Catholics in Poland have been given permission to eat meat this New Year’s Eve, which falls on a Friday, when believers are supposed to avoid meat.
On 31 December – which is referred to in Poland by the name of the saint honoured that day, Sylvester – many Poles ring in the new year with parties featuring sausages, cold cuts and other carnivorous delights. But this year, Catholics (who officially make up over 90% of the population) should in theory abstain.
However, most dioceses have given special dispensations for the faithful to consume meat, but have suggested that in exchange they should pray for the pope or pay alms.
“Given the merits of 31 December for organising family and social meetings and joyful celebration…all people in the Warsaw archdiocese are given dispensation from observing the penitential nature of Friday and the obligation of abstinence from consuming meat,” wrote Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, the archbishop of Warsaw.
People taking advantage of this dispensation should offer a prayer for Pope Francis and choose a form of compensation with an act of mercy or paying alms to the needy, he added.
Józef Kupny, the archbishop of Wrocław, said he hoped the decision would “contribute not only to deepening interpersonal relations but also to even greater understanding of abstinence from meat on the other Fridays of the whole year”, reports Polsat News.
— Archidiecezja Krakowska (@ArchKrakowska) December 27, 2021
Similar dispensations from the usual Friday abstinence have so far been given in 31 of 41 dioceses in the country, reports Wprost. Bishops in the remaining 10 still have a time to give Catholics in their jurisdiction permission, but are not obliged to.
According to Catholic canon law, a diocesan bishop, “whenever he judges that it contributes to their spiritual good, is able to dispense the faithful from universal and particular disciplinary laws issued for his territory or his subjects by the supreme authority of the church”.
Dispensations were also given by Polish dioceses the last time New Year’s Eve fell on a Friday, in 2010. And Catholics have been given permission to eat meat on other Fridays, such as in 2018, when the long May holiday weekend, a popular time for barbecuing, began on a Friday.
At that time, Archbishop Henryk Hoser reminded the faithful that there are alternatives to putting meat on the barbecue. “Jesus grilled fish, and you can also do vegetables”, he pointed out.
Many people celebrating New Year’s Eve this year are likely to be opting for more intimate events. Nightclubs and discos are currently officially closed as a result of Covid restrictions, but an exception has been granted for 31 December, albeit with attendance capped at 100 people.
Last year, the government tried to impose a curfew on the night, but backtracked following criticism of the move as unlawful and constitutional.
Ben Koschalka is a translator and the assistant editor at Notes from Poland. Originally from Britain, he has lived in Kraków since 2005.