Faith at the table: Restaurants, churches prepare for Lenten meals

HANCOCK COUNTY — So often, fish is on the menu.

Several of the gospel writers told of Jesus feeding five thousand men, and also all the women and children there with them, using a boy’s lunch of fish and bread. The story is found in the Bible in Matthew 14, Luke 9 and John 6.

Later, only John’s gospel tells of the disciples eating breakfast with the resurrected Jesus. They’re dragging a net to shore with 153 fish in it, John writes, but Jesus has built a fire and already has fish and bread cooking over the coals.

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Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a season in the church year leading up to Easter. As they reflect on Jesus’ earthly ministry and his eventual crucifixion and resurrection, some Christians — particularly Roman Catholics — will be eating fish to avoid eating meat on Fridays. In decades past, devout Catholics avoided eating meat on Fridays year-round, but since Vatican II it’s been permitted to limit the practice to Lent.

St. Thomas Catholic Church offers a series of meatless Friday meals for those observing the Lenten dietary practice — or anyone else wanting to stop by for the meal.

Restaurants also keep Lent in mind for seasonal menus. Prairie du Sac, Wisconsin-based restaurant chain Culver’s, which has a Greenfield restaurant, added walleye to its menu Monday (Feb. 5). Becca Vollmer, in an email to the Daily Reporter, said the walleye returns to the restaurant’s menu each year for the Lenten season.

Other restaurants also have Lent in mind. McDonald’s offers specials on its Filet-O-Fish sandwich during Lent “to ensure all of our customers have choice,” wrote Wilma Griffith, a communications and brand reputation manager for the restaurant’s Indianapolis-Heartland Regions, in an email to the Daily Reporter. Griffith also wrote that in recent years, 25 percent of the Filet-O-Fish sandwiches sold were during the Lenten season.

In fact, according to the company’s website, Filet-O-Fish was born during Lent: in the early 1960s, a franchisee in a largely Roman Catholic part of Cincinnati saw sales go down on Fridays. He persuaded McDonald’s founder Ray Kroc to test a fish sandwich, and it remains on the menu today.

Still another option is gathering for a meal at church. Friday (Feb. 16), St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church will begin its annual meatless meal series. The meals are open to the public and offered for a free-will donation. Church member Stephanie Garst said they tend to draw both Catholics observing meatless Fridays and also others who simply enjoy coming out for a meal with a friend or two.

Someone says a prayer at the beginning, but largely “It’s just a chance to hang out with each other and eat and talk,” Garst said. “You can come in and eat and share some fellowship with the others who come.”

The meatless practice is a penitential act, Garst said — something sacrificed, as people “give up” something for Lent or add extra church attendance or other spiritual disciplines during the holy season. The focus, she said, is not on the food so much as the faith; these small sacrifices serve as reminders for believers of the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus’ life.

“We’re repenting of our sins in preparation … usually we give up something or do something special during Lent,” she said.

“We are asked to do something to call to mind what Jesus is getting ready to go through for us.”

Meatless meals

St. Thomas the Apostle Catholic Church is once again serving meatless meals from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Feb. 16, Feb. 23, March 2, March 9 and March 16. The meals will be served in the parish activity center of the church, 523 S. Merrill St., Fortville.

The menus will be:

Feb. 16: assorted soups, grilled cheese and enchiladas

Feb. 23: assorted quiche and salmon patties

March 2: fettuccini, egg casserole and company French toast

March 9: pan-fried fish and meatless lasagna

March 16: baked pasta and tuna salad and egg salad sandwiches

March 23: pan-fried fish and meatless cheesy taco casserole

All meals include assorted veggies, salad, desserts and drink. A

free-will offering is accepted for all meals but the fish fries, which cost $5 per meal.

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Anne Smith is a reporter at the Greenfield Daily Reporter. She can be reached at annesmith@greenfieldreporter.com