Some Iowa members of the Catholic church face a rare dilemma, caused by the calendar. Monsignor James Barta in the Dubuque Diocese explains that during Lent, a time of penance leading up to the holiday of Easter, many families forgo eating meat on Fridays.
Traditionally years ago, all Fridays were days of abstinence from meat. For many families, the tradition’s continued, of eating fish on Fridays. While it remains an act of religious penance, he says it’s not such a sacrifice: “I have to admit, I like fish, and eggs and cheese and all those things, so Meatless Friday’s not much penance for me.” Still, there’s one date when many Irish Catholics have a very special meal — their Saint Patrick’s day dinner of corned beef and cabbage.
But this year, St-Pat’s falls…on a Friday, one week from today. “Going without meat on a Friday is a man-made rule,” Barta says. “This was not carved in stone in the ten Commandments given to Moses.” Since it is made by human beings, he says, an exemption can also be made to the rule by human beings.
The Monsignor explains each Bishop tries to make a wise decision about what would be good for the souls in his area, as he puts it, “It’s a territorial thing, it goes by diocese, it goes by Bishops.” While it may not be one of the year’s most weighty decisions, parish leaders agree they’ve been hearing the question a lot and Barta says it shows people are thinking about their religious obligations.
“What’s the alternative? Not givin’ two hoots about anything?” he asks with a chuckle. “Well, better this than nothing.” Dubuque Archbishop Jerome Hanus declined to issue a general dispensation, so people will have to make their own decision if they’ll forgo the tradition of meatless Friday to partake in the corned-beef dinner that’s a different tradition for many.
Sioux City Bishop R. Walker Nickless also declined, saying giving up meat on Fridays in Lent is a penance Catholics are willing to make. In the Davenport Diocese, however, Bishop William Franklin’s granted the dispensation. Tom Chapman is Chancellor in the Diocese of Des Moines, which is also offering the dispensation.
Bishop Joseph Charron in Des Moines thought it would be a good idea to give the dispensation. Chapman says the question came up a while back, and the Bishop decided to use the opportunity to use it as a “teaching tool” on the importance of abstinence. “Even as he’s giving the dispensation, I think the fact that we’re having this conversation can help people understand what we’re talking about.”
He says by forgiving the custom, the Bishop is showing how important it is. He adds that church members and their families may even discuss something ELSE they’ll choose to give up during Lent instead.. That could include praying more, doing more charitable work, some advocacy for a church issue: “There’s all kinds of different things that people could do in place of this.” In recent years, St. Patrick’s Day has fallen on a Friday in 1995 and in 2000.