By Bryan Taylor
Chancellor, Diocese of Boise
St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday this year, which has many Catholics, especially me, wondering whether they can celebrate this day with their traditional corned beef and cabbage and a pint of Guinness.
Being the good practicing Catholics that we are, we know we are bound by the law of the Church and must abstain from eating meat on Fridays. However, every few years, St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Friday, and we in Idaho start to speculate and discuss whether there are special dispensations granted to us to indulge in shepherd pie decadence.
Is there really an exception to our normal Lenten penance for our favorite Irish saint? The official canonical answer: It depends!
Every Friday during the year is considered a day of penance according to Canon Law 1250. For most of the year, Catholics in the United States are free to choose how they will observe that penance. However, during Lent, the Friday penance must be observed by abstaining from flesh meat, basically meaning warm-blooded animals. (So fish, amphibians – frog legs anyone? – and reptiles are OK.) Observing this common
penance during Lent is our small way of suffering with Christ so that we may one day be glorified with Him. It also fosters solidarity within the Church.
With that said, where there is law, there are often exceptions. The primary exception is this: When a solemnity falls on a Friday, that day is not observed as a day of penance. That’s because solemnities are celebratory. They are the highest feast days of the Catholic Church, and one cannot feast and fast at the same time. We common-ly refer to the observance of a saint’s day as a “feast” but technically, it can be one of several things depending on the saint’s prominence and how much emphasis the Church wishes to give to its celebration. At the top of the ranking are solemnities, but then there are also feasts, memorials, and optional memorials. This ranking system determines whether a saint’s day must be celebrated, or may be celebrated, as well as what observance takes precedence when there are overlaps on the calendar.
The primary solemnity that would likely fall on a Friday during Lent is the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19. On that day, Catholics do not have to abstain from meat.
Nevertheless, you may wonder, is St. Patrick’s feast day a solemnity? In the Diocese of Boise, the answer is no. If you live in Ireland, the answer would be yes.
Thankfully, there is a second exception. An individual bishop may decide to grant a dispensation per Canon Law 87. A dispensation is the relaxation of an ecclesiastical law in a particular case. A bishop can dispense the requirement to abstain from eating meat on St. Patrick’s Day if he so chooses. Bishops in the United States have done this from time to time for a number of reasons, such as if there is a large Irish population (aren’t we all really Irish deep down?), if St. Patrick is the diocesan patron, or for other reasons.
A bishop may grant a dispensation a number of different ways. He may simply grant an exemption from the Friday abstinence. He may dispense from the requirement to abstain from meat, but still require the faithful in his diocese to observe penance in some other way that day. In any case, whatever dispensation an individual bishop chooses to make, it applies only in his diocese and has no effect on Catholics in other parts of the world.
So what about St. Patrick’s Day in the Diocese of Boise in 2023?
Bishop Peter Christensen is granting a dispensation to Catholics in Idaho this year to eat meat on St. Patrick’s Day. As part of this dispensation, he strongly encourages each of us to spend an hour in Eucharistic Adoration at some point during Lent. Because we are in a year of Eucharistic Renewal, Bishop Peter wants us to spend time with Jesus reflecting on our own Lenten journey.
Therefore, this year we can partake in corned beef and cabbage on March 17. While we do so, reflect on St. Patrick – a holy man, a caring pastor and friend of Christ. There is no better way to honor him than with our prayers and devotions, by keeping a holy Lent, and preparing ourselves to celebrate with joy in the risen Christ at Easter.
P.S. Did you know that our Bishop’s last name would have been Brophy if his paternal grandfather didn’t pass away and his grandmother didn’t remarry and have her name changed from Brophy to Christensen? Just another reminder that on St. Paddy’s Day, everyone is Irish!
If you enjoyed this story and would like to read more like it, please consider buying a subscription to the Idaho Catholic Register. Your $20 yearly subscription also supports the work of the Diocese of Boise Communications Department, which includes not only the newspaper, but this website, social media posts and videos. You can subscribe here, or through your parish, or send a check to 1501 S. Federal Way, Boise, ID, 83705: or call 208-350-7554 to leave a credit card payment. Thank you, and God bless you.