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March 15, 2007



"That's okay (legally), though, because canon law recognizes the possibility of custom attaining the force of law, and it seems to me that in this case that's the current basis for the Michigan muskrat exception."

No. This is incorrect, and it is an error than many people make in defending liturgical improprieties. ("It has been our custom for decades [etc.].") An alleged "custom" is only a genuine custom that can "attain the force of law" if it was not a violation of another law when it began to be practiced.

Examples ... When they began, the following were violations of the ecclesiastical law, so they could not be called "customs" and cannot now have attained the force of law:
(1) standing during the Consecration, in violation of the G.I.R.M..
(2) eating muskrat, a warm-blooded mammal, in violation of ancient laws of abstinence.


Eating Muskrat on Fridays...now THAT would be a sacrifice! [blahhkk]


Tastes like chicken!

Fr. John Pecoraro

I agree with Lino Muskrat must indeed be a penance. : )


I grew up in Detroit and I never heard of this.


It doesn't taste like chicken, and I don't know anyone who eats it on Fridays. I read about this in a local paper, but I figured it was a hoax. Mackeral, pickeral (aka walleye), perch and whitefish are the preferred Friday diet.

P.S. It's "Michiganian". "Michigander" was an insult thrown at us by an Ohio senator during the Frostbit Convention following Michigan's victory during the Battle of Toledo.


Oops, I almost forgot to mention: Father Gabriel Richard was my parish's founder but we don't have the dispensation, so it sounds fishy (pun intended). We're on the St. Clair River and... ahem, the muskrat is the Algonac schools mascot. So if anyone would eat it, we would. ;)


How can any Catholic from Detroit not know about Downriver's peculiar epicurean Lenten delight? I've known about it all my life, but I've never tried it.

'thann the Michigoose - er, Michiganian!
(Born in Detroit, grew up in Southfield, now I reside near Ann Arbor.)

Brian John Schuettler

In certain parts of southern Texas it is a custom, I hear, to eat rattlesnake on Fridays in Lent. Eating a serpent during Lent sounds like solid theology to me. :-)

Tim J.

Them's good eatin'.

Isn't there a similar custom in "Nawlins", about eating duck?

Ed Peters

What is it about comboxes that makes some people like Lino think they can pronounce with such absolute certainty that a well-reasoned post like Jimmy's (a man I know to be well read in canon law and well versed in logic) must be so obviously and flatly "incorrect"?

Maybe if I knew far less about the tortured state of "custom" in modern canon law than I do, I could be as sure of the right answer here as Lino is. Unfortuntately for me, I know my way around canon and liturgical law (note: different areas, with often different interpretation rules), so I have to admit there is more a little support for Jimmy's read.

My dad used to say, the less a man knows, the more certainly he knows it. Maybe that's why Jimmy and I read same CNS story, and found it plausible. Others have the luxury of knowing its surely wrong.

Note for Jimmy: the kind of archdiocesan iterations would seem to be recognitions of liceity, no?, esp. given that the US was under Prop Fide back when this started, and it was decretal law anyway? I think your case is stronger than you do! Best, edp.


P.S. It's "Michiganian". "Michigander" was an insult thrown at us by an Ohio senator during the Frostbit Convention following Michigan's victory during the Battle of Toledo.

Or maybe not:

Michigander (mish-uh-GAN-der) is a demonym for residents of the U.S. state of Michigan. It coexists with Michiganian (mish-uh-GAIN-ee-un), Michiganer, and Michiganite. Various Michigan residents may prefer one or the other (and those in the Upper Peninsula more typically refer to themselves as Yoopers instead). Many Michigan residents prefer the sound of Michigander (which more closely parallels the pronunciation of Michigan). The term was once considered pejorative, but has since lost its negative connotation. Some use Michigander to indicate any resident of Michigan, and use Michiganian to indicate an alumnus/alumna of the University of Michigan.

FWIW, I have family roots in Michigan and relatives who live there; I myself lived in Michigan only a brief time, and I was too young at the time to have an opinion on the subject, but I have to say, to me "Michigander" is easier to say and sounds better than "Michiganian." :-)


P.S. Thanks for the clarity, Ed. I thought earlier about writing some converging thoughts from my own ignorant position, but I was confident that if I waited for someone who knew what he was talking about to weigh in, you wouldn't disappoint us!

