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To Fast or Feast? Examining Friday Night Meals at the Parish

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To Fast or Feast? Examining Friday Night Meals at the Parish

By Emily Simmonds

Summary: The parish's Friday night Lenten meal is a popular social event and tradition for many American Catholics. However, the encouragement of over-indulgence that is prevalent at such meals raises the question of whether or not they are appropriate representations of ourselves and our faith during the Lenten season.

Keywords: Friday, Friday Night, Friday Evening, Fridays, Abstinence, Lenten Meal, Parish Meal, Dinner, Social Gathering, Fundraiser

The popularity of the parish's Friday night Lenten meal is no secret. Hundreds, if not thousands, of hungry Catholics and non-Catholics flock to these dinners during Lent, often waiting hours in line to celebrate in this all-you-can-eat feast. It is a sacred tradition for many Catholics, who remember attending such events as children, and desire to share the tradition with future generations. For the cost of around $10, all are welcome to join in a feast, mostly fried and all following the Church's call for abstinence on Fridays in Lent. For so many Americans, it is a sacred tradition and successful fundraiser, and a staple in the Lenten calendar. As a social event, the dinner is a thriving success. But, as a meal of indulgence, is it the best way for Catholics to share and express our faith?

The Friday Lenten meal is, unquestionably, fun. It brings the community together, including people who otherwise may have little contact or conversation with one another. It brings the sizeable non-practicing Catholic population back to the parish grounds. And, it is the most visible and welcoming tool to bring those of other faiths, including those of non-faith, to see and experience the Catholic community. When I attended my first Friday Lenten meal at the parish, I was struck by many of these benefits. I saw the light-hearted, happy, friendly faces of the hundreds of attendees. I saw people of all backgrounds—families, elderly couples, groups of teens, and so on.

But what does the Church really convey through such dinners? The all-you-can-eat concept does not seem to fit into the Lenten tradition of fasting and refraining from excess. While beer has always been a staple at such dinners, intoxication is, in certain locations, a common occurrence—if not an expectation. Is this only way to get people onto the Church grounds—by luring them in with excessive amounts of food and drink? The encouragement of over-indulgence is so often the norm at these dinners, but this is not how we should strive to represent ourselves and our faith to the outside community. It is not the message we should week to share, particularly on a day intended for fasting, and during the Lenten season. It is not the traditions that we should want to pass along to future generations.

A community that worships and prays together should also be one that eats and drinks together. Ideally, a parish community is united beyond Mass, and it is one that regularly reaches out to, involves, and serves the local community as a whole. The parish's Friday Lenten meal certainly holds the potential to serve in such ways, but more often than not, our current dinners seem to go against the notions of sacrifice and fasting intrinsic to the Lenten season. Instead of indulging together, we should focus on more valuable activities we can do with one another. As Catholics, we can pray a rosary together, read Scripture together, or attend the Stations of the Cross. As a community of individuals, we can volunteer to serve our local needs, or offer lectures and discussions on issues affecting the whole community.

Through the parish's Friday Lenten meal, we satisfy our desires for food and beer. But we must ask ourselves, what are we really doing for the Bread of Life?

Signature ImageSignature: Emily Simmonds


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