Diocesan News

Bishop Brennan Grants Dispensation From Meat Abstinence on St. Patrick’s Day

Corned beef and cabbage seen boiling on a stove top. The meal is a common St. Patrick’s Day tradition. (Photo: Getty Images)

WASHINGTON — Bishop Robert Brennan has announced that Catholics in the Diocese of Brooklyn are exempt from the Friday Lenten regulation to abstain from meat on St. Patrick’s Day this year.

“The memorial of Saint Patrick is a day of celebration for many of the faithful in the Diocese of Brooklyn. To honor Saint Patrick is to honor the missionary spirit by which he brought the Faith to Ireland and which so many Irish immigrants brought to this Diocese,” he said in a Feb. 24 statement.

Noting the importance of the celebration, Bishop Brennan said he was “happy to grant dispensation from the obligation to abstain from eating meat on that day.” He urged Catholics who make use of this dispensation to substitute for it “another penitential act or work of charity.”

The bishop was not the only bishop to weigh in on this issue that comes up about every seven years when St. Patrick’s Day — with its tradition of corned beef and cabbage — falls on a Friday in Lent. 

In the U.S., St. Patrick’s Day on March 17 is a big celebration with parades and all things green — from clothes to beer and even the annual dyeing of the Chicago River. Manhattan hosts the world’s largest St. Patrick’s Day parade.

The day celebrates the saint known as the Apostle of Ireland for his years of missionary work there, but its timing on a Friday in Lent occurs during a time of penitence when Catholics over the age of 14 are required to abstain from meat.

In anticipation of the holiday’s Friday date, a few bishops issued a dispensation from the required Lenten rule even before Lent started.

Some have not weighed in on it, and at least one, Bishop William Wack of Pensacola-Tallahassee, Florida, has said he does not plan to grant the dispensation.

A statement on that diocese’s website said the bishop “encourages the faithful to honor the life of St. Patrick with our prayers and devotions by attending Mass and asking for his intercession.”

Bishops that granted the dispensation often asked Catholics in their dioceses to do an extra act of charity or penance in exchange for eating meat that day, as did Bishop Brennan.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda of St. Paul and Minneapolis, who announced on Feb. 16 that he was granting this dispensation, stressed that the archdiocese has been shaped by Irish immigrants.

He pointed out that the first archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, Archbishop John Ireland, was from Ireland. He also said Catholics can enjoy the holiday by recognizing how St. Patrick was “an example of a missionary disciple called and sent from the proverbial Upper Room to bear witness to Christ.”

In the Archdiocese of Washington, Cardinal Wilton Gregory similarly issued this dispensation and encouraged Catholics to instead abstain from meat on another day as part of their Lenten penitential practice.

In the Diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, Bishop Peter Libasci similarly granted a dispensation from meat abstinence but pointed out that while the feast day is celebrated in the United States with “such vigor,” people should also remember what the Irish endured from the potato famine that caused them to leave their homes and endured suspicion and prejudice.

Current celebrations of St. Patrick’s Day, he said, are reminders of rising from “ashes of oppression, prejudice, suspicion, and an evil animosity” to join in a “happy celebration of solidarity.”