Sean Gallagher

A headline for the story (with apologies to Captain and Tenille):

"Muskrat Love"

Smoky Mountain Hiker

My dad used to say, the less a man knows, the more certainly he knows it

That's a tremendous maxim. May I quote your dad? How shall I credit him?

Smoky Mountain Hiker

As a corollary, I've often felt that the more I learn, the stupider I feel.


Sean, Don't apologize to Captain and Tenille! I had to listen to them at the dentist office last week while getting a crown, and I think THEY ought to be dishing out the apologies.


"What's bad for the Muskrat is good for the Michi-gander"

Tim J.

Muskrat Love was actually recorded first by America.

It wasn't much better when they did it.


I've lived in the Detroit area all my life, and though I've never had muskrat, I know a few that enjoy it every year. The prime spots for it as far as I'm aware are from the downriver area to Monroe. Most Detroiters outside those areas have never heard of this, but it's there. I was hoping to head to one of the restaurants serving muskrat on one of our few remaining Fridays, but it looks like I'm working every Friday until Good Friday. Drat...


In a paraphrase of Pope Leo X (1475-1521):

Let us enjoy the 'Muskrat' since God has given it to us!

Smoky Mountain Hiker

Timmay! ,

Is there an exclamation point on your birth certificate? Because that would be the greatest thing I've ever heard.


In Kentucky and West Virginia, possums and raccoons are delicacies any day of the week.

Cajun Nick

Tim J.,

I can't really speak for New Orleans, but in Cajun Country, Fridays of Lent are as good a reason as any to splurge on boiled crawfish (not that we really need a reason).

The splurge really does kinda keep us in the letter of the law, but certainly not in the spirit. Fortunately, we have a pastor who always reminds us that lots of crawfish, fried catfish, and cold beer ISN'T what Lent is about. It helps us to try to stay focused.

I have heard that (in the past) turtle was eaten on Fridays as a substitute for meat. But, today, our seafood markets don't stock too much turtle.

Ed Peters

SDG: thx. Smokey, you could cite him as Ed's Dad, but since i've heard it elsewhere since, it's not necessary :)


SDG, newcomers to Michigan are also called "Michiganders", so I wouldn't take that at face value. Plus, it seems to have missed "Michiganeers" as one of the names.


Enough of these Michenanigans!!


Happy not live where make eat this in Lent. Tuna sandwich help remind of lord.

Michael in ArchDen

Sean, the Denver Catholic Register used your idea for their headline...


Ed Peters

Hey, pseudomodo, leave us alone! We're happy to be able talk about anything that isn't layoffs, Granholm, or snow about now. Even if it is muskrat. Sign me, a michigonian for the last 6 years.


Aww, come on; I like Michigander better. So what if it's an insult? We still sing Yankee Doodle.

I live in Flint-area and I have never heard of people eating muskrat, but then I haven't heard of people hunting anything other than deer.

Ed Peters: "Hey, pseudomodo, leave us alone! We're happy to be able talk about anything that isn't layoffs, Granholm, or snow about now."

This made me smile. Thank you.

A Simple Sinner


Since 1987, it has been made clear by the Archdiocese that Muskrat is NOT considered fish.

If you people had grown up downriver in the Archdiocese in areas like Monroe, MI heavily populated by hearty stock descended of French Candadians trappers (my grandparents being two of them) you may have heard of this. For me and my house, we are far more appalled at deep frying oysters!

