Hallelujah! Chicago-area Catholics can eat meat on St. Patrick's Day
Let there be meat.
That's the St. Patrick's Day decree from Catholic leaders throughout the area as parishioners pondered whether corned beef would be off the menu for the March 17 holiday.
This year, St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday during Lent, a day that would traditionally keep faithful Catholics from consuming meat.
Instead, Cardinal Blase Cupich, head of the Chicago Archdiocese, is urging the faithful to "substitute another form of penance for the Lenten Friday abstinence."
"I agree with our cardinal," said Derek Hanley, owner of Peggy Kinnane's Irish Restaurant & Pub in downtown Arlington Heights. "I definitely agree with him."
Hanley makes no bones about the benefits of the dispensation for his business. He expects to sell a half ton of corned beef between Wednesday, March 15, and Sunday, March 19.
"We're delighted the cardinal went ahead and changed things up for us that day," Hanley said. "But we do offer a lot of fish and other dishes if you still don't want to eat meat."
Alternate penance is also a bit of a departure from other dioceses around the country whose leaders simply suggested making Saturday, March 18, meat-free. The Rev. Ed Panek also said there's no specific formula for determining the right amount of alternate penance to substitute for a plate full of corned beef and cabbage next Friday.
"It's an interesting question of what is an acceptable substitute," said Panek, a priest at St. Raymond de Penafort Catholic Church in Mount Prospect. "You could certainly fast in other ways. You could abstain from using your cellphone. You could pray more. There are many things to be done in the spirit of Lent like apologizing, forgiving and showing mercy."
The heads of the Joliet and Rockford dioceses followed Cupich's lead, some a bit begrudgingly.
"If some fellow Catholics within the Diocese of Joliet feel that eating meat on St. Patrick's Day ... is important enough to break the rule of abstinence, they are permitted to make a conscientious decision to do so," Bishop R. Daniel Conlon wrote to parishioners. "For myself, I see no connection between honoring the patron saint and apostle of Ireland and eating corned beef."
For Catholics who might hail from a diocese that doesn't allow dispensation and find themselves in a place where the dispensation has been granted, Panek says, "when in Rome, do as the Romans do. I think God and most people aren't worried about it."
It's not unheard of for the church to make these types of allowances when practices and traditions from various observances conflict, Panek said.
"In the past, it's customary for dispensation when it's a special feast day or holiday of a joyful, celebratory nature," he said. "The whole point of any of this is to enrich our lives and help us to get closer to Jesus."