What Is Shrove Tuesday & Ash Wednesday?

By The Rev.’s Manisha Dostert and Chris Harris

Part of the Christian life is practicing the rituals of our faith. “Shrove Tuesday” is the name given to the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of liturgical season of Lent. Since the 4th century, Lent has been associated with baptism as a time of 40 days to prepare new believers for the great Three Days or Triduum (Maundy Thursday evening through Easter Sunday evening) that culminates in Easter baptism, dying like Christ to one’s old self and rising to new life. The word “shrove” comes from an old English word meaning to “absolve or forgive” and refers to the ancient practice of Christians confessing their sins and being forgiven in the days leading up to Lent so that they may do their works of penance during that coming season. Other traditions know this day as Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) or Carnival (Latin for “goodbye to meat”), both denoting this last day of indulgence before the traditional fasting period of Lent. (And in case you are wondering, the custom of eating pancakes on this day dates to the middle ages: communities would use up eggs, butter, and fat that would often be given up or prohibited during Lent.)

At Christ Church Cranbrook this year, we are celebrating with the burning of palm leaves in an outdoor bonfire built by members of our Boy Scout troop and Father Bill will lead us in a liturgy to prepare us for Lent.  The palm leaves come from last year’s “Palm Sunday” parade and serve as a reminder that these branches, once symbols of Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem, dry up, are changed to ash, and so become something new as symbols of the cross and resurrection. 

Gather with your community of faith and enjoy a bonfire! We will burn palm leaves, and get ready for Lent!

Ash Wednesday is the first of the forty days of Lent, named for the custom of placing blessed ashes on the foreheads of worshipers at Ash Wednesday services. The ashes are a sign of penitence and a reminder of mortality, and are imposed with the sign of the cross with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

Ash Wednesday is a powerful, not-to-be-missed event for every Christian to reinvigorate their faith and relationship with God and to mark the beginning of their Holy Lent, when we change our ways so we may become closer with God and each other.  Come and be renewed and reminded of God’s promise- though we may become dust, our life is redeemed by Christ!

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