May You Skip Your Penance on St. Patrick’s Day?

I have an irrational aversion to dressing matchy-matchy with the liturgical calendar, which backfired Sunday.   I started to grab the pink sweater — nope, that won’t do on Laetare Sunday.  Blue sweater.  What scarf? Purple scarves rejected, grabbed the green-print one, thought myself perfectly safe.  Not so. Apparently the Sunday before St. Patrick’s day is when the die hard enthusiasts sport their green suits.  But I was okay with that, because: St. Patrick.

There’s just nothing wrong with accidentally being mistaken for someone who has a crush on St. Patrick.

Meanwhile, this question came up in conversation a couple weeks ago: Can you be excused from your Lenten penance on St. Patrick’s Day?  What with it being a feast and all?

Here’s my answer:

 There’s no obligation to fast or abstain on Tuesdays in Lent. What personal penances you do or don’t do that day is your own business.

And that’s the way it works.  All the time.  Here’s the calendar of obligations for you who live in the US:

  • Fridays that aren’t Solemnities: Abstain from meat or do an alternate penance.
  • Fridays within Lent: Abstain from meat.
  • Good Friday and Ash Wednesday: Fast and abstain from meat.

If you want to know whether it’s a Solemnity, check the calendar at the USCCB’s website.   A quick look tells us that March 19th (St. Joseph) and March 25th (Annunciation) are both shiny-white Solemnity days.  Since they don’t fall on a Friday, they don’t affect your obligations.

–> FYI, since it’s not explicitly marked on the USCCB’s calendar at this writing, the Monday – Saturday following Easter Sunday are also Solemnities.  You can read the fine print at EWTN to confirm.  Even Father Z. admits you could indeed have bacon that one Friday.    But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, we’re still being Lenten just now.

Does Frank Have to Drink His IPA?

Doing penance is important.  It’s important for the good of your soul, and it’s important for the good of the whole world, seen and unseen.

That said, if you’ve ever met someone who’s obsessive about following a particular book of diet advice, you know what it is to suffer through a meal.  Oh, that’s wonderful, you added almonds to your salad! Gosh, I’d love to have that quiche, but I’ve already eaten my egg for today.  I’m allowed to have this slice of cake because it’s part of my . . .

Gets old.  Not because there’s anything wrong with trying to eat well — quite the contrary.  But as a general rule, people will ask you if they want your advice on what to eat.  One reaches a certain age (children disagree with their parents on what this age is) and one must take charge, be one’s own man, and decide for oneself whether to have grapes or grapefruit, or the beverages reminiscent thereof.

It’s okay to discuss your diet with people who are interested. It’s okay to ask your friends for spiritual advice, or even better your spiritual director.  Obviously I don’t think these things are forbidden topics or I wouldn’t waste perfectly good bandwidth on what could be devoted to the internet’s true purpose, propagating cat photos.

But the Church leaves us wide latitude in choosing the details of our personal penances specifically because they are personal.  Your obligation is to cooperate with the grace of God in forming yourself into a more perfect Christian.  You’ll naturally do penance as part of that formation process.  You’ll naturally take advantage of Lent to be particularly penitential.  But within the broad bounds of morality and decency, how you observe your favorite feast days is between you and God.

 

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Artwork: Michel Wolgemut, Wilhelm Pleydenwurff (Text: Hartmann Schedel) (scan from original book) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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