Collops, Pancakes and Food for the Soul.
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. ‘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. Shrove Tuesday has all sorts of customs attached to it as a result.
When I lived in the countryside in a place called Whitechapel in North Lancashire, the children were given a half day holiday to go round the village calling at the farms and homes. They asked politely, please, a pancake!’ I think in the past they received just that but eventually people opted for easier, and more healthy, food. They were each given an orange. No doubt a lot of juice was made that day!
Shrove 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’.
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 Jesus’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, increasingly, local Food Banks.
More than anything, fasting is also about giving up earthly things in order to concentrate on heavenly ones. A proper Fast is 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.’ Lent is 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.
For all of us, whether we are religious or not, there is a lot of value of giving something up that would improve our inner being. I remember that, some years ago, the Vicar on the Radio Programme, The Archers, suggested that people should give up gossiping about others. Negative and disparaging comments don’t really affect those about whom they are made unless they hear them. They do, however, destroy the character of the people who participate in such gossip.
Here’s a story.
A certain monk couldn’t wait to tell his abbot the rumour he had heard in the market place.
“Wait a minute”, said the abbot, “what you plan to tell us – is it true?”
“I don’t think it is.”
“Is it useful?”
“No, it isn’t”
“Is it funny?”
“Then why should we be hearing it?”
The Vicar of Ambridge finished his sermon on a positive note.
He encouraged his parishioners, and, by extension, us, to do random acts of kindness. We live in a world which many think is cruel and unkind but there are so many acts of goodness happening all the time. They don’t get reported in the media but we all know that they happen and I dare say most, if not all, of us do them.
Our world would be a much better place if our random acts of kindness become even more frequent.
photo – BBC Food