In Cameroon, a common belief is that the Roman Catholic Church "forbids" the consumption of meat on Fridays during Lent (penance time that lasts from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day, the day of Jesus Christ's resurrection). This is not a prohibition as people believe, but rather a "recommendation," the clergy explains.
"If someone who rarely eats meat sees it on Fridays, he can’t seriously refrain from eating meat. He can eat it without worry, for true abstinence or penance is that of the heart (…) ‘Tear your hearts and not your garments,’ says Isaiah,” a priest explains.
“According to Psalm 51, The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart. But if we are used to eating meat every day, we can refrain from doing so on Fridays,” he adds.
"The Church suggests followers should abstain from eating meat during the two days of strict fasting: Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, and Good Friday, the day of our Lord's death on the cross. For the other Fridays of Lent, it depends on the capacity of each one to fast in his/her spiritual life," said another priest.
In the past, however, the Catholic Church had forbidden meat consumption on Friday, the day Christ was crucified. "It is the passion that is celebrated. Therefore, it is advisable to avoid everything that has to do with blood and to concentrate on the prayer that we are going to elevate," a third priest says.
The Second Vatican Council, an extensive consultation of bishops held from 1962 to 1965, led to the relaxation of many Catholic church traditions, we learn.
"Many things have changed today, especially with the 1983 Code of Canon Law," says the aforementioned religious leader. Canon law states that "abstinence from meat or other foods... shall be observed every Friday of the year, unless it falls on one of the days marked as a solemnity; but abstinence and fasting shall be observed on Ash Wednesday and the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In other words, the Catholic Church invites its followers to fast on Good Friday especially to relate with the suffering of Christ and to get closer to "that which truly nourishes."
"For a long time in the history of the Church, meat has been privileged to mark feasts and celebrations. In most ancient cultures, meat was considered a delicacy and the fattened calf was only ‘killed’ if there was something to celebrate. Since Friday was considered a day of penance and mortification, eating meat to ‘celebrate’ the death of Christ seemed inappropriate," a French Christian website explains. Today, meat is no longer this ‘delicacy’ and Christians are invited to fast, as usual, abstaining from what leads them to sin.
Patricia Ngo Ngouem