Saturday, February 21, 2009
Shrove Tuesday or Shrovetide
On Shrove Tuesday many Christians make a special point of self-examination, of considering what wrongs they need to repent, and what amendments of life or areas of spiritual growth they especially need to ask God's help in dealing with. Often they consult on these matters with a priest and receive shrift. Then, during Lent, the person endeavors to make sacrifices in order to cleanse himself and to pray for God’s guidance as he moves forward to improve his actions.
Shrove Tuesday is also called Mardi Gras (in French: Mardi =Tuesday, Gras = fat). On the day before Lent begin, Ash Wednesday, one uses up all the fat one won't be using during Lent (a form of self-denial)—and a good way to do it is to make Pancakes! Thus a Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. Amongst Anglicans the day has come to be known as Pancake Day, when they can splurge, and perhaps over eat, as during Lent most deny themselves of some form of food that they normally eat and enjoy.
Pancakes are associated with the day preceding Lent because they were a way to use up rich foodstuffs such as eggs, milk, and sugar, before the fasting season of the 40 days of Lent. The liturgical fasting emphasizes eating plainer food, such as no meat, or perhaps no food prepared with dairy or eggs. Therefore, rich ingredients were cooked to use them immediately prior to the commencement of the fast. Pancakes provide a minor celebratory feast prior to the fast itself.
Shrovetide is the Anglican equivalent of what is known in the greater part of Southern Europe as the "Carnival", a word which is undoubtedly to be derived from the "taking away of flesh" (carne levare) which markes the beginning of Lent. The English term "shrovetide" is sufficiently explained by a sentence in the Anglican "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).”
And so the tradition goes. St. Luke’s Episcopal Church here in Mineral Wells has been serving pancakes the day before Ash Wednesday since the 1930’s, and wherever you go in the Anglican world, be it England, Australia, or the Americas you will find a pancake supper in full swing on Shrove Tuesday, and, one would expect, a lot or shriven Christians preparing for the penitential season of Lent.