Shrove Tuesday

The day before the beginning of Lent is known as Shrove Tuesday. To shrive someone, in old-fashioned English (he shrives, he shrove, he has shriven or he shrives, he shrived, he has shrived), is to hear his acknowledgement of his sins, to assure him of God's forgiveness, and to give him appropriate spiritual advice. The term survives today in ordinary usage in the expression "short shrift". To give someone short shrift is to pay very little attention to his excuses or problems. The longer expression is, "to give him short shrift and a long rope," which formerly meant to hang a criminal with a minimum of delay.

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 spiritual counselor, or receive shrift.

Shrove Tuesday is also called Fat Tuesday (in French, Mardi=Tuesday; gras=fat, as in "pate de foie gras", which is liver paste and very fatty), because on that day a thrifty housewife uses up the fats that she has kept around (the can of bacon drippings, or whatever) for cooking, but that she will not be using during Lent. Since pancakes are a standard way of using up fat, the day is also called Pancake Tuesday. In England, and perhaps elsewhere, the day is celebrated with pancake races. The contestants run a course while holding a griddle and flipping a pancake. Points are awarded for time, for number and height of flips, and number of times the pancake turns over. There are of course penalties for dropping the pancake.

(Digression: In December, Jews celebrate the feast of Hanukkah, the re-dedication of the Temple after it had been captured by pagans and desecrated. (See John 10:22 and also the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees 4:36-59.) It is said (though not in our earliest sources) that when the Temple was rededicated, there was only enough pure oil to light the lamps for one day, and no prospect of getting more for eight days. It was decided to light the lamps anyway, and the supply of oil lasted for eight days, until more could be gotten. To commemorate this abundance of oil, Jews are accustomed at Hanukkah to eat potato pancakes, called latkes, which are made with an abundance of oil. Thus the custom of eating pancakes at a time when oil or fat is presumably abundant is common to both traditions.)

The day (or sometimes a longer period immediately preceding Lent) is also called Carnival, which means "farewell to meat." "Carni" as in carnivorous, and "vale" as in valediction, valedictorian, etc. One last hamburger before the Lenten fast begins.

One statement for the record: A non-Christian student, not from the United States, wrote to the list to say that he had heard of some very indecent carryings-on at Mardi Gras, or the Carnival, and that he was shocked to learn that that the Christian Church would sponsor such wicked doings. I therefore wish to state that in many places, non-Christians, observing that Christians have a party every spring, have determined to engage in revelry every spring at the same time. Sometimes they misbehave. Christians have no way of stopping them from misbehaving, and cannot reasonably be held responsible for their actions. (If the Bishops of New Orleans and Rio de Janiero were to forbid all Christian participation in pre-Lenten partying, only a few parties, and none of the rowdier ones, would be canceled. It would really accomplish nothing of value.)

Prayer (traditional language)

Mercifully hear our prayers, O Lord, and spare all those who confess their sins unto thee; that they, whose consciences by sin are accused, by thy merciful pardon may be absolved; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
Prayer (contemporary language)
Mercifully hear our prayers, O Lord, and spare all those who confess their sins unto you; that they, whose consciences by sin are accused, by your merciful pardon may be absolved; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.

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