Hey, Father! Since St. Patrick’s Day is on Friday during Lent, can we eat meat?

I see that St Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday during Lent again this year. So, I assume Bishop Paprocki will not give us permission to enjoy Corned Beef in our Irish Celebrations as he has before. Would it be a mortal sin to travel to a nearby diocese where their bishop grants a dispensation, allowing Catholics to enjoy their corned beef that day?

– Nancy in Springfield

Dear Nancy,

You must be quite the devotee of American custom that you would be willing to drive outside of our diocese to enjoy corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day. Would it be a mortal sin to do so? I would argue no, but one could make an argument that it is still sinful, though less sinful, to attempt to circumvent the Church’s Lenten disciplinary laws in such a manner. That being said, you may not need to go to such lengths to licitly get your corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day.

No, Bishop Paprocki is not granting a diocesan-wide dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day. Granting a dispensation from an ecclesiastical law is seen as a “wounding” of the law so there needs to be a proportional reason for doing so, especially such a broad action as dispending an entire diocese. If we were the Archdiocese of Boston, filled with Irish Catholics, there would be greater reason to justify the dispensation, but that is not so much the case here. However, you may approach your own pastor who has authority to dispense his own parishioners in such matters on a case-by-case basis. He may grant you the desired dispensation or he may commute your observance of abstinence from meat to another day such as the day before or the day after St. Patrick’s Day. Pastors can find this in canon 1245 in the Code of Canon Law.

Earlier I referred to the custom of eating corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day as being American. I remember a conversation with a buddy of mine in college about the Irish and corned beef and St. Patrick’s Day. Mark, whose parents came over from Ireland to the United States before he was born, told me that in Ireland the Irish would never dream of eating corned beef in honor of St. Patrick. Beef was never a staple of food in Ireland, like pork or lamb, and beef was completely unaffordable for most of the Irish population after the nation was subjugated by England. The custom of eating corned beef comes from the arrival of the Irish in America in 19th and early 20th centuries and the fact that they could afford some beef when they came to the United States but mostly only corned beef.

Whatever we choose to do or not do in honor of St. Patrick’s Day, I would encourage all of us to remember the man himself. History tells us that Patrick was devout, very determined, and rather austere. Let us ask the great Apostle of Ireland to pray for us that, like him, we might seek to bind ourselves to the Blessed Trinity in all that we do.

Father Christopher House is pastor of Christ the King Parish in Springfield and is vicar judicial and director of the Department for Canonical and Pastoral Services