Keeping the Feast means Keeping the Fast

As Lent begins, there are a few subtle changes to the regular pattern of our liturgy that are required and thereby signal for us the changing season.  The Opening Acclamation, optional in Rite I, but required in Rite II, moves from the familiar, “Blessed be God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” to the more penitential “Bless the Lord who forgives all our sins.”  Many congregations will move from the Gloria or a hymn of praise to the Kyrie or Trisagion, though this is not required in the rubrics.  The Alleluias that many congregations cheat into the Dismissal will get a brief reprieve, but again, they really shouldn’t have been their in Epiphany to begin with.  The clearest liturgical sign that Lent is upon us comes at the Fraction, where the usual anthem, optional in both Rites I and II, drops the Alleluias that are rubrically kosher the rest of the year.

We go from:

Alleluia.  Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore, let us keep the feast.  Alleluia.

To simply:

Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us;
Therefore, let us keep the feast.

In our Gospel lesson for Lent 1, we hear the story of Jesus fasting in the wilderness for forty days and forty nights.  This is, somewhat obviously, the underlying motivation for a forty day fast in the Season of Lent.  We follow the model of our Savior in taking time to keep the fast in order that we might properly keep the feast that is Eastertide.

big_fish_accord

As I’ve noted previously on this blog and elsewhere, I’ve struggled for many years with the giving something up for Lent cultural phenomenon.  When Arby’s is hocking fish sandwiches in early spring, the idea of Lent being a season of self-denial loses something for me, but the more I think about the correlation between our liturgical fast and the fast of our Lord in the wilderness, the more I think I might work to give something up this Lent after all.  Just as there is no resurrection without death: no Easter without Good Friday, so too there is no real feast without a fast.  There is no mountain unless one knows the valley; no exuberance unless one knows the doldrums.  As we prepare to keep the great feast, let us prepare ourselves by keeping the fast.

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Happy Mardi Gras, Fasnacht Day, Shrove Tuesday!!!

In yesterday’s post, I stressed the importance of taking time out of our busy lives to mark a day of fasting on Ash Wednesday.  Given my stats yesterday evening and this morning, that post struck a chord with a few folks, and for that I am grateful, but truth be told, it was a little bit of putting the cart before the horse.  Before we get to Ash Wednesday and the Season of Lent, we first get to enjoy a feast.  Today marks the final day of the Season after Epiphany.  For my readers in areas of Germanic settlement, it is called by the redundant misnomber of “Fasnacht Day.”  While there is a delicious donut called a Fasnacht, when the term is translated from German it actually means “Fast Night,” the night before the start of the Lenten Fast when the best foods are eaten, and lots of it, to empty your cupboards of fats and sweets.  Shrove Tuesday, the traditional name in English settlements, means to be absolved of sins by way of confessing them.  It seems that the tradition is to eat copious amounts of pancakes and go to confession in preparation for the penitential Season of Lent.  It is in those places settled by Romance Language speakers that have the most fun, however.  Carnival, or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) as it is called in French/Cajun settled Mobile and New Orleans, is a whole season of food, drink, dancing, and parades leading up to a day of excess, Fat Tuesday, and the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday.

Me at the Gulf Shores Mardi Gras Parade

Me at the Gulf Shores Mardi Gras Parade

Americans are really good at excess.  We use any excuse we can find to drink or eat too much.  We do it up for New Years, the Super Bowl, St. Patrick’s Day, Easter, Cinco de Mayo, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Halloween, Thankgiving, and don’t get me started on Christmas.  It all seems to be too much.  And yet, these days of feasting and celebration are important.  When done properly, they are an opportunity to remember and be thankful for all the many gifts God has given us.  We’re grateful for a plentiful harvest, for sugar and oil in the cupboards, for the gift of a new year, for the freedoms we enjoy, and for the blessings poured out through God’s plan of salvation.  We feast in order to prepare for the fast, and that is a good thing, or as the English might say, it is meet and right so to do.

So live it up.  Enjoy the day.  Celebrate responsibly.  We’ll confess our sins tomorrow.  Today, let’s give thanks for the gifts God has given us.