Question: Carnivale and Mardi Gras celebrations are linked to Ash Wednesday, Lent, fast and abstinence. Can you tell us more about the connections between these events?
Answer: Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the forty days known as Lent. Every year, Christians highlight this penitential season as a time of self-examination, reformation of one’s life, and continued development of a deeper spiritual life. The recommended practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving become the focus of Lenten activity and ritual. Each of these spiritual practices is aimed at personal discipline as well as continued concern for the other, especially the poor or alienated.
Forty days is a symbolic biblical period of time, during which personal transformation occurs and out of which people surface as more spiritual, ready to carry out God’s mission. Relying on God’s providence and care, no matter how difficult life becomes, is crucial to Lenten spirituality. Fasting was initially stricter, permitting only one simple meal a day without meat, fish, or other delicacies. Such things were not even allowed in the house.
In order to prepare for this in an age of no refrigeration, people gathered to consume whatever was not allowed during Lent. This led to parties or celebrations originally referred to as Carnivale, literally meaning “goodbye to meat,” or Mardi Gras, literally meaning “Fat Tuesday.” The eating and celebrating ended on the Tuesday just before Ash Wednesday. Today we focus more on moderation in all things, as well as a strong concern the poor. What are you doing for the poor this Lent?
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