Happy Fat Tuesday! For those who might not know, Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras in French), is the name traditionally given to the day before Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent. The name comes from the fact that traditionally Catholics have abstained from eating meat during the season of Lent, and originally also eggs and fat. In pre-modern cultures, there was no feasible way for everyone to preserve their stores of such food, and so celebrations were held before Lent began in order to feast and consume these perishable items. In England the need to use up eggs and fat before Lent led to the tradition of serving pancakes on "Shrove Tuesday" as they called it. And of course most of us are familiar with the Carnival held in New Orleans, itself a carry over from the European tradition. The word "carnival" most likely comes from carne levare or "the taking away of flesh," a reference to the giving up of meat for Lent.
Lent begins this week on Ash Wednesday. Though it is not a Holy Day of Obligation (which means that Catholics are not strictly obliged to attend Mass on this day), many Catholics do attend an Ash Wednesday Mass as a wonderful way to mark the beginning of this penitential season. There are four opportunities to attend an Ash Wednesday Mass in our area.
ASH WEDNESDAY MASS SCHEDULE
9:00am at St. Mary's
12:30pm here at the Catholic Student Center on campus
6:00pm at St. Mary's
8:00pm at St. Mary's (in Spanish)
A reminder that we are still planning on dinner this Wednesday - it will be a light meal, followed by a program let by Julianna Moore. We look forward to her story of faith. So please join us as we celebrate the start of Lent together at 6:30pm.
WHAT IS LENT?
Lent is that period (nominally 40 days) before Easter, marked by fasting, prayer and almsgiving. It is a period of penance and preparation for the joyful Easter season.
GUIDELINES FOR LENT
In previous generations, Catholics were required to abstain from eating meat for the entire Lenten season. Today the requirements are less strict. Here's a run down:
-All Fridays during Lent are days of abstinence from meat. This does not include egg or dairy products. It also does not include fish (or amphibians or reptiles, if one is so inclined to eat such things).
-Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are days of abstinence and fasting. Our guidelines for fasting state that you can take one full meal a day. You are also allowed two small meals if required to sustain strength, but the two together should not equal one normal sized meal. You are allowed to drink liquids.
-You are not required to fast if you are ill, pregnant, or if you health would otherwise be impaired by fasting; or if your work requires sustenance. (In other words, no one expects a construction worker to pass out and fall off of a high rise building because he hasn't had any calories that day).
-In essence, use common sense, but also don't use the Church's leniency as an excuse not to really fast. Know yourself, your limits and requirements, and remember that it is supposed to be a penance.
-It is also strongly encouraged that you receive the Sacrament of Penance (Confession) during Lent.
The point of all of this is to help us to detach ourselves from physical comforts and to practice self-denial, reminding ourselves both of Christ's sufferings for us, and also that there are much greater joys to be had in heaven. Because of this, it is also a common practice for Catholics to "give up" something during Lent, as a form of personal sacrifice. For it to truly be a sacrifice, it should be something good that is being given up. For example, if you say, "For Lent, I'm going to stop using the Lord's name in vain," that is very commendable, but not really a sacrifice. You shouldn't be breaking the Commandments by using the Lord's name in vain to begin with. So it's great for you to want to stop, but it shouldn't just be for Lent.
Often the things people choose to give up are food related. That's because we love our food! It is common to give up chocolate, or all desserts, or coffee, or soda, or ice cream. These are all good things to deny ourselves; but do remember that Lent is not a diet plan. Give up something because it is a sacrifice for you to do so, not because you'd like to lose a few pounds!
PRAYER AND ALMSGIVING
We often focus so much on the fasting aspect of Lent ("What are you giving up this year?") that we forget Lent is also a season of prayer and almsgiving. Whatever kind of prayer you have as part of your normal daily routine, try to add to that. Start praying the rosary each day. Or make an effort to attend a daily Mass at St. Mary's at least once per week (they are at 9:00am every day but Monday). Perhaps you can spend a little more time reading the Scriptures each day. A great place to start is the daily Mass readings, which can be found on the US bishop's web site, here:
(Just click on the calendar day to see the readings).
Each Friday during Lent, we plan on having an hour of Eucharistic Adoration in our student center chapel, from 4 to 5pm. And starting on Friday, March 2, we will also have Compline Prayer (Night Prayer) at 6:00pm. Either would be a wonderful opportunity to spend some time with your fellow students in prayer this Lent.
Almsgiving refers to giving money to the poor. I know a lot of college students count themselves in that category, but remember there is always someone worse off than you are! We will have "operation rice bowl" bowls set out during Lent at the Student Center. You can also give to the local parish who will use the money to help area families in need; you can give to United Christian Ministries in town, who do so much to help our community. If you would like to make a charitable donation (of any amount) and are not sure who to give to, I'd be happy to recommend other organizations.
Fr. Shawn, pastor of St. Joseph in Bryson City, has recommended this Lenten video series called "40." It looks interesting, and I am looking forward to viewing it myself.
I have also recent discovered this web site, which I plan on spending some time with this Lenten season.
A few other announcements. We are organizing a Habitat for Humanity work day on March 10th. Anyone interested in participating needs to sign a waver, which we have available here at the student center.
Remember our spring retreat coming up March 23-24. This will be a lock-in retreat and the theme is "The Seuss is Loose." It will be a fun weekend, and the sign up sheet is hanging on the fridge here at the center (where all families keep their important papers!).
I hope everyone has a blessed Lenten season and hope to see you at Mass tomorrow!