Today is St Valentine’s Day, which is a fitting harbinger of the season of Lent, when we remember Jesus’ self-sacrificial love. You may like to find out more about this day – for example at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentine%27s_Day
We all know about Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day) – on 16th February this year. But what is that all about? And what does it have to do with giving up chocolates for Lent, which starts the following day – Ash Wednesday? And why is it called Ash Wednesday?
The forty days of Lent lead up to Easter – 4th April this year, according to some fairly complicated calculations. During the last week of Lent, Holy Week, we remember the events surrounding Christ’s death on the cross, events which are at the very heart of Christian faith. Lent is a time when we prepare our hearts and minds. It is traditional to make some outward sign during this period of reflection, such as giving up chocolate or alcohol. To honour the blood which Jesus gave by dying on the cross, some Christians across the centuries have chosen to abstain from eating any food from animals, including dairy products. As Lent begins on Wednesday, certain foods, eggs and butter, for example, had to be used up on Tuesday, and pancakes are a good way to do this. This tradition has in some places developed into the period of Carnival, ending on Shrove Tuesday. The origins of this name are unclear, but it is often taken to refer that people are about to enter a period when they will not eat meat. Carnivorous means meat-eating, and Vale means ‘goodbye, so from Carnival until Easter one will say goodbye to meat-eating. Some choose to make their confession on Shrove Tuesday in preparation for the solemnity of Ash Wednesday. The name ‘Shrove’ comes from an Old English word which is still occasionally found in the form ‘shriven’ meaning sins have been confessed and absolved.
Over the next six weeks or so, we will be thinking about how we can prepare for Holy Week. In particular we will be looking at how we might ‘declutter’ our lives of things which prevent us from placing Christ at the centre. You may like to use this prayer for Ash Wednesday:
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.