US Catholic bishops ease Lent obligations on eating meat amid coronavirus

US Catholic bishops ease Lent obligations on eating meat amid coronavirus

Some Catholic bishops in the United States are easing the obligations of faithful for the last remaining Fridays during Lent amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

During Lent – a period of about six weeks in which Christians all over the world practice self-denial and sacrifice as they repent their sins and pray in preparation for Easter – refrain from eating meat on Fridays, including on Good Friday.

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 28,000 people worldwide, Catholic bishops, in New Jersey, Massachusetts, Lousiana, and Pittsburgh are relieving their congregations of the obligation of abstaining from meat for the remaining Fridays in Lent – except on Good Friday.


Parishioner Maria Torres, of Des Moines, Iowa, prays the Rosary in an empty St. Anthony's Catholic Church, Friday, March 27, 2020, in Des Moines, Iowa. Daily masses continue to be available online in response to the new coronavirus outbreak but the church is open daily for private prayers.  (AP)

They said it’s because the faithful are already deprived of some foods and other pleasures during the coronavirus pandemic. Good Friday is on April 3 and Easter is on Sunday, April 12.

“Given the difficulties of obtaining some types of food and the many other sacrifices which we are suddenly experiencing given the coronavirus, I have granted a dispensation from abstaining from meat on Fridays for rest of Len, except Good Friday, which is universal law,” New Jersey’s the Most Rev. James F. Checchio, Bishop of Metuchen, said on the diocese’s Twitter account Thursday.

Meanwhile, the Most Rev. Peter J. Uglietto in Boston, Mass., issued a similar message on Thursday.

He said in a statement on the archdiocese's website that Catholics’ plans for Lent have been “greatly impacted” by the coronavirus health crisis and in light of that, Cardinal Sean O’Malley has allowed them to eat meat for the remaining Fridays as well.

“One of the effects of the current events is uncertainty regarding what food products are available on any given day. At this time, we are called to make the best of what we have at hand or is available for purchase,” Uglietto continued. “Many people are using what they have stored in their freezers and on their shelves. Others are depending upon pre-packaged meals or food delivered through support agencies, which are providing an important service for individuals and families in our communities, especially for children and our senior citizens.”


The Rev. César Vega sets up a tablet to livestream Mass to home-bound congregants Friday, March 27, 2020, at Holy Family Catholic Church in Yakima, Wash. (Amanda Ray/Yakima Herald-Republic via AP)

He added: “The Cardinal encourages those who can partake of this traditional Lenten practice of abstention to do so and to offer it up for those who are suffering in any way from the pandemic we are experiencing.”

In Louisiana, the Rev. Shelton J. Fabre of Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes said Thursday that parishioners did not have to give up meat on Friday 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, however, encouraged the faithful to continue to give up meat on Fridays, if they could.

“I am being mindful of this and have our people's best interest in my heart.  Nevertheless, I am also aware that these Fridays of Lent will remain as days of penance and prayer,” he wrote on the diocese’s website. “Therefore, for those who are able to keep this practice, I encourage you to continue fulfilling this obligation for your spiritual benefits and the good of the Church.”


Rev. Micah Muhlen, OFM, prays prior to a modest and shortened service at St. Mary's Roman Catholic Basilica, attended by very few parishioners due to the coronavirus, Sunday, March 22, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

The Most Rev. David Zubik, the bishop of Pittsburgh, dispensed from the obligation to abstained from meat on Lenten Fridays this week, saying: “As you are aware, many of the shelves and cases in our supermarkets are sparse if not empty. This is a time when pastoral necessity has informed my decision effective today.”

More than 600,000 people have been infected with coronavirus worldwide, prompting governments to place about one-third of the world’s population under strict travel restrictions.

In the U.S, more than 104,000 people have tested positive for COVID-19 – the highest infection tally in the world. At least 1,709 people have died in the U.S. and nearly 900 have recovered.

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