Betwixt and between the delights of tossing - and then, all importantly, devouring - tasty pancakes on this day colloquially known in these islands as ‘Pancake Day’ a deeper spiritual significance is to be found. At the heart of this final day of Pre-Lenten Septuagesimatide preparation is of the essence. Though today is more widely known as Shrove Tuesday, it doesn’t immediately evoke in the popular mind its true origin in the ancient practise of confessing and being forgiven - being shriven - for one’s sins today. But that’s what today surely ought to be about for Christians, at least: the knowledge of the absolute necessity of being right with God before we enter into the great and solemn season of Lent; a time of reform and renewal, which, like any good endeavour, first requires proper preparation and planning. Whether North American pancakes with sausages and maple syrup, or English crepes with lemon and sugar, the point of such feasting is predicated on a joyful farewell to the delights of our usual condition before we get down to serious business. And sin - and the need to be shriven of it - is central to that. A clean slate, as it were, before we receive the blessed ash tomorrow and are reminded that dust we are, and unto dust we shall return. So if we truly wish to celebrate the culinary delights of this day’s merriment, our souls ought to be as willing as our bodies to receive those good things that God so desires us to have. Go to confession!
‘For our religious life Lent is a season of tremendous significance; it is the Church’s forty day retreat, the time par excellence for spiritual reform and interior renewal. As baptised penitents we enter the arena with Christ in order to share in His resurrection at Easter. The Lenten liturgy is as luxuriant as spring itself; no other season of the entire year is so rich in liturgical texts. We who wish to make the liturgy our guide to piety will devote ourselves during Lent to the task of intensifying our religious life in accordance with the spirit of Mother Church.
The purpose of Pre-Lent is to condition ourselves for the proper observance of Lent, since every good work needs due preparation. During the few days left before Ash Wednesday we should arrive at a definite answer to the serious question, “How am I going to keep Lent this year?” A liturgical parish will also take counsel with its leader on the problem, “What can we as a body do this Lent?” Perhaps a word of caution is needed here: do not undertake too much lest you find it impossible to continue after a brief but over-zealous beginning. No one cares to be like the man in the Gospel who began to build a tower and then could not finish it, thus incurring the scorn of his neighbours. Therefore, not too much; but some specific resolutions whereby this Lent will be different from previous years are necessary.
…What shall I do about fasting? Do not underestimate the value of this holy discipline; the liturgy speaks of it in terms of the highest respect… Each one should determine exactly how much and what he will eat at breakfast and supper; whether he can give up afternoon coffee; how often during the week he will abstain from desserts, and so on. Fasting in the wider sense – abstinence from our favourite action – should likewise be on the agenda.
…Closely related to fasting is almsgiving. Our alms for Christ’s poor brethren we lay upon the altar at the Offertory of the Mass. And what of our prayer life? Certainly we will devote more time to the Church’s official prayer book, the Breviary; perhaps it would be good to say certain Hours at very definite times and with special fervour’.
from The Church’s Year of Grace, 1953, by Pius Parsch, 1884-1954
Fr Lee Kenyon