Pre Lent. Festivity and Fasting
In the past, the days before Lent were used to eat up all the food in the house which were traditionally ‘banned’ during the period of Fasting. It was the period of ‘Carnival’ (Carnivale) which is still popular in parts of Southern Europe. One of the most popular being in Venice with its parades and fancy dress and general merriment. Sadly because of the Virus, like many things, it won’t be happening this year. ‘Carnivale’ means, literally, ‘farewell to meat’ – a reminder that in Lent meat was not eaten. The Monday before Ash Wednesday is known as Collop Monday because on this day, any meat remaining in the house was fried into collops (like a medallion) and eaten. A traditional recipe involves bacon collops with eggs. Then on the day before Lent, Shrove Tuesday, the remaining eggs were used to produce pancakes (a tradition still extremely popular). Like meat, eggs were forbidden in Lent. This Tuesday was also the day when people confessed their sins and made themselves ready for the Lenten Fast. The word ‘Shrove’ comes from ‘shriven’ meaning ‘to confess and receive God’s absolution/ forgiveness’.
A more unusual festivity, and a unique one, is associated with the village of Whitechapel in North Lancashire, where I was Vicar for a time. The School children would go round the houses and farms in the area and would knock on doors and say ‘Please –a– pancake’. In the past they no doubt got pancakes but in more modern times, it was much more healthy—the children each received an orange! (sadly not this year of course).
Nowadays some of the festivity continues but the meaning behind it is lost. Lent is no longer a time for absolute fasting though many ‘give up’ things like chocolate or alcohol. (Sometimes the motive for this abstinence is to do with losing weight for the summer!). Fasting is a good spiritual discipline for all sorts of reasons. It is meant to train the body so that the soul is free to communicate more closely with God; it is a reminder of our Lord’s desert time when, after fasting he was tempted by the devil and resisted—and we are called to resist the temptations that beset us. Going without food of any kind and perhaps eating more simply at all times helps us to identify with so many in the world who are suffering from malnutrition—people we can help if we give the money saved by avoiding luxury foods to Third World charities and causes.
More than anything, fasting is also about giving up earthly things in order to concentrate on heavenly ones. A proper Fast must be accompanied by a deeper praying. In our modern world we could give up things other than food—such as watching less television—and using the time saved to read a spiritual book . A negative should always be accompanied by a positive. Lent can be a time to ‘take on’ something as well as ‘give up’. Setting an aim to be a better, more equipped, Christian is a good goal and turns Lent into a positive time. Lent is not a time of gloom but as the word itself means—a spring time for spiritual growth. An exciting time of opportunity to spend more time with God.