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Coronavirus changes Lent: Bishops permit Catholics to eat meat on Fridays

Some bishops this year are telling parishioners that they've sacrificed enough as the coronavirus pandemic denies people of gatherings, outside entertainment and everyday conveniences.
Image: Outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in San Francisco
An empty St. Dominic's Catholic Church in San Francisco amid California's statewide stay-at-home order. Stephen Lam / Reuters

Some Roman Catholic bishops around the country are relieving the faithful of giving up meat on Fridays since they're already deprived of some foods and other pleasures during the coronavirus pandemic.

During Lent, the about six weeks between Ash Wednesday to Holy Thursday, many Catholics practice self-denial and sacrifice as they repent their sins and pray in preparation for Easter. Some choose certain pleasures to give up for the full 40 days, and all Christians are instructed not to eat meat on Ash Wednesday, and all Fridays during Lent in addition to Good Friday.

But some bishops this year are telling their parishioners that they've given up enough as the coronavirus pandemic denies many people of gatherings, outside entertainment and everyday conveniences. While churches are holding online masses, many Catholics are also lamenting missing church during the holy season.

Others bishops loosened the guidance noting that many foods are hard to come by on picked-over grocery shelves, and that going out to shop for specific foods could jeopardize people's health.

"Given the difficulties of obtaining some types of food and the many other sacrifices we are suddenly experiencing given the coronavirus, I have granted a dispensation from abstaining from meat on Fridays for the rest of Lent, except Good Friday, which is universal law," the Most Rev. James F. Checchio, the bishop of Metuchen in Piscataway, New Jersey, announced on Thursday.

New Jersey is the second worst-hit state in the country, with nearly 6,900 cases as of Friday, according to the state's health department. Middlesex County, where Piscataway is, has 505 cases.

The Most Rev. Nicholas DiMarzio, the bishop of Brooklyn, said on March 20 that Catholics in the borough did not have to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent this year. "This is being done to assist people who may have difficulties in shopping for food or other reasons, which would make this practice difficult at this time," he said in a statement.

New York state has over 37,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with more than 21,000 of them in New York City.

In Louisiana, where the case growth-rate is staggering and the death toll is among the highest in the country, the Rev. Shelton J. Fabre of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes said Thursday that parishioners did not have to give up meat on Fridays because coronavirus has "obtaining food, including meal alternatives from meat, the rising cost of fish and other forms of seafood, and even the challenge of being able to obtain groceries without endangering their health, make it clearly difficult for them to fulfill this practice."

Fabre encouraged the faithful to continue giving up meat on Fridays, if they could.

Lafourche Parish is about 50 miles from New Orleans, which has nearly 1,000 of the state's more than 2,300 cases. The high number is being attributed o Mardi Gras.

The Most Rev. David Zubik, the bishop of the diocese of Pittsburgh, also said on March 20 that the faithful could eat meat on Lenten Fridays, except Good Friday. “As you are aware, many of the shelves and cases in our supermarkets are sparse if not empty,” Zubik said.

The Most Rev. Peter J. Uglietto, of the archdiocese of Boston, echoed the message.

"At this time, we are called to make the best of what we have at hand or is available for purchase. Many people are using what they have stored in their freezers and on their shelves," he said.

"In support of the efforts to limit further transmission of the virus we have all been asked to give up many of the everyday activities we take for granted, including our usual participation in the life of the Church," Uglietto said. "In light of these circumstances, Cardinal Seán is dispensing all Catholics in the Archdiocese from the obligation of abstaining from meat during the remaining Fridays of Lent."

Uglietto still encouraged those who could take part of the sacrificial practice to do so "and to offer it up for those who are suffering in any way from the pandemic we are experiencing."