While that title might look like Greek … it’s actually the Irish translation of Shrove Tuesday. (Irish seems appropriate, since we’re coming up on St. Patrick’s Day next week.)
If I knew how to pronounce the Irish phrase, I might start using it instead of Mardi Gras (which is the French translation of Fat Tuesday.)
Mairt Inide. Pancake Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday. Mardi Gras. Carnival (which is Latin for “farewell to meat”). Fat Tuesday.
No matter the name, they all have a common heritage and point to the same thing: the day before the beginning of Lent.
The early church marked the time leading up to Easter as a time when the faithful would be prayerful and reflective in preparation to rededicate themselves … and as a time when those who were new to the church would prepare for baptism.
Later, an emphasis on Lenten fasting was added to the priority already placed on prayer …
Easter, of course, is in the spring … and in the centuries before our food system was industrialized and before produce was plentiful year-round, the weeks leading up to Easter found families living on the dwindling supplies that had been stored for winter.
Produce that had been stored (what was left of it) was beginning to look rather sorry. The grains held up pretty well, but meat was scarce and chickens don’t lay eggs in winter.
Smaller and plainer meals were not voluntary or optional. They were just a part of life, in that day and age.
But Lenten fasting gave purpose to their poverty. It allowed the people to see their circumstances as having spiritual significance.
Of course, with advances in refrigeration, transportation and agriculture, Lenten eating is a very different experience for us today. For example:
The day before Lent is sometimes called Pancake Tuesday, because making pancakes was a good way to rid the house of some of the richer food items (eggs, sugar, etc.) before Lent. But the idea of getting rid of a surplus in early spring (before the fields were even planted) would have seemed crazy in certain cultures at various times in history
The tradition of Mardi Gras or Carnival is based on the idea of gorging oneself on all the vices (rich food, strong drink and, well, whatever else) before entering into a penitential season. Again, the notion of such luxury at the end of a long winter would not have made sense to our fore-mothers and fore-fathers.
On Sunday, I invited the congregation I serve to NOT give up something for Lent this year. Instead, I suggested that we all be more mindful of what and how we eat.
Here are some suggestions:
instead of giving up chocolate or coffee or tea, pledge that you will only eat or drink fair trade chocolate or coffee or tea;
instead of giving up fast food, pledge to slow down (and not rush) your meals but to sit down with family and take time to connect across the table;
instead of giving up eating out at restaurants, pledge to eat only at restaurants that purchase their ingredients from local farmers;
instead of giving up a particular item (chips, soda, etc.), pledge to read the list of ingredients on the food labels of everything you eat.
Happy Mairt Inide, friends. And a blessings on your Lenten journey.