The Rule of Saint Benedict mostly forbade monks from eating meat. The keyword here is “mostly.” Medieval monks were only allowed to eat meat if they were extremely ill. Of course, that didn’t stop them from creating loopholes in the later Middle Ages! However, in The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, the author (Lanfranc, hence the name!) was pretty clear regarding what a monk needs to do after he consumed meat:
His penance began as soon as he started eating. There is no time to waste when it comes to a human’s soul, after all! The monk wore his hood over his head and leaned on a staff if he needed to leave his bed. Because the monk was still ill when doing this, it is possible these actions solved other problems. A hood kept the monk’s head warm and a staff helped him walk. As mentioned in my last post, a monk could only stay in the infirmary if he was bedridden, so a staff was vital for safe movement due to his weakened state. Lanfranc does say that if a monk can get out of bed, he isn’t sick enough to be in the infirmary. Perhaps the monk used the staff if he needed to get out of bed to relieve himself or something of that sort. (Lanfranc does not specify his reasoning.)
When the monk felt well enough to return to his duties he underwent a long penitential ritual before he rejoined the community:
- Step 1: The monk was shaved.
- Step 2: He entered the choir an hour before chapter.
- Step 3: During mass, the monk was not allowed to make an offering.
- Step 4: When it was time to discipline wrongdoers in chapter, the monk stood up first.
- Step 5: He lay prostrate on the ground in front of the community and asked for forgiveness.
- Step 6: The abbot told him to stand.
- Step 7: The monk stood and recited, “My Lord, I have been long in the infirmary borne down by sickness; I have offended in matters of food and drink and much else, and I have acted against our established discipline, and for this I beg of you absolution.” (The original Latin is “Domine, infirmitate mea grauatus in domo infirmorum diu fui; in cibo et potu et aliis multis offendi, et contra ordinem nostrum feci, et inde peto absolutionem uestram.”)
- Step 8: The abbot absolved him of his sins by saying, “May the almighty Lord absolve you from these and all other faults.” (The original Latin is:“Omnipotens Dominus absoluat uos ab his, et ab omnibus aliis uestris delictis.”)
- Step 9: The other monks said “Amen.” (The Latin word for “Amen” is the same.)
- Step 10: The monk went to the abbot’s feet before going back to the place he lay down earlier.
- Step 11: He thanked the abbot and the community for tending to him while he was sick.
- Step 12: He made three genuflections.
- Step 13: The abbot told the monk to eat mixtum that day and until he was completely recovered. (Mixtum was the extra meal oblates, sick monks and elderly monks ate so they wouldn’t go hungry during the day.)
And that is the ritual! Clearly, Lanfranc took meat-eating extremely seriously.
If a monk did not eat meat, Lanfranc instructs the abbot to decide when the sick monk could return to the community and whether or not he received special treatment in the future.
Lanfranc. “The Care of the Sick and Their Indulgences.” The Monastic Constitutions of Lanfranc, translated by David Knowles, Thomas Nelson and Sons Ltd, London, 1951, pp. 119-120. Medieval Classics.