ASK FATHER: St. Patrick’s Day 2017 on Friday in Lent

st patricks day choicesFrom a reader…


I am responsible for a brunch which is served after the Saint Patrick’s Day Mass at the Cathedral in my Archdiocese. This year, Saint Patrick falls on a Friday of Lent. I believe this means I should offer only meatless options, but I keep getting told that there is some type of dispensation for Saint Patrick’s feast.

As far as I can tell, the only dispensation from abstinence on Fridays during Lent is if a Solemnity were to fall on that day. On the General Roman Calendar, Saint Patrick is a Memorial. He gets a Solemnity on some national calendars (Ireland, I think maybe Australia). And I suppose he would also be celebrated as a Solemnity in a diocese where he is the principal patron, but only if that is officially designated.

Neither applies to many places in these United States

Am I missing anything here? I am sure I am not the only person facing this question, and this (I think) misinformation about how to handle it.

This year the feast of St. Patrick lands on a Friday in Lent.  Catholics are obliged to do penance on all Fridays of the year, and in particular during Lent.

First, can I just say that the way St. Patrick’s Day, like St. Valentine’s Day, is generally observed is appalling?  Hence, I do not think the Church ought to cave in when it comes to how it is generally celebrated.  So there.

To your point, these days I am not sure that the laws of Friday or Lenten penance mean anything any more.  Of course they do, don’t get me wrong.  It’s just that for a very long time now the Church’s pastors have done little or nothing to teach people about the need for penances.  Doing penance has fallen into desuetude.  Couple that with an anti-nomian spirit sweeping through society and we have a serious problem.

As you point out, the Church’s law requires that Catholic do penance on Fridays that are not liturgical Solemnities.  It can be argued that if the Friday is also a feast of a patronal saint of a place, then we can be dispensed from doing penance.

Also, remember that we can substitute one way of doing penance for abstinence from meat on most Fridays.  For example, instead of abstaining from eating meat (the common way of doing penance which the Church has designated since days of yore) we can, most Fridays of the year, not use the internet or turn on the television or abstain from other foods or drinks or activities, etc.  However, some conferences of bishops, such as in these USA, have determined that in Lent the obligation of doing penance on Fridays is fulfilled by abstinence from meat.  That wasn’t relaxed with the substitution option.  On Fridays of Lent, in these USA, Catholics are obliged to do their Friday penance by abstaining from meat.

Keeping that in mind, our pastors of our parishes can dispense from penance.  So can the local bishop.  That brings me to the next point about Friday penance in Lent, which includes abstinence.

You need to check with your local diocese to find out if your local bishop has dispensed his subjects (and others visiting the diocese) from the obligation to do penance on Friday, 17 March, the Feast of St. Patrick by abstaining from meat.  Many bishops in these USA do this.

In the decree of dispensation from abstain from meat on that particular Friday in Lent, usually published in the local diocesan newspaper or website, will generally also add language about celebrating the feast “with moderation and temperance”, which all Catholics are sure to observe – no doubt.  We are also admonished to perform works of charity, always a good idea.  Without question that’s what Catholics will do on Friday 19 March.

There is no blanket dispensation in force automatically for St. Patrick’s day in most places.  It must be given by each bishop in his own diocese.

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Imrahil says:

    But as for what our vegan friends these days like to remind us…

    gelatine (as in: used to filter a Guinness) does not count as meat, right?

    St. Patrick’s can be perfectly celebrated with vegetarian and fish servings, Guinness ale, maybe an Irish whiskey, and Irish music.

    Of course, we might find it difficult to follow the one-meal-two-collations-rule in a big celebration, but after all that isn’t any longer anything more than only a possible personal discipline which may have personal dispensations, except for Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

    But what would we need meat for?

    (non-Irishman speaking here)

  2. Matthew says:

    Every year on St. Patrick’s day my beloved mother, God rest her soul, would make corned beef and cabbage.
    My mother learned to cook from the Third Armored Division as far as we can tell.

    We longed for a meatless St. Pat’s.

  3. Andrew says:

    Valde absurdum est, nimia saturitate velle honorare sanctum, quem scias Deo placuisse jejuniis. (Hieronymus)

    Fr. Z's Gold Star Award

  4. bushboar says:

    ALL of my diocese’s bishops, dating back to its inception in 1886, have been Irish. Not coincidentally, for as long as anyone can remember they’ve granted this dispensation when the feast of St. Patrick falls on a Friday during Lent.

  5. Spade says:

    Plenty of good Irish dishes made with fish. More Irish than corned beef, which isn’t Irish at all.

