05 February 2008

Mardi Gras

Well, here we are... Fat Tuesday, Pancake Day, Pączki Day, Shrove Tuesday, etc. Lent begins in the Western Church tomorrow.

Today, which should be a festive day before the "joyful sorrow" of Lent, is ruined by the debauchery and scandal that will occur today in the name of Mardi Gras. I find the shenanigans embarrassing and it gives Catholics a bad name, but the Church has tried to stop or tame festivities in the past to no avail. How many of the hedonists who go down to places like New Orleans even plan on doing anything for Lent anyway. It's just an excuse to party and flash bead-throwing bystanders.

Regardless of the way it gets spoiled, it is still a significant day.

Eggs, meat, oils and butter were strictly prohibited during the 40 days of Lent before the fasting rules were relaxed (Byzantine Catholics and Eastern Orthodox still follow the stricter custom). "Fat Tuesday" was the day to eat all that remained of these foods in the house and enjoy one last feast on the day before Lent. When I lived in Detroit the Polish Catholics in Hamtramck called it Pączki (punch-key) Day, and people would get these deep-fried jelly doughnut type things--I never could finish one they were sooooo sweet and greasy!

The name "Shrove Tuesday" comes from the practice of "shriving," or the confession and absolution of sin, that takes place on this day. "In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive (absolve) him as he then may hear by his deeds what he is to do (in the way of penance)." Ecclesiastical Institutes, Anglo-Saxon A.D. 1000.

So, clean out your cupboard of the foods you won't be eating during Lent, and clean out your soul with confession and penance. Have some fun and goof around, but keep your shirt on.

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