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Scott P. Richert

Reader Question: Saint Joseph's Day and Abstinence

By March 18, 2010

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Shirley, a reader of the About.com GuideSite to Catholicism, has asked an interesting question on question form:

Since St. Joseph's Day falls on a Friday, am I allowed to eat meat?

In 2010, the Feast of Saint Joseph falls on Friday, March 19. (That's why the month of March is dedicated to Saint Joseph.) But what does that have to do with our Friday abstinence?

Saint Joseph's Day is no ordinary feast. It is a solemnity, which is the highest ranking of any feast in the Catholic liturgical calendar. (Other solemnities include Easter, Pentecost, and Christmas, Trinity Sunday, the Feasts of Saint John the Baptist and Saints Peter and Paul, as well as feasts of our Lord and the Blessed Virgin Mary.)

In essence, a solemnity is as important as a Sunday, and, as we know, Sundays are never days of fasting and abstinence. That is why the Code of Canon Law (Can. 1251) declares:

Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday [emphasis mine].

There are two solemnities that can fall during Lent: Saint Joseph's Day and the Annunciation of the Lord. Whenever one of these solemnities falls on a Friday, the faithful are dispensed from the requirement to abstain from meat.

Just like on the Sundays in Lent, however, that doesn't necessarily mean that we should go out of our way to enjoy a big, juicy steak. We might instead celebrate the feast with a traditional Italian meal for Saint Joseph's Day, such as Saint Joseph's Pasta or Legume Soup for Saint Joseph's, both of which are meatless because, traditionally, Catholics abstained from meat on every day of Lent. And for dessert, try some Zeppole di San Giuseppe—Saint Joseph's Fritters. Kyle Phillips, the About.com Guide to Italian Food, has two wonderful recipes, one from Sicily, and the other from Naples.

But if you find yourself in circumstances in which you're served meat on Friday, March 19, 2010, or even if you just feel like having that big, juicy steak, go ahead and dig in. Saint Joseph's got your back.

March 18, 2010 at 2:47 pm
(1) Terri Mauro says:

Thanks so much for mentioning this! My son goes to a special-needs social group that has a Friday night Italian Dinner every year … right in the middle of Lent. I’ve had to steer him away from the veal parmesan and sausage and peppers and make him eat nothing but ziti and salad. He told me that one of the leaders said he could eat meat this year because it was St. Joseph’s day, but I was skeptical, until I read this post. Nice that he’ll be able to enjoy the feast!

March 19, 2010 at 8:06 am
(2) Avalon - de Trinidad says:

Thank you! My mum and I needed some clarification and you provided that this morning. Now on to my meat dish! Good to know St Joseph will have our backs. Lol.

March 19, 2010 at 10:50 am
(3) Anne says:

I’ve been running a website about St. Joseph’s Day for the last 13 years and a reader tipped me off to this bit of canonical law. The information is very helpful. Thank you so much! Do you mind if I link back to your article?

March 19, 2010 at 10:57 am
(4) Scott P. Richert says:

Terri, Avalon, and Anne, I’m glad I could be of assistance. Anne, please feel free to link back to the article.

March 19, 2010 at 7:24 pm
(5) Mary Anne Richert says:

I must have remembered that from my Catholic school days because I had a hamburg today.

March 19, 2010 at 11:24 pm
(6) Reg Smith says:

I never thought of that.
I’m a convert (long time ago now) and so maybe that’s why I never thought of this possibility.
Now it’s almost 11:30pm. Too late to eat some meatloaf now.
(I’ll eat two suppers on Sunday!)

March 20, 2010 at 2:50 pm
(7) Maria says:

What about St. Joseph’s Day also representing Poles and Slovaks and all Catholic Slavs? Way to leave out one whole entire group of people. Guessing this was written by someone who actually knows very little about St. Joseph’s Day or is Italian. Way to go….excluders!

March 20, 2010 at 4:10 pm
(8) Scott P. Richert says:

Maria, your guess is wrong. I’m half Polish and half German. I’m well aware of Slavic traditions surrounding Saint Joseph’s Day, but this was a short blog post about the exemption from Friday abstinence, not an exhaustive discussion of the feast. Most Americans, if they know about any Saint Joseph’s Day traditions, know about the Italian tradition of Saint Joseph Altars, so it seemed reasonable to send readers to Kyle’s site.

March 20, 2010 at 6:27 pm
(9) Maria says:


March 22, 2010 at 9:54 am
(10) Dan F. says:

Hi Scott,

I’m a relatively new convert – could you put together a post along the lines of “Catholic feasts, solemnities, and days of obligation – a How-to for new converts”

March 23, 2010 at 10:12 am
(11) Scott P. Richert says:

That’s a good idea, Dan. Thanks.

March 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm
(12) Jason says:

So I was told that on St Joseph’s Day that you can indulge in what ever you gave up for lent…is this true? I gave up alcohol so does that mean I can have wine today?

March 22, 2011 at 2:21 pm
(13) Edward says:

Dear Jason,

Yes! The answer is yes! Not only are you allowed but you are encouraged to celebrate the feast. We should fast when the church fasts and feast when it feasts! St. Joseph is considered the second most important saint behind the blessed virgin Mary. Coming up this Friday we have another like situation where the Annunciation falls on a Friday, but because it is a solemnity it is technically not Lent. I’m not saying we should indulge just to take some liberty that is allowed but we should fully particiapate in the feast! Go to Mass that day. Have a steak, have a beer or glass of wine and maybe even a piece of cake. Make it a special day for yourself and your loved ones… spiritually enter in to the feast and live our amazing faith.

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