Every Friday until Easter, the Rev. Francis de Rosa, a Roman Catholic priest who oversees two parishes in the Arlington Diocese will pray and eat soup and bread with parishioners at the church in Colonial Beach, on Virginia’s Northern Neck.
But it won’t be a simple prayer, nor will the soup contain any chicken, beef, or pork products.
Like Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians and some Protestants, Father de Rosa will omit those items from his diet that one day a week. The communal meal of soup will follow a vigil known as the “Stations of the Cross,” prayers marking 14 points where Jesus did something of significance en route to his crucifixion.
The tradition “comes from what the practice was in the Holy Land. And then it sort of spread into the churches outside of the Holy Land, so you could sort of experience it,” he said.
As to abstaining from meat, the priest said this derives from the belief Jesus was “crucified on a Friday. And he gave up his flesh for our salvation, so it’s fitting for us, too,” to abstain.
He said, “We have a discipline of giving up meat on Fridays. It’s not a statement about the intrinsic value of meat, and we eat meat all the time. It’s just it’s a sacrifice: Christ’s sacrificed his flesh for us, so we sacrifice flesh.”
Father de Rosa said the meal follows the prayer service, and the combination helps build community in a church where seven masses are celebrated each weekend between the two churches he oversees. Not everyone sees their fellow congregants each week, he explained, so the “Soups and Stations” pairing brings people together.
“We pray before we eat, and then people eat and hang out,” he said. “It’s good for building community so that people get to know each other and the friendships get stronger and it’s an excellent thing.”
Making ways for parishioners to connect is important after three years of pandemic-related restrictions. Father de Rosa said 2022 wasn’t as difficult in his parishes, which are not in big cities, and that fears of COVID-19 “didn’t grip the people here the way it did in other places.”
In Falls Church, Virginia, the Rev. Paul Scalia of Saint James Catholic Church said the communal Friday fish fry meals during Lent help many of the 2,000 families in the parish make new connections and friendships.
“This is one thing that just brings a whole great cross-section of people together from the parish,” Father Scalia, a son of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, said in a telephone interview.
He said the meals draw “not only [people from] the parish, we get people just from the community coming and being with us. … There’s just a great community there and people just meeting one another, being with family, being with friends, making new friends. That’s one of [its] great strengths.”
Father Scalia said the meals — fried fish, french fries, macaroni and cheese and hushpuppies — are on a donation basis, allowing folks “to feed the whole family on the cheap. It’s a really good deal.”
He said the meal at Saint James’ is followed by the Stations of the Cross prayer service, which he said makes for a good blend of the temporal and the spiritual.