When Cincinnati McDonald’s franchise owner Lou Groen noticed in 1962 that business in the Roman Catholic area slumped on Fridays, especially during Lent, his solution was to introduce the Filet-O-Fish. The sandwich saved his restaurant and has been a friend to Catholics and non-Catholics ever since.
The College’s dining service has served fish on Fridays this semester. It should keep it up during Lent and offer more meatless protein options throughout the year. Former food service Saga Incorporated offered fish consistently for both lunch and dinner on Fridays during Lent and throughout the year. It was Fish Friday, as consistent as Taco Tuesday.
Approximately a quarter of the student body is Catholic, and these students — as well as Catholic professors and staff — need a meatless option. Although the Roman Catholic Church permits eating meat on Friday outside of Lent, it will be hard to swallow as Lent begins.
The tradition of abstaining from meat on Fridays has early Christian roots. Because Jesus died on a Friday, Christians hold the day as one of abstinence and sacrifice. The flesh of mammals and fowl was considered more nourishing than fish, so abstinence from meat weakened the body as a sacrifice.
Up until the Second Vatican Council in the 1960s, most Catholics abstained from meat on all Fridays throughout the year, and failure to abstain was considered a grave sin.
The council decided that it was no longer a sin, but American Catholics were asked to continue abstinence freely or make another sacrifice. The price of fish plummeted in the U.S., because Catholics stopped abstaining on Fridays and stopped buying fish.
But in 2011, the bishops of England and Wales reintroduced obligatory abstinence on Fridays all year, and in 2012, Bishop Earl Boyea of the Diocese of Lansing, Michigan, in which lies the city of Hillsdale, encouraged Catholics to renew freely the tradition of year-round abstinence as a way of personal purification. “I myself am trying to change my own habits in this regard,” Boyea said. “Let’s each reflect on how best to make Friday a day of penance.”
The point is, some Catholics, including some within this diocese and at the College, strive to fast from meat not just during Lent, but all year.
Bon Appétit should keep up Fish Fridays to meet the religious need of a sizeable minority. The prices of chicken and tilapia, as well as the protein content of each, are comparable.
But if the company does not want to serve fish, it has other options.
New Orleans Archbishop Gregory Aymond responded when a member of his diocese asked if it was acceptable to eat alligator on Fridays of Lent: “Yes, the alligator is considered in the fish family and I agree with you, God has created a magnificent creature that is important to the state of Louisiana and it is considered seafood.”
The flesh of reptiles, as well as fish, shellfish, and amphibians, is permitted.
In Southern Michigan, particularly in the Detroit and Lansing dioceses, there is an informal dispensation granted for eating muskrat.
This comes from a tradition in the early 1800s when Michigan’s missionary priest Fr. Gabriel Richard allowed the French-Canadian trappers to eat the aquatic mammal on Lenten Fridays.
One Lansing bishop, who did not like the dish, said that, “anyone who could eat muskrat was doing penance worthy of the greatest saints.”
Nevertheless, unless Bon Appétit wants to serve alligator or muskrat, the company should follow the example of McDonald’s and keep fish consistently on the menu.