  6. Imrahil says:

    Well, dear Andrew and not commenting on the fact that St. Patrick happens to fall into Lent while other saints don’t,

    in this one-sidedness, as St. Thomas would formulate it, “St. Jerome goes too far”. (I don’t know if this would have been St. Thomas’s opinion, though I suspect it would, but it certainly was St. Theresia’s opinion.)

  7. Grabski says:

    Ironically this question never arises over St Joseph Day on March 19

  8. Jim R says:

    Having grown up in Boston, where St. Patrick is archdiocesan patron saint, nonetheless the archbishop decreed a dispensation whenever this happened…even in the old days of the fast. I always thought the dispensation had to be granted even for patron saints. Perhaps not? But, I can see how many thought there was a general dispensation for March 17 given the number of arch/dioceses that have St. Padraig as their patron.

    BTW did you know that March 17 is a legal holiday in Suffolk County, MA? It just so happens that the British evacuated Boston on March 17 during the Revolution – Evacuation Day. So the Evacuation Day Parade celebrates driving the British out of Boston. LOL God really does have a sense of humor. BTW it’s another Monday holiday now. Erin go bragh.

  9. MrTipsNZ says:

    It would seem that modern celebrations of St Patricks, within and without the Church, are a pretty accurate indication of how far the once strong Irish nation and Church have fallen.

    May they repent, convert and become what they were once again.

  10. Fr. Vincent Fitzpatrick says:

    Before the Manhattan parade became the March 17th Gay Pride Parade, there was, and is, the LGBT parade in Queens, which the locals call “Erin Go Braless.”

  11. ChesterFrank says:

    I have never met someone Irish who liked corned beef, but still an exception has always been made for St Patrick’s day when it falls on a Friday of lent. While some object to the way that the holiday is celebrated, I am still glad that it is a big celebration because it acknowledges a saint’s day. Even if only while tossing a pint down. With the way things are going I do wonder how many years this day has left as the grand celebration it was.

  12. Stephen Matthew says:

    My home parish is celebrating St. Patrick’s day with a gala fundraising dinner to benefit the parish school. The meal will consist of an all-you-can-eat fish fry. The all you can eat fish fry as a form of penance in Lent is mockery of any notion of genuine fasting or abstinence. Fundraising galas, no matter how worthy the cause, on a Friday in Lent means we are only playing at being Catholic at this point.

  13. ocsousn says:

    Dear Grabski, St. Joseph’s Day never comes up because it, like the Annunciation, is a Solemnity that almost always falls during Lent. In addition, in Italy and other countries it has traditionally been a Holy Day of Obligation. That’s why the “St. Joseph’s Table” has never been in conflict with Lent. As Fr. Z explained, there is no lenten observance on Solemnities. Outside of Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day is only a Solemnity in those places where he is the Principal Patron. In Ireland I believe that St. Patrick’s Day is still a Holy Day of Obligation . Under the old Code and even before 1917 the fasting and abstinence were suspended on Holy Days of Obligation. Hence the expectation among the Irish of a dispensation on 17 March.

  14. Lucas Whittaker says:

    @Andrew: You found the perfect expression! It would be funny if this was not a crisis. Latin is wonderful . . .

  15. Charivari Rob says:

    Father Z, Jim R – Boston can go one better than the Saint Patrick’s Day on Friday in Lent scenario.

    Jim, perhaps you remember the case a few years ago – the perfect calendar storm that put the Red Sox home opener on Good Friday. Folks asked for dispensation so they could have their ballpark hot dogs!

    I don’t have Father Z’s linguist cred, but translating from Cardinal Sean’s measured, sonorous, diplomatic bishop-speak to my formative NJ dialect, the reply was something along the lines of “You’ve got to be effing kidding me!!!”

  16. Maynardus says:

    @ Jim R (and anyone else who’s interested:

    The story I always heard about the Evacuation Day/St. Patrick’s Day holiday in Boston and thereabouts was this: around the turn of the (XX) century the Irish in Boston were coming into their asecendancy, opposed (of course) by not only the Brahmin elite but also the rest of the Yankee/WASP establishment. Knowing the pride which the scions of the old Massachusetts families took in their connections to the Revolution, the Irish pols cannily introduced legislation to make March 17th a holiday – as “Evacuation Day” rather than “St. Patrick’s Day” – in Boston under the assumption that none of the Old Yankees in power would dare to oppose it. Apparently they were correct, as it has been a civic holiday in the city for over a century…

    Perhaps the latter-day perversion of the St. Patrick’s Day parade is some sort of belated revenge against the Catholic sons of Erin ;-)

  17. Lucas Whittaker says:

    @Andrew: Would the two sentences that follow the one that you quoted be yet better “personal” advice: “Ita tibi semper comedendum est, ut cibum et oratio sequatur, et lectio. Quod si aliquibus displicet, Apostoli verba cantato: Si adhuc hominibus placerem, Christi ancilla non essem.”

