Today is Shrove Tuesday. Having been raised as a Southern Baptist, Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday and Lent were new and strange observances when I was confirmed into the Episcopal Church. Now that I’ve been practicing the season of Lent for some time, I wonder why protestant denominations don’t. The meaning behind these observances are worthy of all Christians participating in them. To be sure I didn’t leave out anything important when explaining the celebration; I turned to Google and found the information I needed from the BBC.
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Lent starts: the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. It's a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as the last chance to feast before Lent begins.
Shrove Tuesday is sometimes called Pancake Day after the fried batter recipe traditionally eaten on this day. (Now I know why our youth do a pancake supper at the church on Shrove Tuesday! I figured it was just an inexpensive meal that was easy to prepare.) But there's more to Shrove Tuesday than pigging out on pancakes or taking part in a public pancake race. The pancakes themselves are part of an ancient custom with deeply religious roots.
Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving that Christians used to undergo in the past. In shriving, a person confesses their sins and receives absolution for them. When a person receives absolution for their sins, they are forgiven for them and released from the guilt and pain that they have caused them. In the Catholic or Orthodox context, the absolution is pronounced by a priest.
This tradition is very old. Over 1000 years ago a monk wrote in the Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes: “In the week immediately before Lent everyone shall go to his confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor shall so shrive him.”
Shrove Tuesday is a day of celebration as well as penitence, because it's the last day before Lent.
Lent is a time of abstinence, of giving things up. So Shrove Tuesday is the last chance to indulge yourself, and to use up the foods that aren't allowed in Lent. During Lent there are many foods that some Christians - historically and today - would not eat: foods such as meat and fish, fats, eggs, and milky foods. So that no food was wasted, families would have a feast on the shriving Tuesday, and eat up all the foods that wouldn't last the forty days of Lent without going off.
The need to eat up the fats gave rise to the French name Mardi Gras ('fat Tuesday'). Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday as they were a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with just the addition of flour.
Tonight we’ve had birthday cake and ice cream for our oldest goddaughter’s 16th birthday. I had an apple fritter for breakfast. Those are the last sweets that I will eat until Easter. Since I’m not big on eating sweets, giving them up is really not a challenge. I wanted a challenge that would really test my ability to sacrifice as Christ sacrificed for us.
As I was debating with myself on what to give up during the 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, I was reading Facebook and saw where our youngest daughter had decided to give up Facebook. That was when it hit me that I needed to do the same thing. However, I’m not just giving up Facebook. I’m going to share with the two or three people who might read this what I accomplish each day when Facebook is not taking up way too much of my time. I believe I’ll have much more time for Bible study, for sewing and keeping the house clean and knowing what we are having for dinner every night. In order to share what I’ve accomplished, I’ll allow myself to be on Facebook long enough to post a link to this blog once a day. No games, no reading posts, none of the time stealing things that go with Facebook.
I challenge each of you to make a meaningful sacrifice for the next forty days. Please post in the comments here what you have given up for Lent. Then each day, post how you are succeeding or what is making it difficult for you. We will support each other as we work to lose a few pounds, send more time in Bible study, more time with family, whatever it is that you are trying to do.