One could call this celebration the last gasp of Ordinary time as the Church anticipates the penitential Season of the forty days of Lent. Rich foods are consumed as pilgrims prepare for times of fasting, abstinence, confession and penance. Ironically, carnival comes from the Latin "carne vale" which means "farewell to meat" or "farewell to flesh" indicating the end to certain pleasures has come. For today's Catholics, Fat Tuesday needs to be viewed as a time of anticipation not debauchery. While we can eat pancakes, which has been a tradition, along with sneaking a few extra strips of bacon or links of sausage, today is a day of farewell. We say goodbye to our old norm and preparing our hearts for a Holy Lent.
WASHINGTON, DC (Catholic Online) - Today is Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday." Usually we think of New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro but there are many places around the world where this day is an excuse for incredible debauchery and depravity.
One could call this the last gasp of Ordinary time as the Church anticipates the Season of Lent. Rich foods are consumed as pilgrims prepare for times of fasting, abstinence, confession and penance.
Traditions grew up around Fat Tuesday, where people would empty their pantries of many items restricted during Lent
One of the terms often used with Mardi Gras is the word "carnival." We picture huge public celebrations or parades. Anyone who visits one of the big carnivals held on this day usually bring back stories of self-indulgence and hedonism that make most people blush.
Ironically, carnival comes from the Latin "carne vale" which means "farewell to meat" or "farewell to flesh" indicating the end to certain pleasures has come. Some have tried to argue that this term meant that people should discard their current lives for the night and just "let anything happen." This simply doesn't fit the true nature of the day.
In the Anglican world and other denominations such as Methodist or Lutheran, the commonly used term for the today is "Shrove Tuesday." In early Anglican practice, Lent was preceded by Shrovetide the week before Lent. The faithful were called to go to confession during that time in preparation for the Lenten observance.
The Catholic Encyclopedia explanation of Shrovetide includes a sentence from the Anglo-Saxon "Ecclesiastical Institutes." Translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric about A.D. 1000, it reads, "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do [in the way of penance]."
For today's Catholics, Fat Tuesday needs to be viewed as a time of anticipation not debauchery. While we can eat pancakes, which has been a tradition, along with sneaking a few extra strips of bacon or links of sausage, today is a day of farewell. We say goodbye to our old norm and preparing our hearts for a Holy Lent.
Farewell should also be considered a more permanent state. Hopefully, we will be changed when we exit at Easter. Self-examination, abstinence and confession, when combined with the additions of formative spiritual disciplines, should result in a life more holy than it was.
The question we should ask ourselves is this: Are we more formed in the image of Christ after Lent than we were before? Do we have our hearts and minds looking more at heaven and less at our material lives? Our prayer life should be richer and more disciplined and our relationships strengthened, both with God and man.
Today is a day of goodbyes. Looking toward the future, some things left behind should not be welcomed again. They lead us to sin, to making wrong choices, to bondage. However, the ascetical practices voluntarily embraced by believers during lent, bring freedom. That is the goal of Lent. Conversion is not simply about leaving things behind but about being made new in Jesus Christ. That is real cause for celebration and joy.
Fr Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and Chaplain of the ecumenical movement, Common Good. He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church. He laid aside that ministry to enter into full communion with the Catholic Church a lifelong search for the fulness of Christian truth. He participated in Church history when he became one of the first former Anglicans ordained as a Catholic priest for the Personal Ordinariate of the Chair of St. Peter established by the Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, through the Apostolic Constitution "Anglicanorum Coetibus." He is currently the chaplain of the St. John Fisher Catholic Community, a priest in residence at Our Lady of Hope Catholic Church and Director of Pro-Life Activities for the Ordinariate.
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