Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, which means today is Mardi Gras! Known in some places as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, different cultures have different ways of celebrating this day before Lent begins. But it is a bit disappointing that the day before Lent is so often associated with excess and debauchery. Because while Mardi Gras is a wonderful day to celebrate, it’s important to stay focused on why we celebrate it, and how it can help us prepare for Lent rather than have us starting off Lent with a tummy ache.
On the origins of Fat Tuesday, Fr. Matthew explained, “Pancakes are very commonly eaten on Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. And part of that is because people will take all the very nutritious foods from their pantry – butter, eggs, fat, flour, and throw them together to make pancakes. It’s to clear out their cupboards of these different things so that they can have a more ascetic experience of Lent.”
So while Mardi Gras is a great day to indulge in treats (like pancakes, and King Cakes and paczki!) you can actually get more out of this day when you remember that you aren’t just gorging on sweets for the sake of tradition, but are putting away these treats for a higher purpose. “This is a wonderful day to reflect on that, to put away things of the flesh, to put away those very nice things that we experience day in and day out. And to begin to have a period of self-denial in preparation for Easter.”
Some view Mardi Gras as a day to give in to gluttony in preparation for the fasting that will take place on Ash Wednesday. But Father Matthew pointed out that not only is this not a good way to celebrate, it’s actually counter-productive.
“To indulge in our sins today doesn’t make it easier to fast from them tomorrow,” he said. “I mean, that’s the ironic part of this. We’re trying to begin Lent in a powerful way. But by experiencing excess today, it actually makes fasting harder, it actually makes detachment even more difficult tomorrow.”
Fr. Matthew reflected on the concept that so often we live our entire lives like Mardi Gras. We indulge ourselves in the present and put off making the changes and the sacrifices we need to be holy. We act as though it’s no big deal to sin on Mardi Gras because we’ll make up for it by fasting on Ash Wednesday. But that mentality can shape how we live throughout the year, giving into the things of the flesh and putting off our devotion to the Lord for another day.
“One of my favorite saints is St. Francis de Sales, who talks about this point,” said Fr. Matthew. “He says we can’t be devoted to God if we’re always putting it off. In fact, true devotion to God has to be prompt. It has to be done immediately. It has to be done in a timely fashion. And the same has to be true with our Lenten observances. If we keep putting it off until tomorrow it will never happen, we will never become the saints that God wants us to be. So we have to start today. We have to make that decision now. And it only gets easier, the sooner we do it.”
Listen to the full conversation with Fr. Matthew Spencer below: