Sunday, February 25, 2007
Meat or No Meat
I have done my share of catechism classes and lectures for adult Catholics. One of the constant questions is some blither about how "if the Church is infallible how come it's okay to eat meat on Friday now and it didn't used to be?"
I used to wonder how people had become so rattle brained and inattentive. But I really don't blame the Church Militant (that would be you, if you are Catholic) for the confusion any longer. Let's get out our theological ironing board and straighten out this mess.
"..if the Church is infallible..."
The Church is infallible. It has always been infallible. The Pope wasn't always infallible. The Pope became infallible at Vatican I in the late 19th century. Then papal infallibility became retroactive. So the Pope has always been infallible.
"how come it's okay to eat meat on Friday now and it didn't used to be?"
The underlying accusation here is the the Church changes Her mind willy nilly and that next we'll have married priests and girl priests and birth control. That doesn't happen.
(Although we do have some married priests who came over from the Anglican Church when the Anglican Church decided to have girl priests. Those priests were ordained as Catholic priests and Mrs. Priest didn't have to go anywhere except home to the rectory. I think there are around 60 of them. )
It's okay to eat meat on Friday's now because eating meat on Friday is a church discipline not a Church dogma. Disciplines can change.
Dogma can not.
I think I know why people got so confused.
Confusing things happen.
For example, everyone thinks that women not longer have to wear hats in church. Obviously, in practice, this is the case. I have yet to see any bare headed women getting the bum's rush by the deacon. But the Church has never said that women no longer have to wear hats in church. That discipline did not change.
What happened? During Vatican II one of the Cardinals came out for a press conference and was peppered with questions, one of which was, "Is it true women no longer have to where hats in church?" Where the reporter came up with this question is unknown. Perhaps he was a reporter from "Hair Stylists Weekly" or "The Anti-Hat Herald". The flustered Cardinal said something to the effect of "we could care less about hats", meaning, "we have such important matters to discuss we don't have hats/no hats on the agenda at all."
The next day the Italian press headlined "Vatican Says, "No More Hats for Women!" The Cardinal came rushing back out and said, "No! NO! NO! We didn't say that!" But the horse was out of the barn. The hats were off. Like Mary Tyler Moore arriving in Minneapolis.
You are still supposed to wear a hat in church, girls. No one seems to care that you don't.
The discipline about fish on Friday did change. Here's how it irons out:
1. Friday is always a day of repentance all year round.
This means you are supposed to do penance every Friday. All these centuries the church took care of that for you by telling you the discipline to not eat meat. Handed it to you on a vegetarinan platter.
2. You get to decide what penance you will do every Friday.
The Church decided you were grown up enough now to decide for yourself how you will unite yourself with Christ's suffering and do penance for the sins of the world every Friday. You can even go all New Age-y and do good works! Skip the macaroni and cheese and fish sticks, but don't skip the penance.
3. You still have to abstain from meat on Fridays during Lent. (And Ash Wednesday.)
You can have meat if you're really sickly or under age 14. And if St. Patrick's Day lands on a Friday in Lent. But you have to get a special dispensation from the bishop to have your corned beef dinner. But not at your house. At the church fund raiser.
Let's hope we've finally gotten our theology out of the dryer before it becomes a wrinkled mess. That way, maybe we can skip all this ironing.