by Christine Sine
Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent for Western churches, and though most of us have heard of Ash Wednesday and are getting ready to celebrate it with the imposition of ashes on our foreheads, many of us are a little confused about the days that precede it. However I thought that this was a good time to think about adding Clean Monday to our liturgical calendar even though it is not a celebration most Western Christians are aware of.
For Eastern Orthodox Christians, Clean Monday, the Monday before Ash Wednesday, is the first day of Great Lent. In Greece it is a public holiday. Because Orthodox celebrations still follow the Julian calendar rather than the Georgian calendar we are familiar with, this year Clean Monday is on February 27th as Eastern Orthodox Ash Wednesday is March 1st. Clean Monday is a reminder that we should begin Lent with good intentions and a desire to clean our spiritual house. It refers to the leaving behind of sinful attitudes and non-fasting foods, a day of strict fasting for Eastern Catholics and orthodox, including abstinence not only from meat but from eggs and dairy products as well.
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent in the Western Church. “Shrove” is the past tense of the word “shrive,” which means to hear a confession, assign penance, and absolve from sin. Shrove Tuesday is a reminder that we are entering a season of penance.
Shrove Tuesday is also known as Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras (which is simply French for Fat Tuesday). In Italy, Fat Tuesday is known as carnevale – goodbye to meat – from which we get our English word carnival. Traditionally people held one last rich feast, using up perishables like eggs, butter and milk before the fast of Lent began. Now in some places, like New Orleans, this has become a huge celebration that really has nothing to do with the beginning of Lent. Our church, St Andrews Episcopal in Seattle always holds a wonderful Mardi Gras celebration that is also a fundraiser for the youth team’s summer outreach. It is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate together and enjoy New Orleans Jambalaya.
For many however this is still a significant liturgical celebration. Churches often hold pancake suppers, sometimes as a way to reach out to their neigbours. You can find a great collection of recipes and traditions from around the world for Shrove Tuesday in Fat Tuesday Recipes. If your church does not celebrate Shrove Tuesday you might like to consider this wonderfully creative Shrove Tuesday celebration by Lilly Lewin.
The following prayer of St. Ephrem the Syrian is a common prayer used during this season.
O Lord and Master of my life, keep from me the spirit of indifference and discouragement, lust of power and idle chatter. [kneel/prostration]
Instead, grant to me, Your servant, the spirit of wholeness of being, humble-mindedness, patience, and love. [kneel/prostration]
O Lord and King, grant me the grace to be aware of my sins and not to judge my brother; for You are blessed now and ever and forever. Amen. [kneel/prostration]