Fish fries are more than food; they are community

Although I’ve never been a huge fan of attending Mardi Gras festivities, I have always used the season as a gauge of how long I had until Lent. In particular, I knew that the day after Mardi Gras was Ash Wednesday, and that with Ash Wednesday came the season of Lent – and Friday fish fries!

In terms of food, Lent has always been exciting for me because I love seafood. It seemed perfect, as a child, that on Fridays during Lent, we either went to eat seafood at a restaurant or dad made breakfast or alfredo or something meatless.

My first Lent in St. Louis, I was nervous: I had no idea how to make fish or shrimp, and I didn’t quite trust the local “seafood” with the state being landlocked.

At Mass, the pastor announced the fish fry, and I thought I’d give it a try. After all, I had to pass the church on my way home from school. I still count that decision as one of the best decisions I’ve made since moving to St. Louis.

Entities across the city make a big deal of their fish fries, with advertisements on billboards. Friends of mine who aren’t even Catholic have gone to the fish fries on campus and at the cathedral.

But it isn’t just about the food. Attending the fish fry, usually occurring after the stations of the cross, means participating in the church community.

One of the complaints I have heard from young adults is that the Catholic Church lacks community or fellowship, when compared with other denominations of Christianity. But how can that be? Our seasons are oriented around community and hospitality.

At the fish fry, it isn’t just the parish priest and a handful of community members. The church’s men’s group usually organizes the event and cooks the food, with their wives or members of another church group helping to serve the masses of hungry people. I have yet to attend a fish fry where there weren’t large crowds gathered to eat and talk with other members of the community.

At these weekly events, we participate not only in offering a sense of community within our local parishes, but we also look forward to the last meal of the Lenten season: Jesus’ Last Supper.

As we gather for fellowship, sharing our meal with one another in our church families, we participate in an extension of Jesus’ last supper. Perhaps this is why the fish fries happen during Lent, to give us weekly reminders of what is coming, but also to give us an opportunity to live out the Mass, which is also a reenactment of Jesus’ Last Supper.

This Lent, as we prepare to reflect upon and repent of our sins, as we share in and commemorate the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus, think about the ways in which we can continue reenacting Jesus’ final supper as a means of commemoration, and try to attend at least one fish fry as a way of sharing in the fellowship of the Catholic community.

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