February 21, 2017

#05-008: The Run-Up to Lent

an ornate piece of cabinetry with two doors facing front, and crosses inside, in a church
A big part of preparing for Lent is confessing one's sins

Note: People speak of "giving up something for Lent," but actually, preparation for the season begins weeks before Ash Wednesday, the official start of Lent.

Get Ready: Is there any spiritual benefit in "giving up something"--bad habits, for example, or good things one enjoys--just temporarily?

We have mentioned the Feast of the Epiphany (see Lesson #05-003), which marks the beginning of a new season (after the "Twelve Days of Christmas") which continues until the start of Lent.

In some traditions, there is a "10, 9, 8" sort of countdown to Easter, which is the most important day in the Christian year, and is preceded by the season of Lent.

The first day of the countdown is Septuagesima Sunday, a name meaning "Seventy" because it is (very approximately) 70 days, or ten weeks, before Easter. This day may not happen in a particular year if Easter comes very early. The following Sunday is Sexagesima ("sixty"), and then Quinquagesima ("fifty") and Quadragesima ("forty"). The astute observer will note that, as weeks are seven days long, succeeding Sundays cannot possibly denote 70, 60, 50, and 40. Apparently the ancients were more comfortable with "ballpark figures" than we are!


As with any preparations, things get a little more hectic as Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, approaches.

In English tradition, the day before Ash Wednesday is called "Shrove Tuesday." The word "shrove" is related to the word "shrive," which refers to confessing one's sins to a priest and being "shriven" (forgiven or absolved). This is an inward preparation; outwardly, people tried to use up all the rich foods in their houses, so one common celebration is the "Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper," using up the fat and butter in the house. This tradition is also practiced in the southern European countries.

In French this day is called Mardi Gras or "Fat Tuesday," and it's still a very big festival in New Orleans in the U.S., a city founded by the French. In other countries, like Brazil, it is called Carnival, which comes from a Latin expression meaning "Goodbye, Meat!" (Catholics traditionally fasted from meat during Lent.)

Similarly, the University of Oxford has the Festum Ovorum or "Feast of Eggs" on the Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) before Ash Wednesday.

This year* Ash Wednesday falls on March 1st, so Shrove Tuesday/Mardi Gras will be on February 28. All of these dates move depending on the date of Easter, which we'll discuss another time.

*That was in 2017; the date moves wildly as it's tied to the date of Easter. The year I posted this, 2021, it was on February 17th. In 2022, it will be March 2nd!


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Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. astute
  2. ballpark figures
  3. confessing
  4. countdown
  5. denote
  6. fasted
  7. hectic
  8. preceded
  9. rich
  10. succeeding

  1. flavorful, and high in calories
  2. approximate numbers
  3. clever at seeing something
  4. going from higher numbers to lower in order
  5. very busy
  6. following; coming after
  7. coming before
  8. chose not to eat something
  9. telling someone what one has done wrong
  10. mean; signify

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for February 21, 2017

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. c; 2. b; 3. i; 4. d; 5. j; 6. h; 7. e; 8. g; 9. a; 10. f