Shrove Tuesday in Quinquagesima Week

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Shrove Tuesday in Quinquagesima Week

Shrove Tuesday is the last day of what traditionally was called “Shrovetide,” the week preceding the beginning of Lent. The word itself, Shrovetide, is the English equivalent for “Carnival,” which is derived from the Latin words carnem levare, meaning “to take away the flesh.” (Note that in Germany, this period is called “Fasching,” and in parts of the United States, particularly Louisiana, “Mardi Gras.”) While this was seen as the last chance for merriment, and, unfortunately in some places, has resulted in excessive pleasure, Shrovetide was the time to cast off things of the flesh and to prepare spiritually for Lent. (1)

 The English term “shrovetide” (from “to shrive”, or hear confessions) is sufficiently explained by a sentence in the Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes” translated from Theodulphus by Abbot Aelfric about A.D. 1000: “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]”.

In this name shrovetide the religious idea is uppermost, and the same is true of the German Fastnacht(the eve of the fast). It is intelligible enough that before a long period of deprivations human nature should allow itself some exceptional licence in the way of frolic and good cheer. No appeal to vague and often inconsistent traces of earlier pagan customs seems needed to explain the general observance of a carnival celebration. The only clear fact which does not seem to be adequately accounted for is the widespread tendency to include the preceding Thursday (called in French Jeudi gras and in German fetter Donnerstag — just as Shrove Tuesday is respectively called Mardi gras and fetter Dienstag) with the Monday and Tuesday which follow Quinquagesima. (2)

Shrovetide is traditionally the time for “spring cleaning,” and just as we clean our houses in these days in prepation for Lent, we also “clean our souls” through confession so we can enter the penitential season fresh.

Shrovetide is the last two days of “Carnival,” an unofficial period that began after the Epiphany and which takes its name from the Latin carnelevare, referring to the “taking away of flesh” (meat) during Lent which begins on Ash Wednesday, the day following Shrove Tuesday. Catholics want to eat while they can and get the frivolity out of their systems in preparation for the somber Lenten spirit to come.

The Tuesday of Shrovetide is a particularly big party day known as “Mardi Gras” (French for “Fat Tuesday”) — or “Pancake Tuesday” because fats, eggs, and butter in the house had to be used up before Lent began, and making pancakes or waffles was a good way to do it. In many places, especially in England, pancake races became popular and remain popular today. In these races, women must run while flipping a pancake so many times, and whoever crosses the finish line first wins. The largest pancake race in England is in Olney, in Buckinghamshire. There, the women must wear a dress, apron, and bonnet, and flip the pancake three times — while ensuring it is intact after they cross the finish line, of course. The story told to explain the origins of this race is that in 1445, a homemaker heard the shriving bell (the bell rung to summon people to confession on this day) as she was busy working in her kitchen. Not wanting to be late, she rushed about and ran off with her skillet still in hand. (5)

by Abbe Dom Prosper Gueranger

The fundamental rule of Christian life is, as almost every page of the Gospel tells us, that we should live out of the world, separate ourselves from the world, hate the world. The world is that ungodly land which Abraham, our sublime model, is commanded by God to quit. It is that Babylon of our exile and captivity, where we are beset with dangers. The beloved disciple cries out to us: ‘Love not the world, nor the things which are in the world. If any man love the world, the charity of the Father is not in him.’– {St. John ii. 15} Our most merciful Jesus, at the very time when He was about to offer Himself as a sacrifice for all men, spoke these words: ‘I pray not for the world.– {Ibid. xvii: 9) When we were baptized, and were signed with the glorious and indelible and were signed with the glorious and indelible character of Christians, the condition required of us, and accepted, was that we should renounce the works and pomps of the world (which we expressed under the name of Satan); and this solemn baptismal promise we have often renewed.

But what is the meaning of our promise to renounce the world? Is it that we cannot be Christians, unless we flee into the desert and separate ourselves from our fellow-creatures? Such cannot be God’s will for all, since, in that same Scripture, wherein He commands us to flee from the world, He also tells us what are our duties to each other, and sanctions and blesses those ties which He Himself has willed should exist among us. His apostle, also, tells us to use this world as though we did not use it. – {1 Corinthians vii: 31} It is not, therefore, forbidden us to live in, and to use the world. Then, what means this renouncing the world? Can there be contradiction in God’s commandments? Is it possible that we are condemned to wander blindly on the brink of a precipice, into which we must at last inevitably fall?

There is neither contradiction nor snare. If by the world, we mean these visible things around us which God created in His power and goodness; if we mean this outward world, which He made for His own glory and our benefit; it is worthy of it a ladder whereby our souls may ascend to their God. Let us gratefully use this world; go through it, without making it the object of our hope; not waste upon it that love, which God alone deserves; and ever be mindful, that we are not made for this, but for another and a happier, world.

But the majority of men are not thus prudent in their use of the world. Their hearts are fixed upon it, and not upon Heaven. Hence it was, that when the Creator deigned to come into this world, in order that He might save it, the world knew Him not.-{St. John I: 10} Men were called after the name of the object of their love. They shut their eyes to the light; they became darkness; God calls them ‘the world.’

In this sense, then, the world is everything that is opposed to our Lord Jesus Christ, that refuses to recognize Him, and that resists His divine guidance. Those false maxims which tend to weaken the love of God in our souls; which recommended the vanities that fasten our hearts to this present life; which cry down everything that can raise us above our weaknesses or vices; which decoy and gratify our corrupt nature by dangerous pleasures, which, far from helping us to the attainment of our last end, only mislead us-all these are ‘the world.’

This world is everywhere, and holds a secret league within our very hearts. Sin has brought it into this exterior world created by God for Himself, and has given it prominence. Now, we must conquer it, and trample upon it, or we shall perish with it. There is no being neutral; we must be its enemies, or its slaves. During these three days, its triumphs are fearful; and thousands of those who, at their Baptism, swore eternal enmity to it, are enrolling themselves its votaries. Let us pray for them; but let us also tremble for ourselves; and that our courage may not fail us, let us ponder those consoling words, which our Savior, at His last Supper, addressed to His eternal Father. He is speaking of His disciples, and He says: ‘Father! I have given them Thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. I pray not, that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from evil’– {St. John xvii: 14, 15}. (3)

Image: Pieter Bruegel the Elder: The Fight between Carnival and Lent – detail 3(1559, Oil on panel)

  1. https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=5877
  2. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/13763a.htm
  3. http://www.dailycatholic.org/quinqugu.htm
  4. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Bruegel_the_Elder-_The_Fight_between_Carnival_and_Lent_detail_3.jpg
  5. https://fisheaters.com/customsseptuagesima2.html

 





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