Noreen Anderson, far left, of Middle Island, alongside Joseph Moretta,...

Noreen Anderson, far left, of Middle Island, alongside Joseph Moretta, of Nesconset, front, Danielle and Robert Moretta, of Kings Park, back left, and Michael and Yasemin Moretta, of Islip, back right, watch the St. Patrick's Day parade in Kings Park on Saturday. Credit: Newsday/Steve Pfost

Catholics are supposed to abstain from eating meat on Fridays during the holy season of Lent, but this year that presents a problem: St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday.

So what should Catholics who enjoy eating corned beef and cabbage on the holiday do?

The Roman Catholic Church on Long Island, along with more than 100 other U.S. dioceses, is offering a solution. It is granting a “dispensation” to the faithful, allowing them to enjoy corned beef and other meats on the holiday this year.

“The obligation of abstinence from meat on Fridays of Lent is an important element of the Church’s observance of the penitential nature of this holy season,” said Sean Dolan, a spokesman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, in a statement.


The Roman Catholic Church on Long Island has lifted the requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent for St. Patrick’s Day, which falls on a Friday this year.

The move means Catholics can enjoy corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day, although the Diocese of Rockville Centre also asks the faithful to compensate with some other penance, prayer, or work of charity.

One church expert praised the move, saying the holiday is an opportunity to highlight the role of Catholicism and St. Patrick himself in the Irish experience.

“However, if you choose not to abstain from meat on March 17th (St. Patrick’s Day), please substitute some other penance, prayer, and work of charity in its place,” his statement said.

The dispensation was granted by Bishop John Barres, head of the diocese, one of the largest in the nation.

Dispensations in other dioceses

The Archdiocese of New York and dozens of other U.S. dioceses have taken similar stances. A survey by the National Catholic Register newspaper found that of 137 dioceses that responded, 105 are offering some type of relief.

Some 80 say they are offering a straight dispensation, while 25 are offering a “commutation” that requires Catholics to substitute another penance if they plan to eat meat that Friday.

A total of 32 said they are staying with the original requirement to abstain from meat on Fridays in Lent in commemoration of Jesus' death on a cross.

This is the 33rd time the conflict has arisen since John Carroll was ordained as America’s first Roman Catholic bishop in 1790, said the Rev. Patrick Flanagan, chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at St. John’s University. It happens about once every seven years.

St. Patrick transformed Ireland

Flanagan said he thought bishops who granted the dispensation were making a “prudent” decision that also could highlight the key role of the Catholic faith in the Irish experience by focusing on the story of St. Patrick.

“I don’t think you can divorce the Irish experience from the Catholic faith,” he said. St. Patrick “transformed the face of Ireland by teaching them all about God and salvation.”

St. Patrick, he added, was “a Catholic evangelizing agent.”

Corned beef was an essential part of the Irish immigrant experience in the United States, he noted, since it was a commonly consumed dish.

Although most U.S. dioceses are granting a dispensation this year, one, in Omaha, Nebraska, has come up with a novel idea: the bishop there is delaying the no-meat rule until the day after St. Patrick’s Day, Flanagan said.

Not a corned beef fan

Rick Hinshaw, a former editor of the Long Island Catholic newspaper, said he was “fine” with whatever the bishop here decides, though he personally will abide by the no-meat restriction on St. Patrick’s Day.

“I’m not a big fan of corned beef anyway,” he said. But “I think faithful Catholics who try to adhere to the church rules on these things appreciate a dispensation for that day.”

Abstaining from meat and poultry on Fridays during Lent is a ritual that goes back to the time of Jesus’ crucifixion 2,000 years ago, Flanagan said.

Though fewer Catholics have adhered to the practice in recent decades as church attendance declined, some experts such as Flanagan believe it is seeing a resurgence.

The Lenten season, which starts on Ash Wednesday, continues through Holy Thursday — part of Holy Week that includes Good Friday and is followed by Easter.

“Lent is a time of spiritual preparation for the celebration of our Lord’s passion, death, and resurrection at Easter, the holiest of days," Dolan said. "Through prayer, fasting and works of charity, we draw closer to the Lord, deepen our faith, and prepare for eternal life.”

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