Tuesday, March 4, 2014
Happy Mardi Gras: Eat, drink and be merry... for tomorrow we fast
Mardi Gras (literally Fat Tuesday in French) has grown in popularity over the past few decades. While many almost exclusively associate this day of parades and often-raucous celebrations with the city of New Orleans, Mardi Gras actually first appeared in the older French port city of Mobile in present-day Alabama.
Most also don't realize the connection between Mardi Gras and the Catholic calendar but the whole reason for Mardi Gras is as the last hurrah before the penance and discipline of Ash Wednesday. This is why all revelry and partying will shut down abruptly at midnight tonight when armies of street-sweepers and mounted police will clear the streets in the Crescent City.
Mardi Gras is a little easier to understand in the context of the Catholic calendar when you think of it as being the final day of that interlude between the Christmas/Epiphany Season and the start of Lent. This short period of time which we Catholics currently (perhaps confusingly) call "Ordinary Time," is one of two periods on the Church calendar that uses this name (the other period stretches from the day after Trinity Sunday until the start of Advent).
Until the introduction of our current calendar in 1970, this current period of Ordinary Time was known as the "Season after Epiphany" and the second portion of Ordinary Time was known as a the "Season after Pentecost." The Sundays in this current season, then, were called the "__ Sunday after Epiphany," which makes a logical connection to the time of year that we are in. Many have argued that the older names were more helpful and less confusing and that the recovery of those names would be a beneficial development.
At any rate, though, in many heavily Catholic cultures (think parts of western Europe, Latin America and the Gulf Coastal region of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana, from Mobile to New Orleans), the period of time between Epiphany and today was also Carnival Season.
One common explanation is that the word Carnival is derived from the Latin carne vale, meaning "farewell to the flesh." It was a period of time, in an age before freezers and reliable food preservation methods, when people consumed all of the meat, dairy products and other rich foods and drinks that they would not be enjoying during the Lenten fast. And where there is a feast, there is usually a party--thus the revelry and parading that has become a cultural hallmark in places like Venice, Rio de Janeiro, the Caribbean and the Gulf Coast of the U.S.
But, lest we forget, tomorrow is Ash Wednesday. So, how are you spending your Fat Tuesday? This is, after all, the day that we are to prepare for the great fast of Lent.
In centuries past, this was done very practically by emptying the storehouse of perishable food items with a great feast. Today, however, we can certainly have a good (and holy!) time, but we can also spend a little more time contemplating how God is calling us to empty out the things which are cluttering our paths along our spiritual walk with Him. We can "fatten up", spiritually, before the great fast.
Today, pause for a moment and ask yourself:
"What is blocking my way to God?"
"What surplus habits can I throw off to lighten my spiritual load and to make me better prepared to live out the Gospel?"
"In what ways can I rid my spiritual life of the bad habits that are threatening to spoil and taint the good spiritual food the Lord has provided for me?"
Today is the day to take stock of your spiritual life, to reflect on the ways that you can walk closer with your Lord. To quote St. Paul, "Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold now is the day of salvation." (2 Corinthians 6:2)
Feast on God's goodness today and enjoy your many blessings. Eat, drink and be merry.... for tomorrow we fast. Above all, pray and seek the guidance of the One you are turning towards.