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For Irish Catholics, the calendar poses a cultural and ecclesiastical conundrum: St. Patrick's Day falls on March 17 — which also happens to be one of the Lenten season's "meatless Fridays."

What's a St. Paddy's Day meal without a slice of rock salt-cured cow? you ask. Is it to be cod and cabbage this year? Ah, God between us and all harm!

During the 40 days of Lent, Catholics are supposed to abstain from meat on the Fridays that fall within the period of prayer and reflection. Abstinence is supposed to bring a sense of spiritual grace, even for the Irish.

Generally, the meatless Friday rule will apply on St. Patrick's Day in America's dioceses, though some bishops are giving parishioners something of a culinary indulgence or dispensation. Others are stretching the prohibition, allowing corned-beef sinners to make it all up with abstaining from meat the following day, Saturday, March 18.

The corned-beef-and-cabbage tradition began when Irish immigrants arrived in America. Back on the Emerald Isle, the traditional celebratory meal usually featured ham, since beef was a seldom-available luxury. In America, though, it was corned beef that the Irish could most easily get their hands on, and boiled vegetables — especially plentiful and cheap cabbage — were added to the plate.

Generations passed and, today, the dish is considered as Irish on St. Patrick's Day in America as green beer, leprechauns and attempts at really bad Gaelic accents.

So, what of Irish Catholics in Utah? We put the question to the Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City and the essence of the answer was Go mbeannai Dia duit (May God Bless You).

Monsignor Colin Bircumshaw, administrator of the diocese, issued this statement:

"In the Diocese of Salt Lake City, local pastors have the faculty to dispense from such obligations, asking the individual Catholic to substitute some other sacrifice or spiritual work in the place of the Friday abstinence."

Bob Mims