Pittsburgh bishop lifts meat ban for St. Patrick’s Day

Altoona-Johnstown bishop not planning to issue blanket dispensation

While Pittsburgh-area Catholics who are observing Lent can enjoy their corned beef on St. Patrick’s Day next Friday — without a side order of guilt — those in the Altoona-Johnstown Diocese are asked to abstain from meat on that day.

Bishop David Zubik on Wednesday authorized a dispensation, or exception, to the usual prohibition on eating meat on Fridays during Lent.

But, Bishop Mark Bartchak will not be granting a blanket dispensation to Catholics in the Altoona-Johnstown area, said diocese spokesman Tony DeGol in a statement.

“If St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Lenten Friday, bishops have the authority to make an exception, especially if there is a large Irish immigrant population in their diocese,” DeGol said.

“Bishop Bartchak takes very seriously the sacred tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays during Lent, and he does not plan to grant a blanket dispensation for St. Patrick’s Day,” DeGol said, adding that the bishop has granted and will grant dispensation for various groups and organizations that have made the request.

As for Catholics in the Pittsburgh-area, Zubik encouraged them to make up for eating meat during the holiday with some other “act of self-sacrifice.”

The dispensation by Zubik recognizes the popular celebration of the patron saint of Ireland — one whose feast day is celebrated by many Catholics of Irish descent and otherwise. Since corned beef is a staple of St. Patrick’s Day cuisine, a conflict typically arises every few years when it lands on a Friday during Lent, when church discipline calls for Catholics to abstain from meat on those Fridays. Fish isn’t counted as meat, which has led to many parishes holding Lenten fish fries for fellowship and fundraising.

“While celebrations do not cease in Lent, they are certainly tempered by the penitential context of the season,” Bishop Zubik said in a letter Wednesday. “After much consideration, I have chosen to dispense Catholics in the Dicoese of Pittsburgh from the obligation to abstain from meat on Friday, March 17. However, I do appeal to those who choose to eat meat that day to do another act of self-sacrifice in the spirit of the Season of Lent with the mind and heart of Saint Patrick.”

He paid tribute to the Irish community of Pittsburgh, including the Ancient Order of Hibernians’ sponsorship of a communion breakfast and the St. Patrick’s Day parade.

Bishop Zubik noted that the meat prohibition is not something the church enforces but that it’s a discipline that Catholics undertake as part of a spiritual preparation during the six-week season of Lent, leading up to the central Christian holy days of Good Friday and Easter. “The whole notion of discipline is to become more like Christ,” Bishop Zubik said.

St. Patrick’s Day, in addition to its traditions of corned-beef and Celtic music, is often an occasion for heavy drinking.

While not mentioning that explicitly, Bishop Zubik’s letter urged those celebrating the holiday to do so in a way that “truly honors this good and humble saint.”