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Catholic dioceses ease Lenten abstinence rules for corned beef

Hoping to enjoy a little corned beef and cabbage this St. Patrick’s Day, even though it’s Lenten season? One Texas diocese is urging Catholics to have at it.

Bishop Edward J. Burns of the Diocese of Dallas issued a dispensation from abstinence on March 17 with the purpose of “allowing the faithful to enjoy the Irish American tradition of eating corned beef (or ham) and cabbage in good conscience.”

During the annual season of Lent, Catholics aged 14 and older are required to abstain from meat on Fridays under the Roman Catholic Church’s Canon Law.

Despite the decree, Burns said those who wish to continue their tradition “are not required to utilize the dispensation and may continue the laudable practice” of abstinence from meat.

“Because the Memorial of St. Patrick is a common celebratory day in the United States and locally,” Burns wrote March 3, “I hereby decree that on Friday, March 17, 2023, all Catholics of the Diocese of Dallas, no matter where they may be, and all other Catholics actually present in the diocese on that day, are dispensed from the obligation to abstain from meat.”

Those who choose to partake, Burns added, are “strongly encouraged, though not required, to alternate or substitute another penance in place of abstinence from meat.”

A number of other bishops joined Burns in the move, with several of them opting to commute the Lent obligation rather than dispense with it entirely by making it conditional upon performing acts of prayer and charity.

Bishop Kevin C. Rhoades of Fort Wayne-South Bend, Indiana, said those in his diocese may substitute the normal abstinence with attending Mass, praying the rosary for world peace, or spending half an hour in prayer.

Other bishops, like Bishop Edward C. Malesic of the Diocese of Cleveland, asked those in his diocese to choose another non-Friday day during Lent to either “abstain from eating meat, or to make some offering on behalf of the poor, whether by prayer, fasting or almsgiving in order to recognize and honor our Lord’s mission and passion for the sake of the salvation of souls.”

Despite its reputation for drunkenness and debauchery, St. Patrick’s Day was actually created to honor Patricius, who the Catholic Church calls a “Romanized Britain” who was enslaved by the Irish for six years in the fifth century.

During his captivity, Patricius was converted and later returned to pre-Christian Britain to evangelize his countrymen. 

Known as the “Apostle of Ireland,” Patricius is said to have laid the groundwork for Christianity to take root among the Irish people.

For Catholics, the practice of abstaining from meat on all Fridays of Lent acts as a reminder that Jesus gave up His body on a Friday. Hence, for many Catholics, abstaining from meat is a way to foster a greater communion with the Lord Jesus.

 Another reason why Catholics abstain from eating meat on certain days during Lent is the association of meat with feasts and celebrations. With the view that Lent should be a period of solemn sacrifice, Catholics believe that staying away from meat is one way of not getting into a celebratory mood.

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