This coming Friday is the feast of St. Patrick, “when everyone is Irish,” celebrating the saint who plucked a shamrock from the ground and used it, with its three leaves in one plant, to explain the Mystery of the Trinity – three Persons in one God.
Interestingly, this year, this feast falls on a Friday in Lent! So what about the corn beef dinner without which St. Patrick’s Day is incomplete? Don’t worry, our Bishop has already announced the dispensation so you may enjoy corned beef (or other meat) that day and abstain from meat on another day that same week. That brings us to an important discussion about the meaning of Tradition. When Catholic Church gives so much importance to Tradition, can we easily change the hallowed tradition of abstaining from meat on a Friday of Lent, or any other tradition?
It depends on your understanding of tradition. All traditions are not of equal value. We need to distinguish between Primary Traditions (with a capital T) and Secondary traditions (with a small case t). Primary Traditions are those fundamental beliefs and practices that constitute who we are as Catholics. Some examples are belief in the Holy Trinity, Pope as the Vicar of Christ, Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, Immaculate Conception, etc. These are non-negotiable. While examples of Secondary traditions are days of fasting and abstinence, Holy Days of Obligation, devotions like rosary, novena, etc. These can be changed or suspended as per the decision of the conference of Bishops. So the dispensation given for the feast of St. Patrick’s day when it falls on a Friday in Lent is precisely because it is a secondary tradition.
It is also good to point out that the feast of St. Joseph on March 19th (which is a higher ranking feast in the Liturgical calendar in comparison to
St. Patrick’s) is moved to March 20th this year. Why? When it falls on a Sunday, the priority is given to the feast of our Lord (which every Sunday is) and so the feast of St. Joseph is celebrated a day later.
This is a big Feast for Italians because in the Middle Ages, God, through St. Joseph’s intercession, saved the Sicilians from a very serious drought. So in his honor, the custom has been for all to wear red, in the same way that green is worn on St. Patrick’s Day. In many parishes with large Italian population, a big altar (“la tavola di San Giuse” or “St. Joseph’s Table”) is laden with food that people bring to be blessed by the priest on the feast day and to have a big feast day meal. I myself have blessed baskets of food that Italian families bring in every parish I have served.
These celebrations do not take away the penitential spirit of Lent. The sacrifices we make, the extra devotions we practice are all meant to bring us to a joyful connection to the Lord. In the Lenten Preface of the Mass we hear: “Each year You give us this joyful season when we prepare to celebrate the paschal mystery with mind and heart renewed.” In fact, next Sunday is called ‘Laetare Sunday’ because we focus on Christian joy in the Mass.
Let us continue and complete this joyful season of Lent!
Your brother in Christ,
Fr. Abraham Orapankal