Last week, I entertained the thought of posting a list of meatless recipes for Lent. I’ve done it a few times in the past but I haven’t done so in the last four or five years. I couldn’t anymore. It feels too hypocritical. We’ve never practiced the meatless Fridays and meatless Lents that Catholics are so fond of. And while I am all for live and let live, I cannot be a part of a propaganda movement for a belief that I find ridiculous.
For the past so many years, as a family tradition, we cook and eat dinuguan on Good Friday. Yes, it is an act of defiance to the practice of not eating meat during Lent. While I respect the right of other people to abstain from meat during Lent, I don’t have to pretend to agree and I especially don’t have to pretend to believe that there is something inherently good in the practice. In fact, I liken the practice to that call not to post food photos on the internet in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda which I openly questioned — how can not posting food photos help the typhoon victims at all? In the same manner, how can the abstinence from meat make one a better person?
But then again, we’re talking of a practice connected with religious faith, and reason is not a requisite of religious faith. The curious thing is how time, interpretations and misinterpretations have given rise to practices that did not form part of the original religious belief. Like Buddhism and vegetarianism, for instance. Today’s Buddhists are vegetarians although Buddha himself was not. It was the subsequent interpretations of Buddha’s teachings by his followers that gave rise to Buddhist vegetarianism. And even that is not all-encompassing — the Theravada view says meat is okay; the Mahayana view says not.
In Catholicism, where did the practice of abstaining from meat on Fridays and during Lent originate? Not from any statement attributed to the man called Jesus, definitely. The practice stems from Church law. In short, the bishops said so. Canon 1251 and Canon 1252 are about abstinence. Canon 1253 says the bishops can determine the exact period of abstinence. From The Vatican website:
Can. 1251 Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Can. 1252 The law of abstinence binds those who have completed their fourteenth year. The law of fasting binds those who have attained their majority, until the beginning of their sixtieth year. Pastors of souls and parents are to ensure that even those who by reason of their age are not bound by the law of fasting and abstinence, are taught the true meaning of penance.
Can. 1253 The conference of bishops can determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence as well as substitute other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety, in whole or in part, for abstinence and fast.
So, there. It’s just priest law. And it’s also priest law that says it is a “sin” not to follow the rules on abstinence. It wasn’t God — any god — that laid down the rule about not eating meat on Fridays and during Lent.