St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday this year. Sounds great, right? A long weekend dedicated to getting your Irish on. But for Catholics who love to tuck into the traditional holiday meal of corned beef and cabbage, it's not necessarily a good thing. Fridays during Lent are meant to be meat-free.

Many bishops across the country, however, have stepped in — as canon law allows — to give their flocks a pass to indulge without guilt.

Bernard Hebda, Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, is among them.

"I think St. Patrick would be very happy with [Hebda]," said Sean Clerkin, a longtime organizer of Minneapolis' St. Patrick's Day parade. "You know what they say — everyone is Irish on St. Patrick's Day,"

In a Feb. 15 decree, Hebda wrote that because St. Patrick's Day is so prominent "in the sensibilities and practice of faithful Catholics of this local Church," a "relaxation of the penitential spirit normally to be observed on any Friday, most especially a Friday in Lent" was warranted.

There's a catch though: Those who eat meat on Friday should pick a different day and give up something or do a good deed in return, Hebda wrote.

"All, however, who choose to enjoy the favor of the dispensation by partaking in the eating of meat on the Memorial of Saint Patrick this year, are exhorted to undertake a work of charity, an exercise of piety, or an act of comparable penance on some other occasion during the Third Week of Lent," he wrote.

Nearly every diocesan bishop in Minnesota is following suit by granting a special dispensation lifting the requirement. The only holdout is New Ulm's Bishop Chad Zielinski, who decided to keep the meat-free rules in place.

In Minneapolis, Friday's parade, now held in Columbia Heights, will end up at Murzyn Hall for a "Barney Blast" after-party where corned beef and cabbage will be served. Clerkin was glad to get the official go-ahead for the feast.

St. Paul's parade on Friday will end with a 1 p.m. "Ballpark Hooley" sponsored by Guinness at CHS Field.

An American tradition

St. Patrick's Day falls on a Friday about every 7 years, on average — and dispensations are quite common. This year, the National Catholic Register checked in with all 176 Latin Rite territorial Catholic dioceses in America to see how they were handling the day, which began as a religious holiday in Ireland and has become a boisterous celebration of all things Irish.

As of March 3, the Register found that 105 dioceses, including most in Minnesota, had decided that their faithful should be able to feast, not fast.

The only place in the state where it's not OK to eat meat? In the Diocese of New Ulm, where Zielinski decided not to grant any special dispensation this year. Christine Clancy, the diocese's director of communications, didn't provide a reason for his decision.

But a St. Patrick's Day without corned beef is still St. Patrick's Day, said Clerkin, who suggested substituting "those beautiful fish, walleye."

Besides, he pointed out, corned beef isn't even Irish, but Irish-American, originating here in the 19th century. Growing up in Ireland, Clerkin didn't eat the dish at all.

"When I lived in Ireland, we didn't have corned beef and cabbage. That was not a high item on our menu," he said.

He's since become a fan, though.

"It's a godsend," he said. "If you get the right corned beef and cabbage, it's tasty, it's delicious, and it's a very comfortable meal to eat. And you know the nice thing about the foundation of corned beef and cabbage? It gives a good base to top it off with a bottle of Guinness."