Sunday, January 23, 2005

Mardi Gras is Shrove Tuesday

Mardi Gras will be celebrated this year on February 8th, the memorial of Saint Jerome Emiliani in the Church calendar. The City of Saint Louis is well known for its Soulard neighborhood Mardi Gras festival, one of the largest in the world. This Carnival is consciously modeled after the New Orleans, Louisiana celebrations, and has a similar reputation for outlandish parades, drinking, sexual license, and general excess.

Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, is called Carnival (meaning 'taking away of flesh') in Southern Europe and Latin America, but has the English name Shrove Tuesday. 'To shrive' means 'to hear confessions', and since at least A.D. 1000, Shrovetide, the week before Shrove Tuesday, was a time for going to confession. This makes sense, for Lent, starting the day after Shrove Tuesday on Ash Wednesday, is a penitential season. Catholics then ought to use this week for examinations of conscience, going to the Sacrament of Confession, and then be generous in doing penance for those sins during Lent.

It is only natural that before a solemn season of fasting and abstinence from meat, a great feast should be held, with much celebration and fun, and Catholics (unlike the Puritans) have a great tradition of hospitality, as Saint Martha did for our Lord. The Church's calendar has many feasts days. These literally should be FEAST days, so celebrate, have a dinner party, and invite your parish priest, closest friends, family members, and some poor or sick acquaintances who don't get out much. Hospitality is a fruit of the virtue of charity. A true feast should be for all ages and all states of life, and is primarily about good food, thanksgiving, and fellowship.

The Mardi Gras tradition goes beyond hospitality and clean fun, however, and is used as big excuse to commit multiple mortal sins in one evening in the company of strangers doing the same. What a difference one Mardi Gras in Soulard can make...I recall one party, in the 1990s, that ended in adultery, rape, endangerment to innocents, loss of faith, and about one hundred people losing their jobs due to the scandal of what happened. It was all in good fun, some would say, but got out of control; others say that we need to be personally responsible, but without telling other people how to live their lives. Ultimately, Mardi Gras is an outrageous parody of a true feast. It is a shame that the City Fathers encourage this, since it is ultimately destructive and degrading to the participants.

Some suggestions for celebrating the eve before Lent: avoid Soulard, especially if you have kids, since even the "family" events are gay-friendly, and the adult events are dangerous. There are way too many drunks and the police will be very tense. Make a good examination of conscience and go to Confession. By the way, you CAN'T confess the sins that you want to commit later in the evening. Have a party at home, with a filling gourmet home-cooked meal; this will help absorb any alcohol consumed and will reduce the amount of drinking by guests. Go to bed at a reasonable hour, and remember to go to Mass the next day, which should be easy since you won't have a hangover. And don't be afraid to be seen in public with ashes on your forehead on Ash Wednesday.

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