From: http://www.monroeboatclub.org/amuskratbecomesafish.htm

Up in Lansing, Bishop Kenneth Povish recalled that the muskrat question was finally settled in 1956 when it was agreed that eating muskrat dated back so far that it had become an "immemorial custom," and therefore was allowed by canon law. The bishop apparently was not a muskrat connoisseur, since he reportedly added that "anyone who could eat muskrat was doing penance worthy of the greatest saints." Regardless of individual beliefs, it remained a wide-spread practice before WWII for housewives to call on local trappers to provide muskrats through the season for regular Friday fare. In 1987, the Archbishop of Detroit appalled many local Catholics by declaring muskrat could no longer be eaten as fish. Although no longer tied to fasting on Fridays, several Catholic churches in Monroe County carry on the tradition by holding annual muskrat dinners for their parishioners. Unlike the Catholic churches and many secular organizations, protestant churches in Monroe County have not traditionally held muskrat dinners, although many of their members eat muskrat and have even been seen partaking of the dinners sponsored by the Catholics. Not to be outdone, however, a number of protestant churches do hold annual game dinners, at which muskrat may be included on the menu.

On fridays you would be more likely to catch me at a fish fry or eating Frog Legs (http://www.frogleginn.com) at the Erie Cafe in Erie, MI - home of the fourth oldest parish in the ArchD - St. Joseph's. (It is 4 min from the state line with Toledo, where I grew up, and my grandparents attended there weekly for 60 years before they were moved into assisted living due to alzheimers.) It never occured to me that frogs might not count as fish before now... hmm, better look into that one.

(As tradition would have it, the archbishop of Detroit is generally created a cardinal shortly soonafter his first pastoral visit to St. Joseph's in Erie, MI. Generally, it takes them a few years to get that far South after being appointed as auxillary bishops are frequently sent for confirmations.)

When my grandfather's VFW hall would be organizing its muskrat dinners, my grandfather would do his best to procur one for his mother, my "Old Mimmi" to cook in her home. She and her husband lived to be 102 - I was at their 75th wedding annivesary - so it stands to reason - muskrats = longevity!!! :))

But for all of you who have not tried and find it to be too distasteful to consider, please, please, please, stay away from Brunswick stew. (Jimmy will certainly know what I am talking about!) Just trust me on this one.

Oh, and yes, I have enjoyed a 'rat or two in my day. And for the record, a well cooked muskrat with carrots and potatoes IS delicious, better than pot roast!

Mary Kay

Simple Sinner, um, I'll just take your word for it. ;)

Tom P

There are a few muskrats in the pond out back. Maybe this is the extra incentive I need to go about getting my wife a fur coat.

Hey, I've been wondering what they taste like...

Tom P

Oh, and my dad and grandmother are/were both natives of Michigan. You didn't DARE let them hear you say "Michiganian".

JM Kraemer

I live in Saginaw, I have never heard of anyone eating muskrat for lent.

Oh.. and to add to the debate about what to call us people from the mitten state,

I prefer Michigander.

-JM Kraemer

-The Lego Church Project

Smoky Mountain Hiker

I've lived in southeast Michigan since before I was born...starting in Dearborn Heights and migrating ever westward and northward (now in Livingston County), continuing the Great Exodus from Detroit that defines suburban sprawl.

Considering my Michigan heritage to be an essential aspect of my person, I take great pride in my name: Michi-michi-gander-hoo.

Mary Kay

I never realized so many of Jimmy's readers lived in Michigan.

Smoky Mountain Hiker

I think it's the abundance of jobs that draws people to Michigan. Either that or the beautiful, mountainous scenery.

Sarcasm aside, I really love my state. The upper west coast (Manistee / Ludington area) rivals much of the U.S. for sheer beauty.

Quo Vadis

In certain parts of southern Texas it is a custom, I hear, to eat rattlesnake on Fridays in Lent. Eating a serpent during Lent sounds like solid theology to me. :-)

Rattlesnake is permissable as are frog legs because they are cold blooded. Only fowl and mammal meat is prohibited. Another way of looking at it is warm blooded animal meat is prohibited. So you can head down to the rattlesnake roundup and eat rattlesnake meat during Lent.

A Simple Sinner

Mary Kay, I am guessing you are a vegitarian? :)

See how they make hot dogs or (better still) Chicken McNuggets, muskrat wouldn't seem so bad...

Next thing you will be trying to tell me you have never had a good racoon stew! hmpf!

Viva la muskrat!

My Cat's Name Is Lily

"Viva la muskrat!"

Hmmmmmm....Well, not viva for long, it appears. Not if people are (blecchh!!) planning on eating them.


