“Laissez les bon temps roulez!” Let the good times roll! It’s Mardi Gras season, our celebration of Fat Tuesday is next week, the last hurrah for partying and feasting before embracing the austerity and discipline of Lent on Ash Wednesday, February 18th.
In Latin cultures it is “Carnivale” – carne (flesh) + levare (to lift/put away) – to get rid of meat. The day before Ash Wednesday is “fat” Tuesday because people would clear their pantries of fatty foods like cheese, cream, and butter. In German-speaking areas it is Fastnacht, the night (nacht) before the fast. A “fastnacht” is also the name of the delicious sweet fried dough made for the occasion. In England and Russia it known as Shrovetide, the season (-tide) of shriving (confession/absolution/penance). One was expected to go to confession in the days before Lent so as to receive an appropriate penance to exercise during Lent. And while one was unloading sins upon the parish priest, kitchens were unloading flour, eggs, and butter with Shrovetide Pancakes!
Don’t miss our own 29th Annual “Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper” on Tuesday evening from 5 to 7:30 in the Parish Hall, sponsored by the Boy Scout Troop 215. Proceeds benefit Meals on Wheels.
Then on Ash Wednesday, those of appropriate age are obliged to fast (eat only one full meal) and abstain from meat. The obligation to abstain from meat repeats each Friday of Lent, and Good Friday is also a day of fasting and abstinence.
Several years ago a well-meaning Baptist friend of mine was humored to hear that Catholics actually observe Lent in this way – fasting, abstaining, depriving, giving things up. Many non-Catholics have lost a sense of the physicality of Christianity, a quality Catholics know well. At Mass we put holy water on our foreheads, cross our lips and hearts, kneel/stand/sit/bow/genuflect, we strike our breast and shake hands with strangers. We use incense and candles, wear robes, ring bells. And at Communion we eat the Flesh and drink the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, because he instructed us to do so (Matthew 26:26-27, John 6:53).
Why would Jesus make such an instruction? Because he is the WORD MADE FLESH. God, who is Spirit, robed himself in created matter – human flesh – and sanctified it. So we not only embrace the physicality of God in the Eucharist who is Jesus Christ our Lord, but we celebrate all the physicality of our faith, and use it to grow closer to God. Just as Jesus Christ was fully God and fully Man, with an inseparable Divine nature and Human nature, we Catholics recognize that there is no disunity between the physical and the spiritual. It is how we are made in the image of God!
So this weekend, embrace the feast with joy and thanksgiving! God has provided us with meat, cheese, wine, all the things that make life sweet and rich, and they remind us of God’s benevolence. Then on Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent embrace the fast. Allow the pangs of intentional hunger, the sacrifice of giving to those in need, and the discipline of a fuller prayer life remind us of God’s mercy and our dependence on him.
We know the feasting will return again as we wait with the sure hope of the Resurrection and a joyous Easter in just over six weeks!