You raise a valid point, to wit, that the penitential nature of these two days ought not to be compromised.
However, there are a couple of points:
• Church law does define Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as days on which Catholics must fast, but not all Catholics. Only those aged 18-59 are obligated to fast, and even then, those whose health would be seriously injured by a strict fast are allowed to consume as much food as necessary.
• Our definition of fasting allows for one full meal and two lesser meals (the two lesser meals combined not equaling the full one), but no snacking in between (though the consumption of milk or juices is allowed).
It's legitimate, therefore, for a parish to sponsor a fish fry on either day and still adhere to Church law, because they will be serving the needs both of those for whom the parish dinner is their one full meal and of those not obligated to fast or non-Catholics. On the other hand, is it expedient to do so?
The Church's law is so liberal that it would allow gluttony to pass as fasting. What do I mean? Consider. You could eat a big breakfast and big lunch and, as long as you consume more than double that for dinner, you'd technically be fasting. Now, you'd have to be a Pharisee to think that way and it's obviously not what the Church has in mind. The Church draws her laws so inexactly on purpose, so that everyone, weak and strong, can fulfill them. They're comparable to a great pond from which all of the animals drink according to their capacity; the little birds take small sips while the elephants draw huge amounts.
The Church counts on Catholics to have a spirit of true penitence and sorrow for their sins and of willingness to make reparation for them, and to use good judgment in the process. While her minimum standard is quite low, she encourages all her faithful to exceed it, each according to his or her capability.
We hope that any parish that hosts a fish fry this Ash Wednesday or Good Friday will do so with the proper spirit, serving a simple meal to those who need it. In any event, an all-you-can-eat buffet should be out of the question.
This column appeared in a previous issue of the St. Louis Reivew.
Msgr. Mitas is pastor of St. Angela Merici Parish in Florissant. RELATED ARTICLE(S):Dear Father | Fasting helps expedite our inner reform