When Shrove Tuesday turned up on my calendar as a Christian holiday, I am embarrassed to say that I had never heard of it. After consulting an encyclopedia and Internet sources, I now have an understanding of the day that precedes Lent.
Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ancient ritual of shriving. The name is derived from the Old English term shrive. To shrive someone is to hear them confess their sins. In shriving, a person would acknowledge his sins, usually to a priest and would receive absolution. (absolution - the person is forgiven or set free from the penalty of their sins)
On Shrove Tuesday, Christians make a special point of self-examination and contemplation. They look for wrongs for which they need to repent and changes that they should make in their life.
This day is also called Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras. In French, Mardi means Tuesday and Gras means fat. Traditionally, this was the day that housewives would prepare for Lent by using up the fats, such as bacon drippings, in the house. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting from rich foods. Unfortunately, for many Fat Tuesday has become a day of over-indulgence, a last chance to celebrate before the fast. It is sort of a way to make up for the sense of loss in observing Lent.
The date of Ash Wednesday is found by counting forty days before Easter - not counting Sundays. Ash Wednesday is often observed by the wearing of ashes on one's forehead. Ashes are a symbol of repentance and of mourning. It is seen in the Bible in 2 Samuel 13:19, Esther 4:1-3, Job 42:6, and Jeremiah 6:26.
As Christians, we are called to acknowledge and to mourn our wrong doings. We are to ask for God's forgiveness. We are to call upon Jesus Christ and accept that He has absolved us by His death on the cross. We are free from the penalty of sin because of His sacrifice. Observing a day of contemplation and reflection is a fitting way to prepare for the observance of His death and resurrection. While designating a special day is a good way to observe Christ's sacrifice for my sin, it is important that I remember to acknowledge and repent my sins on more than one day a year.
Perhaps a better practice is to set aside a special time every evening to think back over the day and to confess any sin that comes to mind. If I have offended someone, I can make plans to reconcile. If I have offended God, I can ask His forgiveness. Then, I am able to celebrate - daily - the new life Christ has given me.
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