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Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday

Shrove Tuesday (also known as Pancake Day, Pancake Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, and Mardi Gras) is a term used in English speaking countries, especially in Ireland, The United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, The Philippines, Germany, and parts of the United States, for the day preceding Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of fasting and prayer called Lent.

The word shrove is the past tense of the English verb to shrive, which means to obtain absolution for one’s sins through confession and doing penance. During the week before Lent, sometimes called Shrovetide in English, Christians were expected to go to confession in preparation for the penitential season of turning to God. Shrove Tuesday is noted in histories dating back to 1000 AD. The popular celebratory aspect of the day had developed long before the Protestant Reformation, and was associated with releasing high spirits before the somber season of Lent. It is analogous to the continuing Carnival tradition associated with Mardi Gras (and its various names in different countries) that continued separately in European Catholic countries.

In the United States, the term Shrove Tuesday is less widely known outside of people who observe the liturgical traditions of the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, and Catholic churches. Because of the increase in many immigrant populations and traditions since the 19th century, and the rise of highly publicized festivals, Mardi Gras has become more familiar as the designation for that day.

In the United Kingdom and many other countries, the day is often known as Pancake Day. Making and eating such foods was considered a last feast with ingredients such as sugar, fat and eggs, whose consumption was traditionally restricted during the ritual fasting associated with Lent.

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days before Easter. It is a moveable fast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as February 4 or as late as March 10 (this year it falls on February 22nd).

According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus spent forty days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this forty day liturgical period of prayer and fasting.

Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of Christians as a sign of mourning and repentance. This practice is common in much of Christendom, being celebrated by Catholics, Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists, Presbyterians, Anglicans, and some Baptist denominations. The ashes are made from palm leaves left from the previous year’s Palm Sunday celebration.


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