Today is the day when one often hears the greeting,” Happy Fat Tuesday!” It does not refer to the anticipation associated with joining Jenny Craig the following day. The expression recalls the tradition Catholics have in celebrating the day before Ash Wednesday in the Anglo-Irish tradition of having pancakes as a meal before the austerities of Lent begin the next day. One does not hear the expression much in our contemporary society about Shrove Tuesday which is the same as Fat Tuesday! The past tense of the English word, shrive, refers to obtaining sacramental absolution through the Sacrament of Penance which marks the 40 days of Lenten abstinence and penitential practices before the celebration of Easter. Catholics are expected to make use of the Sacrament of Penance during the Lenten period while we meditate and contemplate our sins and shortcomings in our relationship with God, the Church and each other.
The celebration of Shrove Tuesday let’s make one final celebratory push before the penitential season of Lent begins. Traditionally, Catholics used the period of Lent to make sacrifices of certain foods, such as candies, cookies and other confectioner’s delights. This penitential practice of abstaining from things we truly enjoyed makes the celebration of Easter all the more joyous after 40 days of small sacrifices. In grade school, the Mighty Macs of West Chester, Pennsylvania always advocated that we make some sort of temporal sacrifice and contributed to the Bishop’s mite box which was earmarked to the foreign missions. Nowadays the notion of foreign missions is considered a unique relic of Catholic missionary colonialism; however there is still indeed a need to contribute to the missionary activity of the Church even when the missionary activity is in our own United States.
The season of Lent which begins tomorrow is indeed a great opportunity for Catholics to obtain sacramental absolution through participation in the Sacrament of Penance. It also presents a magnificent opportunity for all Catholics to reexamine and reaffirm our most sacred principles of human life while contemplating the eschatological realities of life and death, heaven and earth, and light and darkness.
Shrove Tuesday is an excellent time to make resolutions that will help deepen our Catholic spiritual lives by more frequent participation in the Church’s arsenal of sacramentals, such as the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday, celebration of the Stations of the Cross, abstinence from meat on Fridays and more frequent participation of the Sacraments of Eucharist and Penance. One resolution I believe is always most significant is to simply resolve to pray for all of those born and unborn that have no one else to pray for their souls. Lent is the time of recollection not only of our personal faults and shortcomings, but those of our society and modern world as well. Take time beginning with Shrove Tuesday and the subsequent penitential days of Lent to pray for world peace, pray for an end to abortion and pray for the welfare of our Church in these turbulent times. The revelry of Shrove Tuesday will of course give way to our Lenten rituals; however we need to make these rituals part of our modern world that proclaims our Catholic faith to a desperate world.
Eat up on those pancakes, Ash Wednesday is coming!
Copyright 2010 Hugh McNichol