    Thank you for pointing me toward that document in Latin! I will have to order some CDs some day soon. I miss out on the hearing that happens in a classroom setting.

    Dominus sit in corde tuo

  18. Suburbanbanshee says:

    Re: corned beef and the Irish, I would refer the interested to Darina Allen’s magisterial work, Irish Traditional Cooking. There you will learn how to corn beef the Irish way, and learn why many younger Irish cooks don’t know anything about the corned beef of yore.

    Her book is full of not only recipes, but pictures and instructions on how to deal with every sort of traditional Irish foodstuff, from seaweed to foraged greens, and from soda bread to elaborate desserts. Lots of local fish and seafood dishes too, although unfortunately we don’t have most of those in America. There is also a deep discussion of potatoes, and what Irish people like about them.

    The only thing that is better is seeing a video of her teaching. I recently caught her on a segment of PBS show about a cook visiting Ireland. In about five seconds, I learned more about how to mix soda bread with my hands than I had gotten from any of the books or videos I’ve seen before.

    (Because the trick is to mix the ingredients without losing the soda’s lifting power, and it seems like touching the batter at all is overworking it. She mixed the dough with one hand, basically just using the curve of a hand to push or slap it together. Weird to see, but I think I get it now. Also, it is obvious that real buttermilk is vastly superior in soda reaction to the fake buttermilk we get in stores.)

  19. bwfackler says:

    Days of obligation were specifically not exempted from fasting and abstinence during lent under the 1917 code of canon law
    Canon 1252.4. On Sundays or feasts of precept, the law of abstinence or of abstinence and fast or a fast only ceases, except during Lent, nor is the vigil anticipated; likewise it ceases on Holy Saturday afternoon.

  20. jaykay says:

    suburbanbanshee: you’re right, and thanks for the h/t to Darina, who is in a league of her own. However, I think there is sometimes a bit of confusion as to terms. In Ireland, we have “spiced beef”, which was the traditional dish for Christmas, and it wasn’t referred to as “corned beef”, which over here connotes an entirely different and inferior product, usually canned, something like Spam (of Python fame). I used to loathe it as a kid and have never knowingly eaten it since – at least while sober. However traditional spiced beef has undergone a resurgence in popularity in recent years, again thanks to writers like Darina. Here’s a good recipe (and much more!):

    And while we over here have, sadly, perpetrated many outrages in recent years around this feast (MrTipsNZ above is right) at least we never commit the obscenity of referring to it as “St. Patty’s Day”. A patty is something one associates with bovines. Although, hmmm…. :)

  21. Imrahil says:

    Dear bmfackler,

    while what you say is true, what you quote is incomplete: The canon in question had:

    On Sundays or feasts of precept, the law be it of abstinence, or be it of abstinence and fast at the same time, or be it of fast only, ceases, except on a feast during Lent; nor is the vigil anticipated [i. e. when the vigil used to be anticipated on the immediately preceding Saturday, liturgically, the otherwise usual fast is not anticipated together with it]; likewise it ceases on Holy Saturday afternoon.

    The point being that while, as you say, the law did not exempt feasts of precept, it did exempt Sundays (which is why the days between Ash Wednesday and the following Sunday were introduced in the first place).

  22. frjim4321 says:

    I believe it is dispensed in the entire province.

    [That could be, but each individual diocesan bishop must issue his own decree.]

  23. ocsousn says:

    Thanks for the clarification on the 1917 Code. This is what happens when one posts without checking his sources. On a more pastoral note, I agree with Fr. Z. on the seriousness of our modern abandonment of self denial as a normal part of every day Catholic life. Prayer, fasten and works of mercy are the three fundamental acts of the practice of religion. Remove any one and the tripod falls over.

  24. ocsousn says:

    Sorry, thats prayer, FASTING, and words of mercy…

  25. seeker says:

    Salmon would be far better than corned beef for an authentic Irish meal, as would going hungry on a Friday in Lent. I’m from Staten “Ireland”, New York; we always got dispensations when the Great Day fell on a Friday in Lent. The bigger issue than meat was drink. Since the men traditionally gave up drinking for Lent and the women sweets, that dispensation was the one that counted.
    You can’t fast on a feast day.

  26. ASPM Sem says:

    In the Archdiocese of St. Paul/Minneapolis:

    “A general dispensation has been granted from Archbishop Hebda from the obligation of abstinence from meat on March 17, 2017, the Commemoration of Saint Patrick.
    Those taking advantage of the dispensation, however, are exhorted to undertake a work of charity, an exercise of piety, or an act of comparable penance on some other occasion during the Second Week of Lent.”

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