Luck of the Irish spreads to all Catholics this Lent

A woman receives Communion from Archbishop Bernardito Auzu, Vatican nuncio to the United Nations, during the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted has given a dispensation from the law of abstinence from meat for the faithful of the Diocese of Phoenix for St. Patrick’s Day, but has asked them to perform some other act of penance. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz)

St. Patrick’s Day Dispensation

In view of the fact that St. Patrick’s Day this year falls on a Friday of Lent, I hereby grant a dispensation from the Church’s law of abstinence for all in the Diocese of Phoenix. I also request that all who avail themselves of this dispensation perform some other work of penance, for example:
  • a prayerful visit to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament
  • fasting from watching a television show
  • visiting someone who is sick or in prison
We do penance in imitation of Jesus’ fast of 40 days in the desert, eager to draw nearer to Him in love.
+Thomas J. Olmsted
Bishop of Phoenix
February 15, 2017

It only happens with a wee bit of luck every several years: March 17, the feast of St. Patrick, falls on a Friday this year. The patron saint of the Emerald Isle, credited with Christianizing the Irish, is the inspiration for celebrations not just in Ireland, but throughout the Irish diaspora.

Those leprechaun-laced festivities often include a hearty serving of corned beef and cabbage, which would be fine except for one thing: Catholics are not permitted to eat meat on the Fridays of Lent. And St. Patrick’s Day is right in the middle of the penitential season, as in most years.

Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted of the Diocese of Phoenix offered relief. He granted a dispensation from the Church’s law of abstinence for all in the diocese, but he issued further instruction too:

“I also request that all who avail themselves of this dispensation perform some other work of penance,” he wrote. Those works of penance could include a “prayerful visit to Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, fasting from watching a television show or visiting someone who is sick or in prison.”

The Phoenix Diocese is no stranger to those who left the land of St. Patrick. A score of Irish priests helped found some of the larger parishes such as Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Scottsdale and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Tempe. The Loreto Sisters, Irish nuns, helped open and still staff Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral School.

Irish native Fr. Joe Hennessy, who founded St. Andrew Parish in Chandler, remembers well the St. Patrick’s Day celebrations of his youth.

“When I was growing up, the big thing about it was that it was a holy day of obligation,” Fr. Hennessy said. Patricia Prior, a St. Andrew parishioner and native of Waterford, Ireland, agreed.

“It was a holy day and a family day,” Prior said. “Most of the cities would have a parade and families would go home and have their special dinner.”

Women religious enjoy watching the 253rd annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade in front of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York this 2014 file photo. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz) (March 18, 2014) See PARADE March 18, 2014.

Interestingly, that dinner was usually not corned beef and cabbage, Prior said. Instead, they’d eat boiled bacon — what Americans would call ham — and more green cabbage, along with mashed potatoes and carrots. In other words, the meal displayed the colors of the Irish flag.

Bishop Olmsted himself is part Irish, on his mother’s side. “I do enjoy corned beef and cabbage, but never tasted it until I came to serve in the Diocese of Phoenix 13 years ago,” he admitted. That’s when Irish native Msgr. Michael O’Grady, then-rector of Ss. Simon and Jude Cathedral, prepared the traditional feast for the bishop.

Several parishes in the diocese are foregoing the regular Lenten Fish Fry on St. Patrick’s Day this year and instead celebrating the Apostle to the Emerald Isle with more traditional Irish fare.

Several U.S. Bishops issued similar dispensations for St. Patrick’s Day this year. Among the dioceses and archdioceses included are: Baltimore, Fort Worth, Milwaukee, New York, Milwaukee, Omaha and St. Paul and Minneapolis.