Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Shrove Tuesday

This is the traditional name given to the day preceding Ash Wednesday.

The Americans call it Fat Tuesday, owing, I guess, to the practice of clearing out the larder by eating everything therein forbidden during Lent. In many (principally Latin) countries it is known as Mardi Gras and celebrated with some abandon, but Melancholicus much prefers the traditional English name and sober manner of its celebration.

Shrove Tuesday is named from the verb shrive, which has past tense shrove and past participle shriven. This is an ancient word, going back to the earliest English and with cognates also in other Germanic languages. ‘To shrive’ is to hear confessions, and ‘to be shriven’ refers to the reception of sacramental absolution. Linguistically this is of course an archaic usage, but it is not dead even yet, for today one still encounters souls who use the traditional English terms for receiving the sacrament rather than the more common and pedestrian expression ‘going to confession’.

It is not mandatory to confess one’s sins in Shrovetide, but it is a praiseworthy practice nonetheless and makes for an excellent beginning to the Lenten fast. One should at least use Shrovetide as a time for planning—in consultation with one’s director if one has such—how one shall spend the forty days of Lent.

Melancholicus wished to be shriven on this day, but such was rather difficult as he didn’t venture out of the house except to visit the local shop, whereafter the prospect of driving into town, finding somewhere to park and locating a confessor was somewhat unappealing.

Instead he spent the day playing Rome: Total War, yes, the entire day—for this was his version of Fat Tuesday, and he shall be giving it up for Lent. Five of his cities are under siege, but the inhabitants thereof must wait until Easter to be relieved. His spiritual and intellectual life will benefit more from a renunciation of that game than it ever could abstaining from chocolate or alcoholic beverages.

In the UK and Ireland it is customary to eat pancakes on the evening of Shrove Tuesday, whence the oft-used name (particularly among children) of “pancake Tuesday”. Melancholicus continues to observe this custom in his adulthood although he now sources his pancakes ready-made in the local shop, which relieves him of the burden of frying them up himself.

Very tasty they were too.

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