This year Ash Wednesday falls on February 25th, and with it Lent begins. The three days before Ash Wednesday are known in the English tradition as Shrovetide. Sunday, February 22nd, is Quinquagesima Sunday, also known as Shrove Sunday, the next day is Shrove Monday, also known as Collop Monday, and Tuesday, February 24th, is Shrove Tuesday.
Shrovetide is the English equivalent for “Carnival” used in much of Southwestern Europe. However, the word Carnival did not anciently mean what the word suggests to modern ears. The word Carnival comes from the Latin carne levare, meaning the “taking away of flesh” which marked the beginning of Lent. The English name of Shrovetide is much clearer in meaning than Carnival.
The word “shrove” is the past tense of the English verb “shrive,” which means to confess one’s sins and to receive absolution from a priest. Shrovetide gets its name from the shriving or making use of the sacrament of Confession that English Christians were expected to do before Lent begins. In the ancient Anglo-Saxon Ecclesiastical Institutes translated by Abbot Aelfric about AD 1000, it says, “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.”
To encourage people to make their confessions before the beginning of Lent, special plays or masques were performed throughout England which portrayed the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ or the Last judgement. These masques were especially common on the night of Shrove Tuesday. Shrovetide prepared English Christians for a serious and spiritually profitable Lent. Lent would then become an opportunity for repentance and a greater commitment to discipleship, bearing fruit in spiritual renewal and revival.
Shrove Monday is also known as Collop Monday. Collops refer to the remnants of meat. The collops referred to here are the remnants of cured meats such as bacon that were not expected to remain edible once Lent was over and the eating of meat allowed again. A traditional Collop Monday supper in ancient England would include thick slices of bacon along with eggs, and the fat from the bacon would be saved for Shrove Tuesday to be use in the frying of pancakes.
Shrove Tuesday is also commonly known as Pancake Day. The English custom of eating pancakes was undoubtedly suggested by the need to use up the eggs and fats that would be given up during Lent. It is from Shrove Tuesday that Pancake races and the practice of flipping pancakes derives. It is a quaint custom to flip each pancake three times on Shrove Tuesday in honour of the Blessed Trinity.
Lenten fasting practices differed somewhat is various parts of the Church. The ancient practice in Canterbury is found in a letter of St. Gregory the Great (d. 604) to St. Augustine, the first Archbishop of Canterbury: “We abstain from flesh, meat and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs.” These were the ancient fasting rules governing the Church in Canterbury: hence Collop Monday and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. For the same reason, Easter is celebrated with decorated eggs, fresh breads and delicious meats. The elderly, children and the infirm should not attempt such strict fasting.
This coming Sunday, February 22nd, is Quinquagesima, the beginning of Shrovetide. Christian Education is at 9:00 AM, followed by Matins (Morning Prayer) at 9:30 AM, with the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist at 10:00 AM. Our monthly potluck luncheon will follow the Liturgy. During the luncheon we will be showing a thirty minute, up-to-date and inspiring documentary on the Holy Mountain of Mount Athos. You will not want to miss this film!
Confessions will be heard on Shrove Tuesday from 11:45 AM to 12:45 PM, on Ash Wednesday from 11:45 AM to 12:45 PM, and by appointment. There is no better way to begin Lent than by being shriven (confessed and absolved). Confession is good for the soul.
Our parish Sisterhood is hosting a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper on Tuesday evening, February 24th, at 6:30 PM. This is not a parish fundraiser. There is no charge for the supper, but a free-will offering will be taken to cover expenses. Please be sure to invite family and friends to this traditional and fun event.
Ash Wednesday Services are Wednesday evening, February 25th, at 6:30 PM, and include the sung Litany followed by the celebration of the Liturgy of the Holy Eucharist with the Imposition of Ashes. Please plan to attend this important Service as Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the holy season of Lent.
Lenten fasting teaches detachment, and self-denial teaches self control. The food money saved during Lent should be used to benefit the poor, not ourselves. Everyone is encouraged to use the savings to buy more food for our parish food bins so we can provide even more help for those most in need.
Lent is not just about fasting and self-denial. Far from it. It is also a good time to reflect on our spiritual life and to make changes. Am I praying every day? Am I reading the Holy Scriptures and spiritually profitable books? Lent is a wonderful time to begin spending more time in prayer and reading more. Am I faithful in my Sunday church attendance? This is fundamental. If I am not faithful in my Sunday church attendance there is no better time to make a commitment to become faithful than Lent. With a little extra effort could I make it to the Eucharistic Liturgy on a Wednesday or Thursday in addition to Sunday? Receiving Holy Communion in the midst of the week will change your week. Making it a habit will change your life. Am I partaking in entertainment or engaging in behavior that is sinful or near occasions of sin? Am I resisting sin and genuinely striving to live a holy life, or am I explaining away and excusing my sins rather than repenting of them? Am I a serious and practicing Christian or is my spiritual life more talk than walk? Am I double minded? Am I living a double life? Have I stopped or nearly stopped attending church and receiving the sacraments? Do I worship God with my lips while my heart is far from Him? Lent is a time for deeper commitment, and for new beginnings. You can begin again. You can come home again...
The spiritual life is like anything else, you will get out of it what you put into it. No pain, no gain. No cross, no crown. Lent is a wonderful time to invest in your spiritual life. May Almighty God bless you with a holy and spiritually profitable Lent, and with a blessed and joyous Easter!