While savoring their Friday fish fries, many non-Catholics — and Catholics as well — may not realize the tradition stems from a sacrificial act Catholics formerly made every Friday.
Before 1966, Catholics ages 7 and up were required to abstain from meat on Fridays year-round as a tribute to Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Father Lou Sirianni, for one, found the edict to be a challenge.
"As a kid I hated fish; I absolutely hated fish," he said, adding that his mother was at her "wit’s end" trying to come up with a dish that would appease him.
Father Frederick Bush noted that Father Sirianni was far from alone, due to the quality of the fish in those days.
"It wasn’t that good," he remarked.
Nonetheless, fish was a leading alternative to meat. So when in 1966 the United States bishops decreed that only a handful of days — Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the Fridays of Lent — would require abstinence (for ages 14 and up), the reaction was seismic.
"It was big. I think people were so much in shock," recalled Father Sirianni, who was in seminary at the time.
Among the most taken aback were those who sold seafood for their livelihood.
"Fish dealers were very angry," Father Bush said.
But as it turns out, fish has remained a big seller in these parts: Father Sirianni noted that Rochester is renowned nationwide for specializing in fish fries. Interest in this cuisine naturally peaks during Lent, and the Knights of Columbus at St. Mark Parish in Greece — where Father Sirianni is pastor and Father Bush lives in retirement — play their part by holding Friday fish fries throughout the Lenten season.