What is Shrove Tuesday (aka Fat Tuesday)?
Brother Lawrence Damien Cos
A week from today many will be gathering in their churches to eat pancakes and celebrate Shrove Tuesday or Fat Tuesday. It marks the end of Ordinary times or Epiphany depending on your tradition and getting ready for Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the Lenten season on the following day. Itâ€™s impossible to know exactly when the tradition of marking the beginning of Lent began. Aelfric of Eynsham writes in â€śEcclesiastical Instituteâ€ť written about 1000 AD
“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 penanceâ€ť.
The word Shrove comes from the English word shrive meaning to obtain absolution for oneâ€™s sins by means of confession and penance. Thus Shrove Tuesday is a time for Christians to be: shrivenâ€ť before the start of Lent and be assigned their penance that they can work on during Lent so to be prepared to receive the risen Christ on Easter. It is called Fat Tuesday as this the last day one can feast prior to entering the Lenten fast on Ash Wednesday. During the Lenten season those between the ages of 18-59 are supposed to have only one meal a day if they are able. It is also in many places the end of Mardi Gras which is a season of revelry. On this day they have one last feast.
The traditional food for this day is pancakes. There is a twofold reason for this.
First in Christianity pancakes symbolize the four pillars of the Christian faith. Eggs stand for creation, flour stands for the mainstay of the human diet, salt for wholesomeness, and milk for purity. Pancakes traditionally use all these ingredients and therefore are the chosen food for Shrove Tuesday. The custom dates back to the 16th century.
Secondly it is a way to use up rich foods such as eggs, milk and sugar before the fasting season of Lent begins. During Lent traditionally any foods using those ingredients are forbidden to be eaten. The one meal a day that is allowed is supposed to be a plain and simple meal that gives no pleasure but lets us suffer a bit and experience with Christ symbolically in part his 40 day fast in the wilderness.
In many parishes bells are rung on this day to call the faithful to confession before the solemn season of Lent and as a signal for housewives to start frying than pancakes.
In summation then Shrove Tuesday has a twofold purpose.
First to remind us of our Christian faith and what it all means and covers and it is a reminder that Lent that we are entering is not just a religious exercise we go through. It is in fact intended to change us for the better and prepare us for the glories of Easter.
Secondly it is a time of reflection, taking stock of where we are at, making a good confession as we start the Lenten season and then receiving penances that we can do during lent. This is to show how sorry and repentant we are for our sins and to help by reminding us so we donâ€™t go and do them again. Thus when Easter comes we should be pure in heart and ready to receive the Risen Christ, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and go and be witnesses for Christ by our lives.
I pray this has been a blessing to you and you have learned something. Any comments or thoughts welcomed
Brother Lawrence Damien