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Mardi Gras: Much More than a Party

By Randy Sly
March 8th, 2011
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

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.

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 arose for Fat Tuesday where people would empty their pantries of many items restricted during Lent

One of the terms often used with Mardi Gras is "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. That is the goal of Lent.

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Randy Sly is the Associate Editor of Catholic Online and the CEO/Associate Publisher for the Northern Virginia Local Edition of Catholic Online (http://virginia.catholic.org). He is a former Archbishop of the Charismatic Episcopal Church who laid aside that ministry to enter into the full communion of the Catholic Church.

Article brought to you by: Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)