"What is it about comboxes that makes some people like Lino think they can pronounce with such absolute certainty that a well-reasoned post like Jimmy's (a man I know to be well read in canon law and well versed in logic) must be so obviously and flatly 'incorrect'?"

Well, Mr. Peters, "what is it about comboxes" that makes YOU think that you "can pronounce with such absolute certainty" that I am wrong?

And what makes you create a straw man -- wrongly generalizing by implying that I rejected EVERYthing in Mr. Akin's post, when I singled out ONLY his mistaken belief that a repeated behavior can be called a "custom" that can attain the force of law, even if it violates a law?

I know very well that you and Mr. Akin have expertise in Canon Law, but your haughtily offensive post wrongly assumes that I do not have any expertise. Moreover, as I have noticed in the past, you have again failed to reflect on the fact that you and Mr. Akin are mere human beings, capable of making errors, which I have a right and duty to refer to as "incorrect."

Therefore, I need to say again: a repeated action does not become a "custom" (later to attain the force of law) if it began as a sinful action (violation of an existing law).

God love you.

Ann Margaret Lewis

P.S. It's "Michiganian". "Michigander" was an insult thrown at us by an Ohio senator during the Frostbit Convention following Michigan's victory during the Battle of Toledo.

While this may be true historically, I heard another interesting take on it; that "Michiganian" was invented by feminists to make up for the fact that a "gander" is a MALE goose and didn't account for female Michigan residents. :p

Me, I like the sound of Michigander because it fits neatly into the word Michigan--far more poetic, I suppose.

As for muskrat, I've never had it for Lent, but I knew people who did. My brother trapped muskrat but only sold them for their fur. I don't think it ever occurred to him (or us) that we could eat it for Lent. It seemed just a little too...odd (and our church had a terrific fish fry at the time).

(born and raised in Waterford, MI, graduate of Michigan State University, who'd really not like to be referred to as a graduate of that other university in Ann Arbor by being called a Michiganian)

Ed Peters

God love you too, Lino.


Can canon law really be said to exist if there's no one around who will follow it, or enforce it?

Ed Peters

Oh sure, even assuming your facts, BillyHW. I mean, in a way Babylonian law exists, right? But disregard of current law does not deprive law of its existance nor of its demands on us. Disregard of real law just lessens us, not law.

Disregard of law can even appear in positions like Lino's, that is, in folks who think they are upholding "law", when in fact they are only upholding part of it. The entirety of "law" in any real legal system includes provisions for knowing when what looks like a law is not binding, or even when something that doesn't look like a law in fact is operative. Folks like Lino focus on what they can see printed in the law (or not see, in the converse) and assume that's all there is to it. They might even see real cases of contempt for law, and assume that any behavior that looks at odds with the law they can look up must be ust another example of contempt for "law".

Yet, in canon law anyway, the complex notions of dispensation and custom, etc, are themselves part of the law, even though they result in some folks misreading other parts of the law. Folks who know how law works as whole, though, want laws enforced firmly, but that means, among other things, NOT treating a legal requirements behaviors that are not actually required by the law.

Take a look at 1983 CIC 24 (though the muskrat custom far antedates it) and see if one can really say that "eating muskrat is contrary to divine law", or that permitting people on subsistence diets to eat muskrat in late winter is "unreasonable", or that the practice of eating muskrat on Fridays in Lent has been "expressly reprobated in the law".

Do that, and you'll see why Jimmy, and I, and others who have real expertise in this area, think it plausible that the muskrat custom is part of ecclesiastical discipline in this area. See the GB&I Comm 22 for a good explantion of how this works.

Ed Peters

PS: Billy, you do see that Canon 24 EXPRESSLY recognizes that custom CAN BE CONTRARY to canon law, and still be legitimate, under the conditions I posted above. Didn't want to leave out the major! Best, edp.



One of the things I've run into as a budding canonist is a firm belief by otherwise fair-minded folks that the law is designed to protect their particular freedoms, perspectives, and hopes for the Church. This strain runs deep in Catholic fundamentalism.
This is an example, par exellance.

Its on reason why Catholic fundamentalism is, in concept as scary to me as any other kind of fundamentalism.

Smoky Mountain Hiker


As a professor at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, are you located within the area of dispensation that allows muskrat consumption on Fridays in Lent?

It's just, given your well-documented love for muskrat cuisine, I have to wonder whether there's any bias in your answer.

The above is a poor attempt at humor. I don't know Ed Peters nor, to my knowledge, is there truly a paper trail regarding his muskrat consumption habits. I do not actually believe there to be bias in his answer.

Esperanto Christopher


The law of abstinence forbids the eating dishes principally or substantially comprised of the flesh of land-dwelling mammals ... the law of abstinence does not affect reptiles, amphibians, insects, or anything that is a water-dwelling animal (even if it is a mammal, so dolphin is okay).

As a Michigander with access to muskrats (I have a swamp on my property that is crawling with the fellas), I might like to know how this shakes down.

The Big Seester

There was an article in last week's Michigan Catholic about "the muskrat exemption."

I tried to find it on aodonline.org, but I don't see it, so I'll quote from the print article (by Kristin Lukowski):
The custom of eating muskrat on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent apparently goes back to the early 1800s, the time of Fr. Gabriel Richard, and when he was ministering to trappers. Legend has it that because trappers and their families were going hungry not eating flesh during Lent, he allowed them to eat muskrat, with the reasoning that the mammal lives in the water. The story varies on just where the dispensation extends; along the River Raisin, along the River Rouge, all of southeast Michigan and Monroe County are among the areas mentioned.

The Archdiocese of Detroit's communications department said there is a standing disposition for Catholics downriver to eat muskrat on Fridays, although no documentation of the original dispensation could be found. However, a 2002 archdiocesan document on Lenten observances, in addition to outlining the laws of fasting and abstinence, explains that "there is a long-standing permission - dating back to our missionary origins in the 1700s - to permit the consumption of muskrat on days of abstinence, including Fridays of Lent."


A 1987 Michigan Catholic column by Lansing Bishop Kenneth Povish addressed the issue, writing that according to a Detroit Archdiocese spokesperson, "no dispensation was ever given to allow Catholics to eat muskrat on Fridays." He referred to what he called the "Great Interdiocesan Doctrinal Debate of 1956, during which he determined that although muskrat is a warm-blooded mammal and technically flesh, the custom had been so long held along Michigan's rivers and marshes that it was "immemorial custom," thus allowed by canon law.

That's the skinny from the official Detroit Catholic newspaper.

All that being said, as a resident of the AOD, but not the downriver area, if I were to travel downriver on a Friday to try muskrat, would I be sinning?

Another lifelong Michigander.


The Big Seester

BTW, I should mention, since there are so many Detroit-area people on this blog (who knew?) - the article also listed several places where you can get a muskrat dinner during Lent, including one place in Riverview where the muskrat dinner comes with kraut and mashed potatoes, and gravy.

Let me know if you want to know where to go...


Ed Peters

JD: right. Smoky: :)

The Big Seester

Hey Ed Peters,

What's the answer to my query above?

OK, here it is again: All that being said, as a resident of the AOD, but not the downriver area, if I were to travel downriver on a Friday to try muskrat, would I be sinning?

A fellow AODer.



I'm not buying the idea that if it swims in water it is not meat. A rat is a rat. Thanks anyway, I'd rater fast.


We are prohibited from eating warm-blooded land animals on Fridays of Lent (Latin: carnes). We are not prohibited from eating warm-blooded water animals. In some diocese, muskrats are considered water animals, as are capybaras in certain South American diocese. One could eat seal, dolphin, or whale on a Friday of Lent.

Ed Pie

I caught part of that Michigan Catholic article. I liked the bit near the end where the bishop they quoted said that he'd tried muskrat, and admitted that anyone who eats it 'is doing a penance worthy of the saints.'


Ann Margaret, a graduate of that university in Ann Arbor is called a Wolverine, not Michiganian.

I decided to ask my fellow parishioners about eating muskrat on Fridays of Lent. Although some had seen the Michigan Catholic article, most said they'd never eat meat on Lenten Fridays. Then they started telling me the best way to cook muskrat. :)

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