by Jessica Langdon
MISSION — The seemingly ubiquitous Friday fish feast is missing from the menu at St. Pius X Parish here each Lent, but no one finds that the least bit fishy.
Parishioners have found instead that the parish’s simple Soup Supper (usually paired with salad or another humble side) is seasoned with the perfect flavor for Lent.
“Lent is the time of penance, the time that we do fasting, almsgiving and prayer,” said Father Ken Kelly, pastor.
And to him, that means an air of simplicity when it comes to Ash Wednesday or Friday meals.
But that’s not always how it works in the modern world, he said.
Those popular Friday all-you-can-eat fish feasts or meals centered on pricey prime catches have certainly caught on over the years.
“It isn’t really too much of a fast to turn from hamburgers and have shrimp instead,” he said.
Basically: “Something expensive and delicious.”
“It just doesn’t make sense with Lent,” said Father Kelly.
So for the past several years, St. Pius X has served up a tradition of its own, with different groups and ministries volunteering to handle the soup meal each Friday of Lent.
“People bring in their own recipes,” said Lou Anne Wagner, parish secretary and facilities manager. “You get a really interesting palette of foods.”
Often, the meal consists of pots of different meatless soups (or a big batch of one soup when certain groups come together to make a meal), a salad, and sometimes a very simple macaroni and cheese or possibly cheese pizza for the younger set.
It’s not designed for people to stuff themselves — it’s for sustenance, fellowship and faith.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not nourishing or a treat for the taste buds.
The crowd has sampled some tasty fare: broccoli cheese soup, potato soup and an array of lentil and bean soups, for example.
The music ministry once included a potato bar to mix things up.
“I’ve heard some people say they love how it’s more in keeping with the Lenten theme,” said Wagner. “It’s nice to just simplify it.”
And even on the final Lenten Friday before Good Friday (when there is no parish meal), the one fish dinner takes a humble approach.
“It’s not your big, fancy fish,” said Marisa Bade, parish special events coordinator and — like Wagner — a lifelong parishioner. “It’s tilapia. They either grill or bake it.”
Father Kelly encourages people — even if they’re not attending the meal — to eat a simpler Friday meal: macaroni and cheese, peanut butter sandwiches or a tuna casserole.
The simpler, more penitential meals offer an opportunity to “take the money we would have spent going to Long John Silver’s or Red Lobster and give to Catholic Relief Services through Operation Rice Bowl,” he said.
And the parish does well on that. People who attend the Friday meals can contribute what they would have spent otherwise on a dinner.
It’s also a good chance to connect.
“We have all kinds of people sitting around and talking, catching up with each other,” said Bade. “I love being there and visiting with old friends and meeting new friends and welcoming people into our parish. I love everything about it.”
The meal starts at 5:30 p.m., so everyone has plenty of time to eat and visit before they head to the church for Stations of the Cross at 7 p.m.
The gatherings have pulled Wagner into the Stations of the Cross tradition.
“I’ve really fallen in love with them over the past few years,” she said.
St. Pius X is a smaller parish, but you’d never notice that, with all the different ministries and activities going on through the year, said Bade.
Wagner noted that there are plenty of parties, but these gatherings provide a welcome break.
“It’s nice to have quiet time with people in your parish family,” said Wagner. “It’s more like a family dinner.”