Mardi Gras and the Catholic Church
Mardi Gras is strongly associated with wild bacchanalia and debauchery, but the original intent of the holiday and how it's kept by the faithful is much different. Fat Tuesday, as it is known in English, is a long-standing tradition of the Catholic Church and it marks the last day of ordinary time before the start of Lent, a time of fasting and repentance. While the parties in Europe, South America, and parts of the United States have gained the most attention in popular culture, they seriously misrepresent and outright eclipse the Catholic intent of the holiday.
According to historians, the celebration of Mardi Gras has its roots in the pagan Roman celebration of Lupercalia. This was a February holiday and it honored the Roman god of fertility. It involved feasting, drinking, and carnal behavior.
However, with the rise of the Church in ancient Rome, Christian teaching and morals took root, but there always remained a strong need to blend ancient Roman traditional practices with the growing Christian faith. The blending of tradition with new religious beliefs was a common practice in the ancient world and it helped people to transition away from paganism. In fact, there are a number of ancient Roman traditions that persevere in the Roman Catholic Church to this day, where they continue to guide the faithful.
As Catholic Christianity spread throughout Europe during the first millennium, different cultures celebrated the last day before Lent in their own ways, adapting the practices to suit their cultures. In France, the holiday became particularly popular as people feasted on foods that would be given up during the forty days of Lent. Meats, eggs, and milk were finished off in one day, giving the holiday its French title of 'Mardi Gras' which means Fat Tuesday.
As Europeans crossed the Atlantic to colonize the Americas, they brought their religious practices with them. From the onset, holidays such as Mardi Gras were celebrated in the colonies with as much enthusiasm as they were celebrated in Europe. As the colonies swelled with European immigrants, the celebrations went from the simple to the elaborate. In New Orleans, masked balls and public celebrations quickly became common. In fact, the celebrations became so popular that virtually every citizen of the city joined in even if they were not Catholic.
However, in the late 18th century, the Spanish took control of New Orleans and having a more militant and serious perspective on the faith, they imposed significant restrictions on the holiday revelry. Among them, they banned masked balls. However, by 1823, this ban was lifted and parades returned by 1837. At this point, the celebration began to lose its identity as an exclusively Catholic tradition and became more secularized over the centuries.
In Louisiana, Mardi Gras in an official state holiday.
In other parts of the world, the holiday became a season unto itself each branded with unique cultural practices. For example, Venice, Italy is famous for the masked balls that take place on Mardi Gras and the days before. The Venetian tradition dates back to the 13th century and the city remains a popular Mardi Gras destination today.
Still, the original intent of Mardi Gras has always been to indulge, within the context of Catholic morality and reason, the last day before the start of the Lenten season. Here, it is appropriate to mention that while Lent is a season of self-sacrifice and repentance, it is not meant to be a period of self-punishment or extreme hardship.
More Lent & Easter
'So it is written that the Christ would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead'
Easter / Lent News
While Easter is a Solemnity and an octave feast, it is also a 50 day season until Pentecost.The Season of Easter is not just about His ... continue reading
What lesson is the Lord teaching us by keeping his wounds intact? Perhaps we can better answer this question by turning to our own wounds. ... continue reading
As a teenager I ran into someone who introduced me to the finer points of the occupation. We fell into the tried and proven method of ... continue reading
Something strange is happening - there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence ... continue reading
Today as we contemplate the Passion we also plumb the mystery and meaning of the Church. We are members of His Body. She was born ... continue reading
by Catholic Online
- Daily Reading for Tuesday, November 21st, 2017 HD Video
- Has Pope Francis violated the 8th Commandment, speaking out against ...
- Daily Readings for Saturday, November 18, 2017
- St. Rose Philippine Duchesne: Saint of the Day for Saturday, November ...
- Daily Reading for Monday, November 20th, 2017 HD Video
- The FBI may investigate Planned Parenthood
- Pope Francis calls for end of life care to acknowledge mortality
- The Catholic Miracle. Become part of our incredible mission HD
- Daily Reading for Sunday, November 19th, 2017 HD
- Did Pope Francis blast 'perverse attitude' of climate change deniers? HD
- Scientists warn: The end of life as we know it is near HD
Learn about Catholic world
Inform - Inspire - Ignite
Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained
Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need
Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online
Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye
Today's bible reading
Products and services we offer
Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books
The California Network
Inspiring streaming service
Learn the Catholic way