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Scott P. Richert

It's Pancake Day!

By March 4, 2014

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The day before Ash Wednesday is known by a lot of names, most famously Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday (which is what Mardi Gras means in French).© Barb Rolek, Licensed to About.com, Inc. Traditionally, it has also been called Shrove Tuesday--the day on which Christians were "shriven" or forgiven of their sins when they went to Confession.

Even as our thoughts turn to the penitential season of Lent, however, we enjoy one last day of feasting. That's why Shrove Tuesday is also often called Pancake Day, the day on which medieval Christians, whose Lenten fast was more strict than ours, used up their eggs, butter, and milk--all of which were forbidden during Lent--by making pancakes.

In England, the tradition continues even today, and Laura Porter, of About London Travel, has a wonderful series of articles on Pancake Day in London. She includes a delicious pancake recipe, and you can find tips on cooking pancakes (and more recipes) on About Desserts and Baking.

So tonight, why not feed your kids breakfast for supper? As they prepare for the Ash Wednesday fast and abstinence, you can feed them pancakes and bacon and tell them the story of how Christians in earlier times went all 40 days of Lent without any meat, eggs, and dairy products. Then, as they pick their jaws up off the floor, you can hand out some Pancake Day Puzzles to help them learn a little bit more about this last day of feasting before Lent.

And if pancakes aren't your style, check out this extensive list of Fat Tuesday Recipes for other Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday foods and traditions!

(Photo © Barb Rolek, Licensed to About.com, Inc.)

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Comments
February 5, 2008 at 8:56 am
(1) Carlo says:

Episcopalians in the United States also still do the pancake thing.

March 8, 2011 at 11:25 am
(2) Nicholas says:

This is Paczki Day for Polish Americans. A day to eat jelly or creme filled donuts when real paczkis are not available. (pronounced like poonshky).

March 8, 2011 at 11:43 am
(3) Scott P. Richert says:

indeed. If you click on the Fat Tuesday recipes link, you’ll see that I’ve given paczkis pride of place. :) I’m half-Polish, myself.

February 21, 2012 at 8:16 am
(4) Charlie Balch says:

I can’t believe it’s pancake Tuesday again.Honestly, it just creped up on me.

February 21, 2012 at 10:56 am
(5) Karen says:

Years ago, I assisted at a Shrove Tuesday pancake supper at Ascension church in Greenwich Village. I had a great time serving pancakes and sausages to the crowd after a wonderful service. My then boyfriend was a member of the church and he invited me. They were asking for volunteers so I volunteered. It felt great handing out plate after plate of flapjacks made by the men (not the women this time — they were guests) of the church. It was a hoot.

February 21, 2012 at 11:15 am
(6) Adam says:

Those “medieval” Christians still exist, except now they’re called Orthodox. Our Lenten fast is still the traditional no meat, dairy or eggs. Blessed Lenten season to you.

February 21, 2012 at 2:42 pm
(7) Bruce says:

Scott, I was hoping you would post something on fasting during Lent. Thank you, this helps. I’m traditional Anglican but I’m not sure how much to fast and what to abstain from. Our bishop in the past asked us to abstain from meat on Fridays and at Wednesday church potluck but this doesn’t sound like a very strict fast.
When you write “meat” in your article on abstention, do you mean to include fish or not?
Bruce

February 21, 2012 at 4:00 pm
(8) Mark Kolakowski says:

Bruce, I don’t mean to steal my esteemed colleague Scott’s thunder, but I’ll offer you a salient observation from one of my many friends among the Episcopal clergy, regarding the letter vs. the spirit of the law.

He told me of a seminary classmate who, on Lenten Fridays, was especially punctilious about steering clear of anything that might have the slightest hint of meat product in it, on Lent. However, this same seminarian thought nothing of going out to a fine seafood restaurant on a Lenten Friday, and ordering a sumptuous platter of the finest shellfish. My friend thought that this classmate, in adhering the letter of the law (no meat), was missing its spirit (denying yourself a dietary luxury), and (gently) tried to get this point across to him.

I’ll offer another thought, from a Carmelite friar who was much admired. In one of his sermons, he advised his congregation that, in approaching the Church’s rules about Lenten fast and abstinence, we should think of Olympic athletes in training. They practice self-denial not for its own sake, but to make themselves stronger. Likewise, the Lenten regime is intended to make us spiritually stronger, and less attached to earthly delights.

