Skip to comments.Catholic Roots of Mardi Gras
Posted on 02/15/2010 9:50:40 PM PST by Salvation
Catholic Roots of Mardi Gras
Mardi Gras, literally "Fat Tuesday," has grown in popularity in recent years as a raucous, sometimes hedonistic event. But its roots lie in the Christian calendar, as the "last hurrah" before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. That's why the enormous party in New Orleans, for example, ends abruptly at midnight on Tuesday, with battalions of streetsweepers pushing the crowds out of the French Quarter towards home.
What is less known about Mardi Gras is its relation to the Christmas season, through the ordinary-time interlude known in many Catholic cultures as Carnival. (Ordinary time, in the Christian calendar, refers to the normal "ordering" of time outside of the Advent/Christmas or Lent/Easter seasons. There is a fine Scripture From Scratch article on that topic if you want to learn more.)
Carnival comes from the Latin words carne vale, meaning "farewell to the flesh." Like many Catholic holidays and seasonal celebrations, it likely has its roots in pre-Christian traditions based on the seasons. Some believe the festival represented the few days added to the lunar calendar to make it coincide with the solar calendar; since these days were outside the calendar, rules and customs were not obeyed. Others see it as a late-winter celebration designed to welcome the coming spring. As early as the middle of the second century, the Romans observed a Fast of 40 Days, which was preceded by a brief season of feasting, costumes and merrymaking.
The Carnival season kicks off with the Epiphany, also known as Twelfth Night, Three Kings' Day and, in the Eastern churches, Theophany. Epiphany, which falls on January 6, 12 days after Christmas, celebrates the visit of the Wise Men bearing gifts for the infant Jesus. In cultures that celebrate Carnival, Epiphany kicks off a series of parties leading up to Mardi Gras.
Epiphany is also traditionally when celebrants serve King's Cake, a custom that began in France in the 12th century. Legend has it that the cakes were made in a circle to represent the circular routes that the Wise Men took to find Jesus, in order to confuse King Herod and foil his plans of killing the Christ Child. In the early days, a coin or bean was hidden inside the cake, and whoever found the item was said to have good luck in the coming year. In Louisiana, bakers now put a small baby, representing the Christ Child, in the cake; the recipient is then expected to host the next King Cake party.
There are well-known season-long Carnival celebrations in Europe and Latin America, including Nice, France; Cologne, Germany; and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The best-known celebration in the U.S. is in New Orleans and the French-Catholic communities of the Gulf Coast. Mardi Gras came to the New World in 1699, when a French explorer arrived at the Mississippi River, about 60 miles south of present day New Orleans. He named the spot Point du Mardi Gras because he knew the holiday was being celebrated in his native country that day.
Eventually the French in New Orleans celebrated Mardi Gras with masked balls and parties, until the Spanish government took over in the mid-1700s and banned the celebrations. The ban continued even after the U.S. government acquired the land but the celebrations resumed in 1827. The official colors of Mardi Gras, with their roots in Catholicism, were chosen 10 years later: purple, a symbol of justice; green, representing faith; and gold, to signify power.
Mardi Gras literally means "Fat Tuesday" in French. The name comes from the tradition of slaughtering and feasting upon a fattened calf on the last day of Carnival. The day is also known as Shrove Tuesday (from "to shrive," or hear confessions), Pancake Tuesday and fetter Dienstag. The custom of making pancakes comes from the need to use up fat, eggs and dairy before the fasting and abstinence of Lent begins.
Pre-Lenten Days -- Family activities-Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)[Catholic/Orthodox Caucus]
And so it begins - The Questions, the questions... [Shrove Tuesday]
Mardi Gras' Catholic Roots [Shrove Tuesday]
New Orleans: A Tale of Two Cities (Rosary Walk Before Mardi Gras)
your roots are showing.
You mean there are ACTUALLY people who didn’t/don’t know this?
Seriously, maybe it is just my world, but I thought everyone knew this.
The libs may know it deep down, but they would never say it out loud. LOL!
All they want is to “Party on!”
Meatless soup for me tomorrow.
Clam chowder or cheese broccoli. Which to choose?
The Observance of Lent - Part I
[Illustration, Book of Gospels - Midwest Theological Forum]
Part I - Pre-Lenten Days
Suggestions for family activities on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras)
The penitential season of Lent is the period of forty week-days beginning on Ash Wednesday. It is a season of the Church year that commemorates the forty days Jesus fasted and prayed in the wilderness before He began His public ministry of preaching for repentance. Six Sundays are within the season; the last, Passion Sunday, marks the beginning of Holy Week. Holy Thursday begins the Triduum (three days) before Easter day, which includes Good Friday and Holy Saturday.
The Church has devoted a period of time to prayer and fasting as a preparation for the liturgical comemmoration of the Passion of Christ and the celebrations of the feast of the Resurrection, Easter Day, since very early times. In 604 Pope Gregory I defined Lent as "The spiritual tithing of the year", a time of solemn spiritual and physical preparation for our own acceptance of salvation through Christ's sacrifice. (Ordinary tithing meant to give a tenth part a tithe of one's goods to God. Lent's forty days represents about a tenth of the year.)
The word "Lent" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word "lencten", referring to the lengthening of days in the Spring. Lent, of course, is an English word. In Latin, still the official language of the the Catholic Church, the entire season is known as Quadrigesima, or "forty".
