March 6, 2021 – Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Christian Church throughout the world. Shrove Tuesday is a reminder that Christians are entering a season of penance and was originally a solemn day. But over the centuries, in anticipation of the Lenten fast that would begin the next day, Shrove Tuesday took on a festive nature. That is why Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (which is simply French for Fat Tuesday).
Since Ash Wednesday always falls 46 days before Easter Sunday, Shrove Tuesday falls on the 47th day before Easter. (See The 40 Days of Lent and How Is the Date of Easter Calculated?) The earliest date that Shrove Tuesday can fall is February 3; the latest is March 9. Since Shrove Tuesday is the same day as Mardi Gras, you can find the date of Shrove Tuesday in this and future years in When Is Mardi Gras?
The Origin of the Term
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 penitent season in the right spirit.
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 centuries 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.
Fat Tuesday in Other Countries and Cultures
Example: Many Christians celebrate Shrove Tuesday and the coming of Lent, by enjoying pancakes and sausage. 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. In the countries that speak Romance language (languages derived primarily from Latin), Shrovetide is also known as Carnival—literally, “farewell to meat.”
Shrove Tuesday without Ash Wednesday is just another pagan holiday. Tonight, we celebrate life. Tomorrow we will remember both our mortality and sin—and our need to repent of our sins. Remember the ashes tomorrow!
Ash Wednesday is on Wednesday, March 7, 2021
We will not have Ash Wednesday services this year.
When did Ash Wednesday begin and why do we celebrate it?
Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, a time when many Christians prepare for Easter by observing a period of fasting, repentance, moderation and spiritual discipline. Although Ash Wednesday has ancient roots, it does not appear in the rituals of The United Methodist Church or our predecessor denominations until the 20th century. However, the imposition of ashes on the foreheads of Christians to mark the beginning of Lent can be traced at least to the 10th century.
Ash Wednesday emphasizes two themes: our sinfulness before God and our human mortality. The service focuses on both themes, helping us realize that both have been triumphed through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Ashes are an ancient symbol. In Genesis, we read that God formed human beings out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). After expulsion from the Garden of Eden, the first human beings are told by God, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:19 NRSV). The Hebrew word translated dust, is occasionally translated ashes elsewhere. Throughout scripture, ashes are part of rituals when people seek forgiveness and mourn their sin (see Numbers 19:9, 17; Hebrews 9:13; Jonah 3:6; Matthew 11:21, and Luke 10:13, among others).
In earlier centurie
s, ashes were used to mark those who had been separated from the church because of serious sins and were seeking to be re-admitted to the fellowship of the church. In effect, they were redoing the process of final preparation for church membership along with those doing it for the first time. They were sprinkled with ashes and given rough garments to wear as a sign of sorrow for their sins and their commitment to seek renewal in Christian life through this season. Since the tenth century, the observance of Ash Wednesday has become a general rite for all in the church.
In many churches the ashes are made by burning the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Ashes are placed on the forehead, usually in the sign of a cross, in a ritual known as the Imposition of Ashes. The ash cross on the forehead is an outward sign of our sorrow and repentance for sins. As the ashes are placed on the forehead, words such as these are spoken: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” recalling God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3:19, or “Repent, and believe the gospel” recalling the message of both John the Baptist and Jesus (Mark 1:15).
Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. Find devotionals, activities for families, inspiring stories and information about our faith for the observance of the Lenten seasons.
Friday fish fries. No chocolate. Join a new Bible study.
All these practices have benefits. And all are common Lenten practices. They hint at ways the season of Lent can lead us into more disciplined, focused lives. With that in mind, we offer some other practices that hit at the heart of Lent and excite our spiritual lives.
Lent is the period of 40 days leading up to Easter (note: Sundays don’t count). It is a time of preparation and focus, reminiscent of Jesus’ time in the wilderness before he started his public ministry (See Mark 1, Matthew 4, or Luke 4). We believe that Jesus went to the wilderness to set aside the distractions of normal, “worldly” life and focus on God and God’s will for him. So we attempt to do the same during Lent–though often on a slightly less stringent scale.
So check out these four ways you can “enter the wilderness” this Lenten season and find some focus, too.
Holy week Meditation :
Dr. Phillips will lead a devotion each day of Holy Week at Noon on Facebook and on this page that will include scripture, devotional and prayer with meditation music from Olivia Huggins.
Maundy Thursday is an alternate name for Holy Thursday, the first of the three days of solemn remembrance of the events leading up to and immediately following the crucifixion of Jesus. The English word “Maundy” comes from the Latin mandatum, which means “commandment.” As recorded in John’s gospel, on his last night before his betrayal and arrest, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then gave them a new commandment to love one another as he had loved them (John 13:34). This is why services on this night generally include the washing of feet (or other acts of physical care) as an integral part of the celebration.
While John’s gospel does not record the institution of the Lord’s Supper among the events of this night, the other gospels do. Christians therefore keep this night with celebration at he Lord’s Table (Holy Communion) and which may or may not include foot washing before the meal.