Yesterday my colleague Noel Sheppard noted that some Anglican bishops are urging their flocks to go "carbon" free during Lent. Along the same eco-insanity line, Chicago Tribune's religion blogger Manya Brachear submitted a post on Tuesday wondering if there's a "moral obligation" that Catholic priests have to urge their parishioners to go "fishless" or vegetarian on Fridays given concerns about mercury contamination:
Roman Catholic bishops once urged parishioners to observe meatless Fridays as a year-round act of penance. Since Vatican II, bishops have upheld meatless Fridays only during Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. The only exception is fish, prompting an annual run on seafood markets and a slew of fish fries in place of church potlucks.
But the dangers of eating tuna and swordfish, which scientists say is loaded with mercury, might be more flagellation than bishops had in mind. With Lent beginning Wednesday, should clergy encourage their flock to give up certain kinds of fish or go vegetarian?
While some scholars point to biblical passages where Jesus ate fish and fed the multitudes with the miracle of fishes and loaves, author Charles Panati says the tradition of eating fish on meatless Fridays only dates to the 16th Century.
"There is nothing sacred or profound about the tradition of meatless Friday," Panati writes in his book, "Sacred Origins of Profound Things." "Its origins were purely economic. ... With a meat shortage in England and a struggling fish industry, Parliament, with backing from the Church of England, ordered people to replace meat meals on Fridays with a fish dish. Roman Catholics adopted the personal sacrifice and made it mandatory."
What do you think? Starting this Lenten season, should clergy make a point of encouraging fishless Fridays? Are they under a moral obligation to suggest low-mercury alternatives such as tilapia or salmon?
For more NB coverage of Manya Brachear's blogs, check our archive here.