Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and Ember Days

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Fat Tuesday, Skinny Wednesday

While it may be difficult to imagine a modern Mardi Gras parade along the Narrow Way, it is good to know that the origins of Mardi Gras were actually quite honorable and tied to the liturgical celebration which quickly approaches: LENT.

Mardi Gras is French for "Fat Tuesday".

Back in the day, before people had refrigerators and freezers and when most Catholics would give up eating animal products for Lent--including honey from bees!--Fat Tuesday was the last day to use up--and thereby avoid wasting--all of the rich and decadent foods in ones larder before giving them up for Lent on the next day, Ash Wednesday. Many know the day as Pancake Day, since some countries traditions include making pancakes on this day to use up eggs, cream, or milk. 

While this post is certainly not intended to encourage you all to go out and scarfle down a King Cake (look it up!), this origin story is worth reflecting and even applying to one's practice of Lent.

What decadent, fatty things do you have in your larder that you can enjoy today and put away tomorrow, and maybe, for good?

Lent is such a wonderful opportunity to be reborn.

Ashy Ashy Wednesday

Tomorrow is--can you believe it?!--Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. On this day, at Mass, we're given a laundry list of things to do:

  • wash our faces and not look sad when we fast,
  • not let our left hand know what our right hand is doing when we give alms,
  • go in our room, shut the door, and pray to God in private.

Then, charcoal-black ashes are smeared on our foreheads for all the world to see as we're reminded that we come from ashes and will return to ashes.

Is this a contradictory message?

Some might think so, but instead, perhaps we should consider that--on this one day out of 365 days a year--everyone who see us and our ashes knows that there is something different about us. Back in the day, they'd know we were Catholic, but society has done such a great job of ignoring God, most don't even know what Ash Wednesday is anymore. 

So, on this one day, we are witnesses

Did you know that the word "witness" in Greek is "martyr"?

It might have seemed far fetched a few years ago, but today, we live in a time when advocating a belief that inherently renounces and refuses to advocate the beliefs of the world and those around us will bring persecution. Except, they don't call it that anymore. They call it "being cancelled". Like life is a computer, and all they have to do is push on the "delete" button to make us and our beliefs go away because we make them uncomfortable.

What do you say when people look at you with confusion on their faces on Ash Wednesday?

How do you act with this very visible sign on your forehead?

Every Ash Wednesday, God is giving us a golden opportunity to be His wounded face in the midst of a society that has chosen to ignore Him and His Passion.

How will you use it?

Amongst ourselves, we can all giggle as we compare ashstrokes and see whose ashes are the best, the most defined. 

I love this Catholic Guide to Ashes, created by Bill Donaghy of the Theology of the Body Institute. Which will be your Ash Wednesday fate?!


Lenty Penty

Next week brings an extra special opportunity to fast and make reparation for sins in that, as discussed at length in this article, next week we celebrate the Ember Days of Lent, during which, on the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after the first Sunday in Lent, we turn to God in prayer and thanksgiving for everything that He has given us. During Ember Days, we are encouraged to go to confession and to fast. Be sure to check out this post for some beautiful prayers to pray on Ember Days in honor of Christ's Betrayal and Passion.


Happy Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday and Ember Days, all! 

And thanks be to God for such a wonderfully colorful and rich tradition that our Mother Church has given us. May God be praised in all we do.



Image: Pixabay, ashes image courtesy of Bill Donaghy.


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