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Palates of Penance
Archbishop Aymond Addresses Rules Bent for Lent: Gator, Fasting, and Faith
Two weeks ago, Catholics were tickled when a letter from Archbishop Gregory Aymond gave Lenten observers the go-ahead to eat alligator meat on the Fridays leading up to Easter. Since news outlets went public with the Archbishop’s 2010 response, questions have been circulating about where penitent parishioners can draw the line between meat and fish.
Reason for the Season
According to Catholic teaching, Jesus fasted for 40 days and nights in the Judean Desert following his Baptism. Followers fast on Fridays to emulate Jesus in the weeks leading up to Good Friday, the day on the Christian calendar on which Jesus dies on the cross. By abstaining from meat one day out the week, the faithful believe they are doing the least they can to honor their savior’s ultimate sacrifice.
Furthermore, Lent is a time in which believers choose something of value to give up for 40 days. (For more on the tradition’s roots and the transition from Carnival into Lent, read more from NoDef’s piece on Ash Wednesday.)
Rarely is there a practice in South Louisiana that doesn't have its own local spin. Accordingly, local Catholics have found a way to turn a fast into a fest. For many, Lent isn’t as much about sacrifice as it is about culture, tradition, and community. Churches from Gentilly to Uptown invite hungry seafood lovers to gather on Friday afternoons and evenings during Lent, and volunteers and staff members cook up fish, cole slaw, hush puppies, fries, shrimp, and other non-carnivorous delights. Needless to say, these occasions are anything but solemn.
One of the city’s most famous fish fries takes place at Our Lady of the Rosary (3368 Esplanade Avenue). In keeping with the leniency of Lent’s official rules, O.L.R. staff member and fish fry organizer Grace Donaud said, “It’s parishioners getting together to try to make our parish better.”
With Louisiana’s unique ecological makeup, dietary restrictions can be as murky as the swamps themselves. The likes of nutria, turtles, frogs, and a variety of meat broths blur the lines between fish and meat, posing questions for Lenten observers who want to stay good with God. Archbishop Aymond cleared up those questions in an interview with WWL radio personality Spud Mcconnell.
According to Aymond, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops have determined that meat, “comes only from animals such as chickens, cows, sheep, or pigs, all of which live on land. Birds are also considered meat,” the document reads. Obvious at first, but it gets more interesting.
Now that the pious have established that alligator meat is Friday-friendly, questions remain about what makes the amphibious flesh different from other swampy species.
“Fish are a different category of animal. Salt and freshwater species of fish, amphibians, reptiles (cold-blooded animals) and shellfish are permitted.”
USCCB okayed alligator, but nutria and other warm-blooded creatures that split their time between water and land are still off limits. However, you don’t have to sacrifice your chicken broth if you’re cooking a hearty vegetable soup for the family.
In the Aymond interview with Spud McConnell, the pair preemptively scolded Catholics who were in their cars, on their way to buy alligator sausage to freeze for Friday.
“You can’t cut your alligator sausage with pork,” McConnell laughed. Aymond agreed.
Although devoted diners can’t eat land-bound flesh directly, there’s no provision that bars them from to soaking up forbidden flavors. Abstinence laws, “do not include meat juices and liquid foods made from meat,” the USCCB declared. “Foods such as chicken broth, consommé, soups cooked or flavored with meat, meat gravies or sauces, as well as seasonings other condiments made from animal fat are technically not forbidden,” according to the USCCB.
Substance of Sacrifice
Despite the surprising allowances, holy leaders want observers to remember the crux of the issue. While the community component is important, USCCB urges fasters to ponder the meaning of the season.
“Moral theologians have traditionally taught that we should abstain from all animal-derived products (except foods such as gelatin, butter, cheese and eggs, which do not have any meat taste),” the USCCB document reads.
Aymond echoed the USCCB’s sentiments in his radio interview, and the religious figure asked believers to reflect on the gravity of their Lenten fast.
“We’re called to abstain and fast for penance,” Aymond continued. “Lent calls us to fast and pray in a very particular way, and when you begin to split all these little hairs, you need to stand back and say, ‘am I splitting hairs to live up to the letter of the law?’” Aymond reflected.
Instead of going through the motions, observers should use Lent as a time to ask themselves, “Am I doing penance during Lent? Is it penance that hurts me in some way so that my heart gets bigger to love God and to love others?” said Aymond.
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