Dear Church Family,
Most of us do not associate the celebration of Mardi Gras with any sort of religious observance. After all, the news footage of hordes of people in the streets in various levels of drunkenness doesn’t seem to depict holiness. The whole holiday just seems to be an excuse for public intoxication. For many of the people celebrating in New Orleans and other parts of the world, that is all that the event represents. But, Mardi Gras (literally translated “Fat Tuesday”) is the final day before the observance of Lent. Mardi Gras didn’t start out as a time of drunken revelry. It originated as a final opportunity to feast prior to the Lenten fast.
While Mardi Gras has gained a reputation for its self-indulgence, Lent is a time of prayer, repentance, and recommitment leading up to the celebration of Christ’s resurrection on Easter. Starting with Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, and culminating 40 days later, Lent is a time of spiritual preparation for the most important religious holy day for believers. (Sundays are not included in the 40 days of Lent as they are already holy days for Christians.)
Traditionally, observers participated in Lent by abstaining from certain types of food (particularly meat, eggs, and milk products). In some traditions, partial fasts were observed where participants would eat only one meal on certain days. Many who observe Lent today are not as strict. Often, they choose to abstain from a particular behavior (such as watching TV, for example) during Lent. The idea is to abstain from certain activities and instead use the time and energy to focus on taking stock of one’s own spiritual condition and repenting for spiritual failures.
The 40 days of Lent are also a time of grief. All Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ each Easter. Unfortunately, we often don’t spend much time grieving over our sins that caused the brutal execution of Christ. This tradition of sorrow begins with the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, when ashes are put on believers’ foreheads as a sign of repentance. The practice of putting ashes on one’s head is an ancient sign of mourning that was often done at funerals or similarly sorrowful occasions. In this case, the ashes represent sorrow over our sins, and the pain and death caused by sin. Perhaps if we are to truly appreciate the great cost to Christ of our salvation, we should first meditate on our sinfulness.
Yours in Christ,