The season of Lent calls Christians to imitate the forty days of prayer and fasting of Jesus. The period of forty days is significant. When God punished the sinfulness of mankind by the Flood, the rain lasted forty days and forty nights. Moses led the Hebrew people out of bondage in Egypt, but they wandered forty years in the desert before reaching the promised land. Elijah fasted and sought God's will on Mount Horeb for forty days. Jonah prophesied the destruction of Nineveh in forty days.
In the Eastern Churches the penitential season before Easter begins before the forty days, and eventually the Roman Church also anticipated the season for several weeks before the actual beginning of Lent.
Prior to the Second Vatican Council, the pre-Lenten penitential season began on the Sunday three weeks before the beginning of Lent, called Septuagesima. The word Septuagesima (seventieth) was supposed to be a reminder of the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity of the Jewish people, and thus of our captivity in sin, although this Sunday was actually only sixty-three days before Easter. The succeeding pre-Lenten Sundays were called Sexagesima and Quinquagesima. Just as in Lent, violet vestments were worn and the Alleluia was omitted from Mass.
The liturgical changes initiated by the Council removed this anticipated pre-Lenten penitential season, however, and the Church returned to the earlier practice of beginning Lent on Ash Wednesday. The Sundays between Epiphany and the beginning of Lent are now in the liturgical season called Ordinary Time.
The date of Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon following the vernal (spring) equinox. So, unlike Christmas, which is celebrated on the same day each year, Easter and feasts and celebrations of the Church year related to Easter are called "movable feasts". The movable feasts include the Ascension (forty days after Easter), Pentecost (fifty days after Easter), and Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost. (Christ the King, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, or the Sunday before Advent, is also a movable feast, although its date is not determined by the date of Easter, but by the first Sunday of Advent, which is the Sunday nearest the Feast of St. Andrew, November 30.)
Carnival Shrove Tuesday - Mardi Gras
Carnival is from the Latin Carnevale or "farewell to meat", and it is a time of joyful feasting and fun. The practice of celebrating carnival probably began in ancient times when the Sunday a week before the beginning of Lent was called Dominica Carnevala, or "farewell to meat Sunday" -- referring to the Lenten fast from meat and animal products. (For more information on the Catholic practice of fasting see Ash Wednesday page, and Fast and Abstinence page.)
The official day of "farewell" is Mardi Gras, French for "Fat Tuesday". The day was also called "Butter Tuesday", because the last of the animal products had to be used up sometimes in fried pancakes. It is also known as Shrove Tuesday, which may refer to the diet being deprived or "shriven" of meat; or possibly that after the customary confession in preparation for Lent, one is "shriven" of sin. The famous celebration of Mardi Gras in New Orleans has become largely a secular festival, its religious meaning having been virtually obliterated in the revelries. And the word "carnival" has long since lost its religious significance.
Carnival celebrations are not confined only to Mardi Gras, however. In some parts of the world, the carnival season extends several weeks prior to Ash Wednesday. Even today, the carnival celebrations, especially in the Caribbean, South American and some European countries, begin on January 6 (Epiphany) and end on midnight before Ash Wednesday.
Celebrating Carnival with family, friends and parish community helps children and adults to understand and appreciate "that wonderful, eternal rhythm of high and low tide that makes up the year of the Church: times of waiting alternate with times of fulfillment, the lean weeks of Lent with the feasts of Easter and Pentecost, times of mourning with seasons of rejoicing", as Maria von Trapp said, in Around the Year with the Trapp Family (p. 85). The Carnival season has been a time of "blowing off steam", of entertaining guests in the spirit of Christian hospitality and generosity, and of partaking of rich food and drinks and sometimes of excess, as the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans vividly displays.
One of the reasons for the development of the Carnival season and the emphasis on revelry and merry-making was the very rigorous practice of Lenten fasting during the Middle Ages and beyond. During Carnival, housewives of the past rid their pantries of all butter, lard, eggs, bacon, cream and cheese in preparation for the Lenten fast. From the Middle Ages until the late Renaissance, eating all animal products except fish (which were considered bloodless) was forbidden.
Now, however, the Lenten fast and abstinence from meat in most parts of the world is confined to Ash Wednesday and all Fridays during Lent, and in modern times abstinence from meat does not include other animal products (eggs, milk and cheese, for example).
The custom of eating pancakes on Shrove Tuesday is still maintained in many places. (Pancakes require many eggs and much milk and butter in their preparation.) To this day there is an annual pancake race on Shrove Tuesday between the village of Olney, England and the small town of Liberal, Kansas. The outcome of this international contest, which originated in the story of a "war-bride" who was a native of Olney where the traditional pancake race originated several hundred years ago, usually appears in the national news on Tuesday before the beginning of Lent.
Mardi Gras Menu Suggestions
New Orleans French: Crepes or beignets, with quiche or egg/cheese main-dish casserole
Cafe au lait or hot chocolate, fruit juices or wine punch
Anglo-American: Pancakes or doughnuts with sausages, bacon or ham slices, scrambled eggs; fruit sauces, other fillings, syrups, etc.; honey-butter, whipped cream, cream cheese.
The few days before Ash Wednesday, particularly the day before Shrove Tuesday. It is associated with confessing one's sins and has in many places become a time for holding carnivals, as the last time for festivity before the Lenten season of penance.
Clam Chowder :)
I was trying to remember what one of these colors represented today at church when people asked me. I could only remember the purple and gold........what is it with memory?
** purple, a symbol of justice; green, representing faith; and gold, to signify power.**
My decision too!
what is it with memory?
- - - - - - -
I don’t remember. ;)