Friday, March 7, 2014

Friday Fish Fry and Stations

One of my more happy early childhood memories is of going regularly with my mother, many a Friday, to the fish market just off the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. My immigrant grandparents had come from a Sicilian port city and appreciated good fish. So I ate lots of fish growing up (and a particularly tasty fish soup that my mother used to make). And at that time too Friday abstinence (the prohibition of meat on Fridays and certain other days in the Church's calendar - e.g., Christmas Eve) was one of those immemorial practices that seemed to have always been and always would be. But then in the 1960s came an unexpected change in Church law - one which Andrew Greeley recognized as a major mistake - and the familiar "Fish on Friday" practice of Friday abstinence became (except in Lent) a thing of the past in the United States. 

In 2011, the Bishops of England and Wales wisely restored the ancient practice of all-year Friday abstinence. They declared: “Every Friday is set aside by the Church as a special day of penance, for it is the day of the death of our Lord. The law of the Church requires Catholics to abstain from meat on Fridays, or some other form of food, or to observe some other form of penance laid down by the Bishops’ Conference. The Bishops [of England and Wales] wish to re-establish the practice of Friday penance in the lives of the faithful as a clear and distinctive mark of their own Catholic identity. It is important that all the faithful be united in a common celebration of Friday penance. Respectful of this, and in accordance with the mind of the whole Church, the Bishops’ Conference wishes to remind all Catholics in England and Wales of the obligation of Friday Penance. The Bishops have decided to re-establish the practice that this should be fulfilled by abstaining from meat. ...In all these ways we unite our sacrifices to the sacrifice of Christ, who gave up his very life for our salvation."

Anyway, we ate lots of good fish and cooked it well in my Italian-American childhood home. But it wasn't until much later that I encountered the American Catholic  "Fish Fry." I can recall exactly when it was. It was 1977, and I was a newly hired Assistant Professor at a midwestern university, where the faculty dining room served a "fish fry" (fried cod, french fires, and cole slaw) for lunch every Friday. Much more recently, however, I have come to experience the Friday evening "Fish Fry" as a standard Lenten parish activity. So, like many other parishes in many parts of the country, we will have a "Fish Fry" before Stations of the Cross this evening and every Friday during Lent - thanks to our wonderfully active local Council of the Knights of Columbus.
If my Friday "Fish Fry" experience came relatively late in life, the association of Lenten Fridays with the Stations of the Cross goes all the way back to grade school. In those days (the mid-late 1950s), practically the entire parish school would attend the Stations at the end of the school day, filling up the big upper church (or the even bigger lower) church every Friday afternoon in Lent. The priest, accompanied by a crossbearer and two acolytes with lighted candles would walk from station to station and lead us in Saint Alphonsus Liguori's meditations and prayers (after which the service would conclude - as almost all "popular devotions" did in those days - with Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament). For many of us, I think, the best part was singing a verse of the Stabat Mater as the priest proceeded from one station to the next. What made it especially fun was how we seemed to sing that hymn as mournfully and lugubriously as possible!
A "Fish Fry" can also be lots of fun, and it can certainly contribute enormously to helping to build parish community, itself a significant contribution to the New Evangelization.

But above all Lent would hardly seem like Lent without the Stations! 

"Devotional exercises which are harmonious with the Lenten season are to be encouraged, for example the Stations of the Cross. These devotional exercises should help foster the liturgical spirit with which the faithful can prepare themselves for the celebration of Christ's Paschal Mystery" (Paschales Solemnitatis, 1988).

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