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The old phrase "don't look a gift horse in the mouth" calls us not to find fault with something that has been received as a gift or favor. But for those who think that one should not eat meat on St. Patrick's Day when it falls on a Friday in Lent — even when one has the lawful opportunity to do so — I offer another take. Granted that one will take all the necessary canonical steps for the allowance, this is an intensely personal matter of individual conscience. And if such individuals choose to eat meat on this day, they should not be looked down upon.
In a recent episode of Church Militant's hit new show Hard Line, Simon Rafe was clear in pointing out (and I would also like to emphasize) that absent some type of dispensation, one is canonically bound to abstain from flesh meat on all Fridays of Lent, granted they don't fall on a universal solemnity (and St. Patrick's Day isn't one). No doubt, there is widespread misunderstanding about this simple Lenten law, and a great number of so-called Catholics don't follow it. Even among those that know about it and halfheartedly give their assent, many are quick to make up some excuse to ignore the duty on St. Patrick's Day. I heard a doozy the other day from one of my extended family members: "You can eat meat this St. Patrick's Day if you're more Irish than Catholic." The sad part is that I think he was half serious.
So Rafe was right to call out those Catholics who constantly seek to alleviate their penitential obligations through some loophole. But what about those faithful Catholics who are quite serious about their penitential disciplines? They've likely abstained from meat not just on Lenten Fridays but every Friday and merely want to take advantage of a possible dispensation offered in order to enjoy what is often a special once-a-year meal on this great feast day. Many of these people have a strong devotion to St. Patrick; they draw inspiration from his life story and even pray his breastplate prayer on daily basis. For these people, taking advantage of a rare dispensation (the last time the feast fell on a Lenten Friday was in 2017) hardly qualifies as spiritual sloth.
But even if you're one of those people, a dispensation from the Friday abstinence on St. Patrick's Day is not automatic. You can't just decide this for yourself; you need ecclesiastical approval. And depending on your bishop, this may not be available in all places. Check with your diocese. And lest you think that there's some type of age-limit technicality that will get you out of it, there's not. While those who are above the age of 59 are not required to fast during Lent, this doesn't apply to the Friday meat abstinence.
In the archdiocese of Detroit, there's no diocesan-wide dispensation for St. Patrick's Day, but one may approach his pastor and ask that his abstinence either be commuted (replaced with something else) or removed. After prayer and discernment, I've already done this for my family in anticipation of our (usually large) St. Patrick's Day family get-together. And yes, we will all be participating in an alternate form of penance (any good pastor should require this). All it took was a simple email to my parish secretary. The AOD even made it clear that this could be done verbally with your pastor. But the document makes it clear that this is a discernment issue for the pastor as well. If he discerns that, for one's spiritual good, a certain individual would do better without the dispensation, then he ought to withhold it. To be clear, if my pastor had denied it, we would have happily obeyed him.
Again, even if you have the opportunity for a dispensation, you should make this decision after a thorough examination of conscience. For those who've had a less-than-fruitful Lent so far, it's probably best not to seek this dispensation. But for those who are at an ideal place in their spiritual life, don't be made to feel that you're overindulging in comfort or that you're not as spiritually tough as someone else. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth. Take full advantage of the opportunities that the Church offers you to celebrate to the fullest. Lent will still be waiting for you when it's over.