Hope this helps.

February 22, 2012 at 11:56 am
(9) Bruce says:

Mark and Scott,
A basic question about Roman Catholicism. Is it a mortal sin to break the fasting rules? A venial sin? I ask because I once read (in a discussion) that one Friday in the 1960s it was a mortal sin to eat meat and the next Friday it wasn’t. If this is true, is it the disobedience to Church law that makes it a )(mortal or venial) sin?

February 22, 2012 at 12:01 pm
(10) Bruce says:

I meant the fasting AND abstention rules.

February 22, 2012 at 3:11 pm
(11) Mark Kolakowski says:

Bruce,

This article by Scott addresses the question:

http://catholicism.about.com/od/catholicliving/tp/Precepts_Church.htm

I don’t presume to speak for Scott on this matter (hopefully, he’ll also read your query and offer his own views), but I can’t imagine a sensible confessor’s actually insisting that an infraction of these rules really amounts to a true mortal sin that actually imperils one’s soul. Just as Jesus chided the clergy of his day that “man was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for man,” I’m sure that He has a similar view of contemporary Church rules such as these.

A learned Jesuit who was among my theology teachers in high school tried to draw the subtle distinctions that are in play here. Rules like the fast and abstinence guidelines are not drawn up by the Church to be burdensome and punishing for their own sake. Rather, they are meant to strengthen us spiritually (as that Carmelite friar indicated), and thus we should make a very serious effort to follow them. At the same time, however, we should be paralyzed by fear that a failure to follow such guidelines like these to the letter will cause a vengeful, legalistic God to visit eternal damnation upon us in retribution. Again, Jesus taught us otherwise.

Hope this helps.

February 22, 2012 at 3:16 pm
(12) Mark Kolakowski says:

Oops!!!!

A huge typo on my part, Bruce.

I meant to say:

At the same time, however, we should <> be paralyzed by fear that a failure to follow such guidelines like these to the letter will cause a vengeful, legalistic God to visit eternal damnation upon us in retribution.

Sorry!

February 22, 2012 at 3:20 pm
(13) Mark Kolakowski says:

I’m having one very bad day with HTML formatting here.

Inside the should have been the word NOT, as in:

… we should NOT be paralyzed by fear…

Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa!

February 22, 2012 at 3:56 pm
(14) Scott P. Richert says:

Bruce, I apologize for not responding earlier, but yesterday was a very busy day, and I try to refrain from making comments on Ash Wednesday. But since my colleague Mark has jumped in, it appears that I should not wait until tomorrow.

“Meat,” in the Western tradition, does not include fish. In the Eastern tradition, it includes (essentially) anything with a backbone, so Eastern Catholics and Orthodox generally abstain from fish, but eat shellfish and shrimp.

“I’m traditional Anglican but I’m not sure how much to fast and what to abstain from.”

The basic answer is that you should fast and abstain, at minimum, according to the discipline of your church. If your bishop, pastor, and/or spiritual director suggests that you should go beyond that minimum discipline, you should try to do that.

“Our bishop in the past asked us to abstain from meat on Fridays and at Wednesday church potluck but this doesn’t sound like a very strict fast.”

If you wish on your own to go beyond the minimum discipline of your church, there’s really no hard-and-fast rule for what more you should do. For instance, if you think that abstaining from meat on Fridays and Wednesdays is not enough for you, you could add another day. Or you could choose to eat meat only once per day on all the other days. Or you could continue to eat meat but reduce the quantity of food you eat on other days.

The point of fasting is twofold: It is a penitential act (giving up something good in reparation for our sins); and it is meant to discipline our bodies, to bring them under the control of the soul.

You likely know your own weaknesses; structuring an additional aspect of your fast to address them is a very good thing. And do not hesitate to consult your pastor or spiritual director, especially if you’re tempted to pursue a strict fast. He may well tell you that you should ease up, for the sake of both body and soul.

February 22, 2012 at 4:16 pm
(15) Scott P. Richert says:

As for the question of mortal sin and fasting rules, Mark has pointed you to the right article on my site. But his own answer, while it has some truth in it, is incomplete.

