With St. Patrick's Day quickly approaching, the question of "Do I have to abstain from meat?" has been raised at least across the United States. This article in the Washington Post notes that the bishops of at least 60 dioceses in the U.S. (out of 200) have granted a dispensation allowing the eating of meat on Friday, March 17 this year.
At our after Vespers coffee klatch on Sunday, one of the congregants just couldn't understand this. She was vehement that she wouldn't be serving meat on a Friday in Lent. Why not just translate the feast day to another day. I began to explain that it couldn't be moved, but as a discussion began on that I realized it was just, barely possible that my fellow congregant didn't find the minutiae of the ranking of liturgical days nearly as interesting as I do ;) So we got off that topic.
The Post article quotes one fellow who says:
If Dolan hadn't granted the dispensation, O'Leary, director of Milwaukee's St. Patrick's Day parade, said he would stick to the rules _ meaning he wouldn't prepare his corned beef brisket. But with the bishop's blessing, he plans to put a brisket in his slow cooker early Friday morning and slather it with mustard and other condiments come dinner time...
"It is being done in honor of St. Patrick," O'Leary said. "It's not as though I'm having something I would normally have. It's a special thing."...
In exchange for his corned beef meal, O'Leary said he plans to give up something else, such as chicken wings or beer on a weekend when he's watching sports on television.
"I will deny myself something and pay it back," O'Leary said.
The only problem with this otherwise admirable willingness to follow the rules is that it insinuates that the only reason to abstain from meat is to follow a rule. And of course that is not why we do it. The rule is to remind us to identify, through personal sacrifice, with the sacrifice of Christ. It's not something we do because we owe it...so that we can deny ourselves some other treat. It's that we are to "put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires." (Romans 13:14)
Another person, Jim Wharton, spokesman for the Sioux City Diocese, quoted in the article stated:
"For the most part, I think people understand it's really why we are who we are as a Catholic family and that's to observe some of the traditions of the church."
Again, it's great and wonderful that we have traditions that bind us and unite us, but that is also not the reason we abstain; it's a reason we all abstain on the same day, instead of being told "abstain once per week, you pick", and it certainly has value as a means of identifying with the community. But I wonder: have we, through our general abandoment of fasting and penance in the Latin church, forgotten the meaning for it to the point where even the observant are not benefitting from this ascetical practice?