of the Church has begun. And confusion reigns. On the bulletin board of one local parish where I went for daily Mass today I read a notice from the pastor which read, in part, "Abstinence (i.e, no meat) is required of everyone over 14 on the Fridays of Lent, and fasting for everyone 21-59."
Well, no. Fasting is required only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and the ages are 18-59.
I also picked up a copy of a letter from Archbishop O'Malley.
The text is below:
By virtue of the power to dispense as granted by Canon 87.1 and Canon 88,
I, the Archbishop of Boston, hereby grant a dispensation from the
obligation of abstinence for all the
Faithful of the Archdiocese of Boston on
Friday, March 17, 2006 in honor of the
Feast of St. Patrick,
the Patron Saint of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Now, Canons 87.1 and 88 do give the ordinary the power to dispense from universal disciplinary laws and from local laws. Canon 1250 establishes the basic law for abstinence thus:
All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the universal Church.
Canon 1251 makes this more specific.
Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Now, for some background, when Archbishop O'Malley was bishop of the neighboring diocese of Fall River, he was challenged on the rule of Friday abstinence for St. Patrick's Day. He initially held firm, but faced such a loud cry of opposition from people unwilling to do penance by putting off for a day their corned beef and cabbage that he issued a decree similar to the one above.
Here in Boston, there was no controversy that year, because, as the Archbishop noted, St. Patrick is the patron saint of the Archdiocese. That means that in this Archdiocese, St. Patrick's Day is a solemnity, the solemnity of the proper patron. And as Canon 1251 notes, it is therefore not a day on which abstinence is required.
What this all means is A) the rules change too often even for many pastors to keep up with and B) people are so unaware of the Church's canons and the reasons for them that they have to be dealt with more simply, such as the Archbishop's letter above (no doubt influenced by the ruckus in Fall River years ago).
And for those who are fasting in some way throughout Lent, there are two other solemnities that ought not to be days of fast/abstinence: March 19, the feast of St. Joseph and March 25, the feast of the Annunciation to Our Lady. So, from Friday March 17 until Sunday March 20 there are only 5 days when fasting need be done, since Sunday is also not a day for penance. A bit of a break mid-Lent, to remind us of the joy that awaits.