May my exploration of faith be a blessing to others.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pancakes and Ashes

For all of my fellow new Catholics and those exploring Catholicism, you may not know that we are about to enter the most important season of the church's liturgical year. If you are used to all of the hoopla of Christmas and just a little celebration on Easter Sunday, you may be surprised by everything on offer for the next several weeks! This is the BIG GAME! In fact, Christmas was a minor observation for much of the church's history.

Today, in a sense, is the kick off. I'm sure you have heard of Mardi Gras--which probably makes you think of New Orleans--or Carnival--which may make you think of Rio. The celebrations in both of these places and elsewhere are based on the same pre-Lenten observation called "Fat Tuesday" or "Shrove Tuesday." This is the day before Ash Wednesday; it is the last day to prepare yourself for the 40 days of fasting and penitence of lent. So, you "shrive" yourself to get ready for confession on Shrove Tuesday. Since Lent also includes fasting, people have traditionally feasted the day before, hence the name "Fat Tuesday," which translates as "Mardi Gras" in French. Interestingly, the word "carnival" derives from the Latin for "farewell to meat," another nod to the fasting period of Lent

In my parish, we have a pancake supper on Mardi Gras for the community. Lots of fun and an excuse to eat something I wouldn't normally have for dinner!

And that leads us directly into Ash Wednesday, the first day of repentance in the Lenten Season. On this day, Catholics are asked to abstain from meat, fast, and contemplate one's transgressions. It is not a Holy Day of Obligation, so you are not required to go to church, but if you do, you may go forward to have a cross of ashes placed on your forehead and blessing said over you. The ashes symbolize are ongoing repentance and the brevity of our earthly lives--from ashes to ashes. The ashes come from the burning of the palm fronds used on Palm Sunday the previous year. These are sprinkled with Holy Water and are incensed.

After getting your ashes, you are allowed to wash them off immediately or you may choose to wear them for the rest of the day as a sign of your Christian faith. Last year, I wore mine to play team trivia at a local restaurant. It definitely drew some attention!

I'll post some more about Lent as we go along. In the meantime, enjoy your Mardi Gras, and pass the syrup.

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