The meaning of Shrove Tuesday – 13 February 2018
Shrove is the past tense of the word shrive, which means to hear a confession, assign penance and absolve from sin. In the Middle Ages, especially in Northern Europe and England, it became the custom to confess one’s sins on the day before Lent began in order to enter the penitential season in the right spirit. How I wish the Church would bring this practice back NOW and not concentrate on flipping pancakes – entendre intended! Though we, as the “Church” can re-institute this practice ourselves.
From the earliest days of Christianity, Lent, the penitential period before Easter, has always been a time of fasting and abstinence.
While the Lenten fast today is confined to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstinence from meat is required only on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday and the other Fridays of Lent, in previous times (and not so long away either, ask anyone over 60) the fast was quite severe. Christians abstained from all meat and items that came from animals, including butter, eggs, cheese and fat.
That is why Shrove Tuesday became known as Mardi Gras, the French term for Fat Tuesday. Over time, Mardi Gras extended from a single day to the entire period of Shrovetide, the days from the last Sunday before Lent through Shrove Tuesday.
In the countries that speak Romance language (languages derived primarily from Latin), Shrovetide is also known as Carnivale—literally, “farewell to meat.” In the English-speaking countries, Shrove Tuesday became known as Pancake Day, because Christians used up their eggs, butter and milk to make pancakes and other pastries.