This day is more widely known in many parts of the world as Mardi Gras (ie fat Tuesday), or ‘Carnival‘ (literally ‘goodbye meat’). These celebrations began years ago when the fasting really was tough: 40 days without meat or dairy products (which is why pancakes to empty the larder of milk and eggs).
The word Lent is actually derived from the Old English word meaning ‘spring’ – as in ‘lengthening of the days’.
This made sense for the people who first celebrated the Christian feasts a couple of thousand years ago. Lent coincided with the season of spring so that Easter would come right at the time when the world of nature was springing into new ‘resurrection’ life.
While it might initially seem like a disadvantage for the Liturgical Year of the Church to match the Northern Hemisphere, perhaps it leads us to focus on the heart of the feasts instead of being distracted by the signs in nature?
When we see Lent as an opportunity to ‘spring-clean’ the life of the soul, wonderful possibilities of new life open up for us.
We realise that in the busy-ness and demands of daily life, we accumulate many thoughts, routines and practices that may not deliver the happiness that they promise.
To the extent that these accretions become habitual, our freedom is limited. Tragically, our happiness is limited to the extent that these habits or compulsions compromise our freedom. To the extent that our freedom is limited, happiness eludes us.
And this is the kind of ‘spring-cleaning’ that is the purpose and heart of Lent: a letting go of all that limits us, restricts us, and therefore prevents us finding the happiness we seek.
Our tools in this task are the gospels and the life of the Church. Our method is the sacraments. Our companion is Jesus. Our goal is God.
The teachings of the Church are therefore not external impositions attempting to contort us into a way of life that is foreign to human life. Instead the Church and the sacraments create an environment of growth for the human person. In this atmosphere our true self is able to emerge.
The glory of God is the human person fully living!
No longer are we satisfied with the masks and disguises of Mardi Gras, but the reality of our sin being transformed by the risen Jesus who is God-in- love-with-us.
Enjoy the pancakes!