First, though, let’s start with that old line “that one Friday in the 1960s it was a mortal sin to eat meat and the next Friday it wasn’t.” For most Catholics, that simply was not true. Even after Pope Paul VI allowed (with prior permission of the Vatican) each national bishops’ conference to substitute another form of penance for Friday abstinence, most bishops’ conferences chose to retain Friday abstinence, while allowing each layman to choose to substitute another form of penance if he desired.

But the obligation to perform some form of penance on Friday remains, and it is binding as it always has been.

Which brings us to the Precepts of the Church. Yes, they are designed to strengthen us spiritually, but they are also, as the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “meant to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth of love of God and neighbor.”

That is why they are binding under pain of mortal sin. What does it mean to fail to meet the “indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort”? Quite simply, it means that you’re not living your life as a Christian as you ought.

The Church would abdicate Her duty if She did not at least require that much of the souls in Her care. It’s not that the Church is trying to heap mortal sins on otherwise good and faithful Catholics; it’s that She’s saying that you cannot simply slip through life without making the moral effort to grow in the love of God and neighbor.

From apostolic times, Christians have seen fasting (defined broadly to include abstinence) as an indispensable part of moral growth. To choose blithely to ignore this fact puts our souls in danger—and, yes, such danger can be mortal.

February 23, 2012 at 7:42 am
(16) Bruce says:

No need to apologize, Scott. I know you and your colleagues have a busy schedule. I’m grateful for the time you can give me in answering my questions. My wife has talked about converting to your Church a lot recently so that’s why I have a lot of questions.
I had assumed that it was the act of disobedience to the Church law (as opposed to the act of eating something illicit) that made it a sin. Your explanation seems much more nuanced.
I admit I don’t understand how Catholic Church authority very well. I’m not sure how binding/authoritative Encyclicals, Papal Bulls, the Catechism, the Canon Law, etc. are. Which of these things are binding and which (if any) are merely opinions of the clergy?
body a

February 24, 2012 at 8:18 am
(17) Mark Kolakowski says:

As an example of the actual pastoral guidance that one is apt to receive on the issues of Lenten fast and abstinence, I offer this except from a February 9, 2012 letter to the faithful of his diocese by the Most Reverend David M. O’Connell, C.M., Bishop of Trenton, New Jersey (the diocese in which I reside):

“The obligation to observe the laws of fast and abstinence is a serious one for Catholics. Failure to observe one penitential day in itself is not considered a serious sin. It is failure to observe any penitential days at all, or a substantial number of days, which must be considered serious.”

February 24, 2012 at 6:03 pm
(18) Scott P. Richert says:

“I had assumed that it was the act of disobedience to the Church law (as opposed to the act of eating something illicit) that made it a sin.”

Yes, that’s correct. True fasting (speaking broadly to include fasting and abstinence) means giving up something that is a positive good. So, for instance, it would be nonsensical to speak of fasting from heroin.

So Church law regarding fasting is aimed not at any particular foodstuff as bad in itself; its purpose is to move us along in the kind of spiritual progress that can only come about through the renunciation of the world and of self. Such renunciation is not an optional part of our lives as Christians; it is an essential part

As for the binding or authoritative nature of the various documents and canon law, that’s a more complicated question, which I should address at greater length in a full-fledged article. Until then, you can find a summary in the Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraphs 888-892.

March 1, 2012 at 2:39 pm
(19) Bruce says:

Scott,
I don’t know if you get pinged when someone leaves a response so I don’t know if you’ll see this.
This is where the evangelical side of me kicks in, I guess. If the Church law had stayed relatively constant it would be easier for me to accept as binding for the right reasons. As it is, the Church law is very different from pre-Vatican II and especially from the Middle Ages (the Eastern Orthodox still observe the extreme fast/abstinence that Rome once did I think) right? This seems to suggest Church law that is very malleable (and made by flawed, mortal men). And yet its specifics are supposed to bind us under pain of mortal sin. If they’re meant “to guarantee to the faithful the indispensable minimum in the spirit of prayer and moral effort, in the growth of love of God and neighbor” then I would note that the indispensible minimum has changed significantly (and at a time when we’re, more than ever, in need of self control and turning away from the world than ever). This seems counterintuitive to me.
Not trying to be argumentative. But these are things that I want to understand.

February 12, 2013 at 11:18 pm
(20) Gatomon41 says:

Sweet article :)

No wonder I had a craving for breakfast foods today. Had to settle for Waffles though, since there’s no pancakes at home.

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