Thursday, February 20, 2014
Pancakes and Excess
I suppose if we took Lent seriously we would need a period before hand just to empty the larder and to plot and plan our Lenten penance as well as our spiritual growth towards the Paschal Mystery, rather than just giving up chocolate or sugar or saying an extra decade. For our forefathers Lent meant getting rid of a great deal of the preserved food that had been put aside for the winter and was likely to go to waste as the weather suddenly warmed; all those preserved meat products, and not just bacon and preserved foods but also cheese and dairy products. It was literally a time for saying carne vale, farewell to meat.
It was a period of conspicuous consumption of which our English pancakes and 'Shrove Tuesday' are just the flat remnant, I don't know if pancakes were originally filled with all types of good things or if they really resembled a Spanish omelet. We know from the records of Italian cities but also from English documentation that this pre-Lent season involved a great deal of partying, music, theatre, street entertainment. I remember reading an account of the huge difference between Carnival and Lent recounted by 18th century traveller to Venice, partying, drunkenness and gaiety one day, sombre sobriety from Ash Wednesday onwards.
Septuagessima, was a way in the Church hauled up the violet banner, saying 'now is the time to begin to get ready, eat drink and be merry for tomorrow you fast'. The Church seems everywhere to have opposed the excesses of Septuagessima, until under Bunini it itself was abolished, in a characteristic gesture.
Its proper character is perhaps revealed in the English name 'Shrovetide' the when people went to Confession before Lent so that they might keep this Holy Season in a state of Grace.
Posted by Fr Ray Blake