For some reason the issue of idols keeps coming up.
Pope Francis had a meal catered for 1500 poor people. He served them lasagne alla bolognese, lasagne in the style of Bologna. Sort of.
By the way… it’s lasagne, plural, just as it’s spaghetti, plural. Lasagna is from Latin laganum or Greek laganon, for rectangular sheets of pasta. There is a 14th c cookbook, Liber de coquina which has a recipe that is moving in the direction of more modern lasagne. I digress.
Italians have their traditional recipes which have come even to be codified by commissions. The Accademia Italiana della Cucina informed the Camera di Commercio di Bologna that they identified the traditional recipe. The sauce for the dish, ragù, includes both beef and pancetta, that is, salt cured pork belly.
Il Messaggero reports that Francis served lasagne alla bolognese made without pancetta! HERE
Oh the humanity!
Okay. Perhaps the world won’t fall apart if something that is not lasagne alla bolognese is called lasagne alla bolognese.
The point is that the recipe, the meal – according to the report – was “rigorosamente halal” so that Muslims could eat it. That obviously requires the omission of pork.
However, it also includes halal meat in the lasagne!
(One of my correspondents quipped to me that the only religious prescriptions he seems to respect are the non-Catholic ones. Also, we must leave aside that Francis had served tortellini made with – I can hardly bring myself to write – chicken. The newish Archbp. of Bologna, Zuppi, thought this was a good idea for the annual feast of San Petronio, thus sparking polemics and even comments from politicians about undermining tradition for the sake of illegal immigrants. Yes, tortellini are important.)
This brings up another question. Many people over the last few years have asked me if it is okay for us to eat halal meat.
This is complicated. And, again, we are into a discussion of the worship of idols and the possible involvement of demons.
Halal meat. What is it?
I am not an expert on Islam, nor do I play one on TV. What follows is a sketch. There are variations according to the Islamic group, but the framework seems to be the same across the board.
Interpreters within Islam are themselves divided over how animals for food are to be ritually slaughtered (dhabihah). Suffice to say that there are Islamic certifications for meat slaughtered in a way they deem acceptable.
Regardless of the method, there is always a prayer pronounced over the animal while killing it. The prayer to be recited is “Bismillah allahu akbar… In the name of allah; allah is the greatest.” If the name “allah” is accidentally omitted the meat might permissible. If purposely omitted it is haram, forbidden. Slaughtering in the name of any other god is forbidden. Different communities differ on the admissibility of meat ritually slaughtered by Jews (shechita) or slaughtered by Christians in whatever manner.
Muslims are obliged to eat only halal meat. (Therefore the papal lasagne had halal beef. If it didn’t they massively offended the Muslims to whom they were catering.)
Many groceries are caving into this and provide only halal meat. Some tell their customers and some, apparently, don’t readily admit it.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 10:
Therefore, my beloved, shun the worship of idols. I speak as to sensible men; judge for yourselves what I say. The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. Consider the people of Israel; are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
Is halal meat the same as the meat offered to idols against which St. Paul inveighs? I’ll get to that. Are Christians permitted or forbidden from eating halal meat?
Going on.let’s consider what else Paul says in 1 Cor 10:
“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. Eat whatever is sold in the meat market [including meat sacrificed to false idols] without raising any question on the ground of conscience. For “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. (But if some one says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then out of consideration for the man who informed you, and for conscience’ sake— I mean his conscience, not yours—do not eat it.) For why should my liberty be determined by another man’s scruples? If I partake with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of that for which I give thanks?
One can argue that the animal slaughtered in the Islamic way, is a kind of sacrifice to a false god.
Must Catholics automatically accept that the God of Jews and Christians and the god of Islam are the same? LG 16 and CCC 841 pretty much say so. According to Islam – again, I am not an expert on Islam – Mohammed was visited by an angel, supposedly Gabriel. However, what Gabriel told Mohammed contradicts what we know the Archangel Gabriel told Mary. Hence, we must conclude that a false “gabriel”, a fallen angel visited Mohammed. In that case is “allah” the same as a the Christian/Jewish God?
The 1st Commandment of the Decalogue forbids us to partake in false religions. As a Christian, I contend that Islam is a false religion.
So, if “allah” really is a false god and not, in fact, the same God of the Jews and Christians, then eating halal meat, ritually slaughtered in the name of a false god, violates what Paul said in 1 Corinthians.
In the case Paul brings up, the person tells the other explicitly that the meat was sacrificed to an idol, hence, its eating is intended to be an extension of participation in the worship of the false god/idol. If the idol meat is simply meat that was once sacrificed to an idol but now who cares? That distances the consumer from the act of worship. Nitpicking? No. That’s making distinctions. As Paul did.
Many places serve halal meat without obviously notifying the customer.
Peter, in Acts 10, receives a vision of all sort of animals including those forbidden in the Law. He hears God’s voice to “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.” God explains, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” This is repeated three times, just in case Peter doesn’t get it. Three seems to be Peter’s thing. There are no animals which are, by their nature, impure. However, as Paul said, food should be avoided if eating it would be a participation in false worship.
Apparently food sacrificed to idols is still a thing.
Does the prayer to “allah” pronounced in dhabihah ritual slaughter tantamount to sacrificing the animal to an idol?
Frankly, the manner in which the animal is slaughtered and the prayer which is pronounced, make it seem very much like a sacrifice to rather than just a invocation of blessing.
So, the slaughter is one thing. Let’s say for the sake of this post that halal slaughter is the same as sacrifice to a false god. That’s debatable, but let’s say that it is.
I have in mind a scenario of a barbecue. Lots of stuff on the grill. Some of the meat is halal. The grillmaster says, “Come and get it!” A prayer is said, “Bless us, O Lord, and these Thy gifts…”. Everyone digs in. Acceptable? I am leaning towards ‘yes’.
Alternatively, the grillmaster says, “This is halal meat, which was killed in the name of Allah.” Nope. Sorry. That seems to me to be, by intention, an extension of participation in a false religion.
To be on the strict side, avoid halal meat if possible.
NO MATTER WHAT, always ask God’s blessing on anything you purchase and what you cook and what you eat. As Paul says, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
There is nothing wrong and everything right with asking God to bless foodstuffs
- after you buy them,
- while you are preparing and cooking them, and
- before you eat them.
Pious Jews say their blessing prayers – beautiful prayers – even for different categories of foods as they eat.
Again, I am not an expert on how Muslims kill animals for food or how they pray. I am happy to be corrected if I have put my foot wrong. However, I suspect that I am on the right track.
I close this post with a reminder of the nice little booklets published by a monastic community in France, Èditions Pax Inter Spinas, that is, Benedictiones Mensae, or “table/meal blessings” with Gregorian chant notation. These are the traditional meal blessings used in the Roman Rite, especially in communities like seminaries and monasteries. I think it would be great for even families to have these booklets and learn how, as a family, to sing these prayers.
I posted a podcast about this. HERE