The natural world has days of abundance and scarcity. Autumnal harvest days bring bountiful crops of apples upon apples, while winter’s lean days offer a ravenousness search for any sight of growth under the bitter ice and snow. High tide and low tide of the mighty oceans are daily occurrences, changing the shape of the beach and sand touching them. Days of feasting and fasting are no different.
The liturgical calendar of the Catholic Church understands the intrinsic rhythm within the human person. Jesus Christ, fully human and fully divine, is its center. It is His life that is the basis of the liturgical calendar. His body, which feeds and nourishes the faithful in the sacraments, also guides the eternal rhythms of the liturgical year.
The cyclical nature of the liturgical year allows for preparation and celebration as well as resting in the gift of grace in human space.
Living well the fullness of a feast takes time and energy. This creates room and a deeper desire for a fast and abstinence. One too many sugary, sweet paczki offer the tongue a taste for the simpler, fresh fruit. So, too, does celebrating well the days of Carnival and Mardi Gras better prepare oneself to live well a holy Lent.
To learn to celebrate well, but not overindulge, is a habit of self-control for all Christians. To see and trust God through the fat and thin days, to live steady and faithfully, is a hallmark of a holy Christian.
This self-discipline takes repetition, day after day. It takes 40 days, in fact, to prepare for the great joy awaiting us at Easter. But Lent cannot be presumed to be carried on one’s will and resolve alone. Lenten intentions to fast, give alms and pray will fall faster than a New Year’s resolution to lose excess weight if not for God’s grace. God alone sustains us through a good Lent, and His burden is easy, His yoke is light.
Transformation happens when God’s grace rests upon a willing soul. Might I suggest, then, that keeping a good Mardi Gras, “letting the good times roll” or “laissez les bons temps rouler,” is one valid way to prepare?
This Feb. 25 is Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. It’s the last day of ordinary time, growing time, before Ash Wednesday arrives and Lent begins. The full season of Carnival starts on Epiphany, the Twelfth Night, when the Magi arrive, and runs through Mardi Gras day.
Coming from the Latin “carne vale” or “farewell to meat,” these weeks are meant to be a time to use up the remainder of one’s meat and animal byproducts, such as butter and cream. Thus, indulgent treats such as King Cake were created to clear out people’s pantries and cupboards and prepare their homes and selves for a holy and well-kept Lent. The same could be done today, clearing out refrigerators of ice cream or heavy cream for coffee during Mardi Gras so that the fresh air of less and fasting might exist.
Like any tool, Mardi Gras must be used properly and with caution, ideally within the context of a community and good company of other people. We come to know God in direct relationship with Him, which others and their holy example can lead us to.
St. Bridget, a religious sister from Ireland, is attributed with saying; “I should like a great lake of beer for the King of Kings. I should like the angels of Heaven to be drinking it through time eternal.”
A family and community also can keep one accountable for learning skills of moderation, even in times of celebration.
The vivid colors of Mardi Gras speak to Christ Himself. Purple, green and gold can be found across beads and banners, cakes and krewes at Mardi Gras celebrations. Each one reminds the faithful of a quality of Christ the King. Purple represents justice, as kings alone were allowed to wear the hard-to-procure color. Gold represents power, whose true wealth lies in His humility. Green represents faith, following the Christmas tradition of evergreen trees and wreaths: It reminds us that Christ is ever faithful, the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.
The beauty of the liturgical calendar offers abundance. It balances feasting with fasting to best prepare us for the greatest, holiest day of the entire year, Easter Sunday. On that day, the Lord’s resurrection might truly become a day of our soul’s greatest joy. Celebrate well this year!
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