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Shrove Tuesday


As the last day before Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday ended the traditional period set aside for celebrating the Sacrament of Reconciliation and receiving canonical absolution in preparation for the great 40-day fast. The adjective shrove is derived from the Old English verb "to write" or to shrive (related to the German schreiben or the Dutch schrijven ) and denotes the medieval English practice of giving, "writing down," or designating penance. The penance having been prescribed, the penitent was considered shriven, a practice referred to in Abbot Aelfric's translation of Theodolphus' Ecclesiastical Institutes c. 1000 a.d.

The term Shrove tide is the old English equivalent of Carnival referring to the final weeks before Lent. Rooted in the Latin phrase carnem levare to withdraw or take away meathouseholds used this time to prepare rich pastries containing eggs, milk, and sugar, then, frying them in butter or fat and in this manner removing from the home foods forbidden during Lent. Herein lies the origin of "Fat Tuesday" or the respective French Mardi Gras. Throughout these days the English consume pancakes, Austrians and Germans various forms of fastnacht cakes, and central Italians frappe. Polish Americans share jelly doughnuts, called pączki, or light-pastry "angel wings," called chruściki. Local supermarkets in the Detroit, Michigan, area distribute specialty yeast-raised doughnuts from ethnic bakeries in Hamtramck, a town which holds an annual Pączki Day Parade. These dessert delicacies are traditionally made of foods which needed to be used up before the next seven weeks of Lenten abstinence.

Present day Carnival or Mardi Gras celebrations are held across the world, the most famous being in New Orleans, Louisiana, and Venice, Italy, and Rio de Janiero, Brazil. In the United States, the streets of Old New Orleans, particularly Bourbon Street, celebrate a parade organized by social clubs called Krewes. The Krewes at one time were instruments through which the daughters of New Orleans citizens were introduced to society. A unique Krewe begun among the poorer blacks during the days of segregation is the Krewe of Zulu, which is famous for tossing almonds or gilded coconuts from their floats. Other Krewes throw plastic beads, play jazz music, host dance receptions, with the characteristic "King Cake" tradition, where the person who discovers a small baby-like figurine in their cake sponsors next year's party.

The "city of canals built on the sea," Venice, annually hosts a captivating masquerade parade, where costumed residents stroll the enchanting streets and bridges, the final destination being a civic gala held on the Piazza in front of St. Mark's Basilica. Wearing of masks and costumes is common to many cultures during the early spring and autumn (Halloween in North America). It is a traditional manner of ritually "protecting" oneself from cosmic crisis or of "hiding" from evil spirits, which were once believed to emerge during the tenuous passage from the familiar "old" to the unknown "new" (New Year's Eve costume balls) or seasonal transitions from the dark, late winter to the ever increasing warmth and light of spring. The Venetian Carnival is characterized by a spectacular display of colorful costumes. Many people dress in elaborate period gowns from the 18th century. Others masquerade as characters of the Venetian theater, the commedia dell'arte of Goldoni et al., still others as forms of nature or cosmic forces. A symbol of death frequently appears in the form of a mimed funeral reminding the frolickers that the sobering days of Lent are near. Each night during the final days before Ash Wednesday celebrations culminate as choral renditions, music, and dancing fill St. Mark's Square, turning the city into a great masked ball.

At times, the carnival season is an occasion for excessive behavior as recently noted in Rio de Janiero. Various forms of erotic behavior in the Brasilian capital has warranted pastoral letters from the local conference of bishops. Across the centuries civil and church authorities have responded to various abuses surfacing during these late winter days. In 1466, the Venetian-born Pope Paul II organized alternative civic pageants and horse races reminiscent of the splendor of the chariots of ancient Rome. These festivities gave the name to the famous Via Del Corso ("The Street of the Races"), the former Via Lata (Broad Street), connecting the Piazza Venezia with Piazza Del Popolo. Municipal authorities in Vienna (1654) issued a first-annual edict threatening with fines and possible arrest anyone who participated in indecent behavior or carried dangerous weapons. In an effort to dissuade participation in potentially immoral activity, Pope Benedict XIV in 1747, issued a special constitution, Super Bachanalibus, granting a plenary indulgence to all who took part in Eucharistic adoration during the days of Carnival.

Byzantine Churches call the two weeks prior to Lent, respectively, meatfare and cheesefare week. The faithful "bid farewell" by consuming it to the end of the first or meatfare week. Dairy products, on the other hand, are eaten until the end of the second or cheesefare week. In the capital of Ukraine, Kiev, the famous Pecherska Lavra monastery holds a ceremony of mutual forgiveness, every Cheesefare Sunday. Mirroring the penitential practices of Shrovetide, both the faithful and monks prepare for the 40-day journey to Easter by begging each other for forgiveness. Having reconciled differences, they embrace each other with the kiss of peace and sing the Resurrection verse: "Today, Christ, our Pasch, is revealed, a sacred Pasch, a new holy, and mystical Pascha, sanctifying all believers . Let us embrace one another injoy and say 'Bretheren and enemies too: we forgive everything on the Resurrection day!"'

Alleluia Tuesday is another name given to this day, as the Roman Catholic Church symbolically "buries" the Resurrection outcry, chanting it the for the last time before Easter. Responsorial verses are replaced with a sung alleluia and the mass of the day frequently ends with the solemn Easter dismissal. Understanding the alleluia as a Resurrection chant, and as such, inappropriate to the penitential nature of Lent, may be traced to sixth-century Spain as well as Pope Gregory the Great. Tenth-century pontificals attest to this practice deeming it a "celestial hymn." Two centuries later at Rome, the presider himself breaks the somber silence of forty days by intoning the first alleluia at the Easter Vigil.

Bibliography: j. jungmann, The Mass of the Roman Rite, (Westminster, Maryland: Christian Classics Inc., 1986). j. katrij, A Byzantine Liturgical Year, (Detroit, Michigan: Basilian Fathers Publication, 1983). h. thurston, Lent and Holy Week, (London 1904).

[c. m. krysa]

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