The season of Lent brings with it a lot of questions from Catholics. Questions like is it a sin to cheat on my fasting resolution? Or what exactly are the rules for fasting and abstinence? Another question that comes around on Fridays in Lent is whether it is OK to eat meat at someone’s house and break the fast, or whether you should refuse the meat and risk offending your host.
A listener recently called in to Go Ask Your Father™ to ask this very question. He explained that last Friday his family gathered and celebrated an early St. Patrick’s Day with corned beef and cabbage. The listener wondered if he should have gone and ate the corned beef or gone and abstained from the meat, even though it might be awkward.
Msgr. Stuart Swetland responded, “As you know, as a community we abstain from meat every Friday in Lent, and especially on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday. And that’s for anyone 14 years and older. Now, the serious sin is to completely ignore the fasting and abstinence requirements of the Church, which are what we’re asking the community, we do these things together as a community. So it’s not just one time that makes it a mortal sin. It’s when you completely ignore them. That’s when it becomes grave matter.”
But even though it would not have been a mortal sin for the listener to eat the meat, should he still have abstained?
“There, I must admit, I’m a bit ambivalent,” Msgr. Swetland said. “If it was my family, this is how I would handle it. I would say, ‘Oh great, I’ll just take mine home and have it tomorrow. I’m just not eating meat today because it’s Friday.’ And they would fully understand that and actually appreciate that. My extended family, because I am a convert I have some Catholics in it and some non-Catholics, and they understand that and they’d appreciate that. And that way I’m giving witness to the Church in doing that.”
“But if I’m in a situation where it would just be awkward and even insulting to my hosts not to eat what is placed before me, I think the fast then becomes to eat what is placed in front of me, even if I don’t want to,” he continued. “Which, as you know, in many social settings that is what we do. We go places and people provide us things that aren’t our favorites, but we eat them because we’re trying to be a good guest and respect the hospitality of the host. So I think you’ll just have to make a prudential judgement of which is the best to do in your particular circumstances.”
Listen to the full conversation below: