Q. Is it true that Catholics in Detroit are allowed to eat muskrat on Fridays in Lent?
A. Yes, they are. Early European immigrants who settled in that locale were largely Catholic. The harsh Michigan winters often left them little to eat other than the muskrat—a furry, marsh-dwelling rodent native to the area. To keep them from genuine hardship in near-starving conditions, an eighteenth-century bishop issued a special dispensation granting permission to eat the rodent “on days of abstinence [from meat], including Fridays in Lent.” That permission is still in force.
Though countless alternate forms of meatless fare are now available to Michiganders, the custom of eating Lenten muskrat remains popular in some communities. Several venues offer a Muskrat Dinner on Friday nights in Lent rather than the more familiar Fish Fry. The meat must be carefully prepared by removing the musk glands before cooking.
According to the late Bishop Kenneth Povish, one-time head of the Diocese of Lansing: “Anybody that eats muskrat is doing an act of penance worthy of the greatest of saints.”