scandal or the daily abuses we all commit.

  32. Mary Jane says:

    Ok…with respect to leftovers. Yes I am sometimes disappointed that I can’t eat a yummy Thursday-night’s meaty leftover on Friday, but that’s why its called a penance, no?

    I don’t understand the “I don’t like meatless Fridays because my leftovers will go to waste” point. If you plan a little bit, the leftovers will be there (and won’t be spoiled) for eating the next day.

  33. Thorfinn says:

    “We have also fallen into that trap of “doing penance so eat what you want” where penance equals whatever.”

    And whatever usually = nothing if you’re like me and struggle to even remember what day of the week it is.

    I only recently realized there was any requirement at all. How many churchgoing Catholics do you think know? 1% – take the over or under?

  34. To echo what Dr. Peter’s said, the desire for a different law notwithstanding, the current law is the law. I think it’s a good idea for parishes to foster no-meat-on-Fridays; for example, when I was in a parish with a school, we did that with the school lunches. I never heard any comments about that change. And this is something any of us can do with our own lives and our own example.

    As someone noted, one can always go to the fundraiser and skip the meat. That’s penitential. Or you can take it home and eat it the next day — no waste.

    On the other hand, there is the perennial problem of being too naggy or too much of a pill about these things. So for example, my view has been that if you are a guest of someone, and meat is put in front of you when you are abstaining, it’s not a compromise of your principles if you go ahead and eat the meat. What else are you going to do? Make trouble for your gracious host? Make him or her feel badly for not knowing enough about your religion — or even his or her own? For being thoughtless? Better, I think, to pick another day, and abstain from meat then. And in the meantime, enjoy the meal you are given, with a clear conscience.

  35. Giuseppe says:

    Father Fox, wise advice all around. I once confessed that I had absentmindedly eaten meat on Friday. The priest said, “Don’t let it happen again — but if it does, abstain the next day.” And my penance that day was 3 Our Fathers, and to abstain from meat for the next 24 hours.

    That priest also had creative penances. Once, when I confessed something that happened while intoxicated, my penance was 3 Our Fathers, 3 Hail Marys, and no alcohol for a month. My local bartender thought I had been kidnapped.

  36. Indulgentiam says:

    Perhaps Fr. Fox it could also be viewed as a good opportunity for evangelization? I don’t actively look for opportunities to evangelize. That’s probably a bad thing. But between homeschooling and cleaning houses for a living I don’t often get much chance to talk to folks. Usually folks just want to talk to me about how far behind their toilet they want me to clean :)
    But when I use to work in a professional setting many times I was offered meat on Fridays either at a luncheon or party. When one politely declines you’d be amazed at the great conversations that can ensue. Most folks I’ve met are just curious about what Catholics believe. I’ve had the joy of clearing up a few misconceptions and it all started with saying hold the meat please. I hope you don’t think me out of line here Father.

  37. Indulgentiam said:

    “I hope you don’t think me out of line here Father.”

    There’s no way I can know or say whether you’re out of line. I don’t know how you handle those situations, so I make no judgment.

    Every situation is different; and some people can pull off things that no one else can.

    All I’m saying is that, many times, folks (not necessarily you, who can say?) think they are doing the Lord’s work, and what they do is — as I said — make their gracious, kindhearted hosts feel badly. And they put themselves at the center. When those things happen, I think that’s not good.

  38. In the old days some Catholics may indeed have practiced penance by eating fish sticks instead of steaks on Friday. On the other had, just as many may taken meatless Fridays as an occasion to enjoy lobster thermidor instead of meat loaf. But in any event, I doubt the principal benefit of Friday abstinence was penitence or personal spiritual. No, it’s important (and perhaps irreplaceable) contribution to Catholic life was as a uniform symbol of Catholic identity, one shared by all Catholics, whether good, bad, or indifferent.

  39. Imrahil says:

    By the way, I think I remember that back in the day when there was no general “substitute penance” (and when, of course, there were much more days of fasting in its technical sense), the old casuists used to say that fasting and abstinence cease when invited to the table of another.

    As to the Friday social night, I think complying to the no-meat rule is not overly hard if you may eat fish, may eat quite tasty and saturating vegetarian dishes, are allowed to drink alcoholic beverages, to go to dance, to visit cinemas, etc. Msgr Knox already called the rule “a mere gesture as it were”.

    Still, if I am invited to a barbecue party and it’s not Good Friday, I’ll go, under present legislation, for the substitute penance. And I’ll think about what to do if that new possibility ceases when it does cease.

  40. Imrahil says:

    Also, just as a general idea, if invited to non-Catholic or non-practicing hosts, I’d be very hesitant to make the Catholic faith appear as a reason for additional inconveniences to them.

  41. Gerard Plourde says:

    Henry Edwards,

    Your point is well-taken. There is much to be said for a practice that, while not strictly viewed by the practioners as penitential, strengthens the group’s cohesion and identifiability. Here in the U.S., where virulent anti-Catholicism was the norm from the 17th through the early 20th centuries, the practice may have helped neighbors recognize that Catholics were just like them and not mindless servants of the Antichrist (as the pope was all too often portrayed by even mainstream Protestant ministers).

  42. Latin Mass Type says:

    In my corner of the world even secular organizations offer a meatless option for luncheons or dinners. And not just on Friday. They call it “vegetarian” or “vegan”. And now I think they are also heading towards the “gluten free” option!

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