Shrove Tuesday

Today is what was traditionally known as Shrove Tuesday, before it became Mardi Gras. In the middle ages it was traditionally the day to be “shriven” of your sins (meaning you confess and are assigned your penance to be absolved), before beginning the fast of lent the following day, Ash Wednesday. It later became a sort of “last call” to indulge the last bit of rich foods or other worldly pleasure before the lenten fast would take such things away. It’s for this reason that it’s sometimes called Pancake Tuesday. Given that all that butter, eggs, and dairy would have to be used up or spoil, there was also a practical reason for the last indulgence of foods in addition to the psychological desire for a last call.

But I like the older tradition.

If, like many of us here, you belong to a church that doesn’t formally observe the traditional liturgical calendar, and doesn’t practice formal confession for sins other than major ones, it is still a great day to confess your sins in prayer, to plead with God for forgiveness, and to ponder what you might do to recommit and renew your resolve to live rightly. Whether you observe the full fast of Lent or not, tonight and tomorrow are a good time to ponder on God’s justice, and on our own sinful nature, and the consequent inevitability of our own damnation, but for the atonement of Christ.

The point is not to indulge in masochism, or to give in to hopelessness and despair. Nor is it to give up a token vice as a substitute for real repentance. The point is rather, for those of us who believe in Christ, to take the time to appreciate how dark and hopeless our faith would be without Christ and his atonement, and to prepare to emulate his 40-day fast in our small, broken, and imperfect way. We can’t fully appreciate the hope and the promise of Easter if we don’t first accept the universal inevitability of death and damnation and the urgent need for repentance.

A few passages from the Book of Mormon that I’ll be pondering tonight and tomorrow are these:

For behold he judgeth, and his judgment is just; and the infant perisheth not that dieth in his infancy; but men drink damnation to their own souls except they humble themselves and become as little children, and believe that salvation was, and is, and is to come, in and through the atoning blood of Christ, the Lord Omnipotent. For the natural man is an enemy to God, and has been from the fall of Adam, and will be, forever and ever, unless he yields to the enticings of the Holy Spirit, and putteth off the natural man and becometh a saint through the atonement of Christ the Lord, and becometh as a child, submissive, meek, humble, patient, full of love, willing to submit to all things which the Lord seeth fit to inflict upon him, even as a child doth submit to his father.

King Benjamin, Mosiah 3:18-19.

[T]hey had viewed themselves in their own carnal state, even less than the dust of the earth. And they all cried aloud with one voice, saying: O have mercy, and apply the atoning blood of Christ that we may receive forgiveness of our sins, and our hearts may be purified; for we believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who created heaven and earth, and all things; who shall come down among the children of men.

People of King Benjamin, Mosiah 4:2.


  1. This was a really great Mormon contemplation on the meaning and importance of Lent. Thank you! Lots to ponder here.

  2. Thanks for this, JKC. You’re helping me start Lent in the right spirit.

  3. Thanks for this.

  4. The church I volunteer for had their pancake dinner last night. We had a great discussion last night about Lent, Fat Tuesday, etc. I will add this tonight to our dinner chat. Thanks.

  5. Alaska Girl says:

    I go to an Episcopalian church for a pancake feed every Shrove Tuesday, and I love the diverse group that gathers together to eat pancakes. They have lunch every day that is served to anyone who is there at the church, including @50-75 homeless people. Most of them come back for the pancake dinner, and it is served to them by the vestry board, (many of them doctors, lawyers and company CEOs) who make and serve several thousand pancakes each year. While it is a fundraiser, it’s as low key as tithing at a Mormon function with a simple box for people to donate whatever they want.

    I knew that one of the members of the vestry handed out $2 bills, and this year I learned the reason why. Over several decades, the church wasn’t sure why the attendance from the homeless population swung wildly between the lunch crowd and those who came for pancakes in the evening. His father had started by giving out tickets to anyone who came for lunch on Monday or Tuesday, but then he decided to just give them money so that they had something to put in the box if they chose. The man explained that most years the majority of the $2 bills are put into the donation box, but not all. His father set up a deal with the 3 closest businesses that sell cigarettes, alcohol and groceries. Anyone who pays using a $2 bill on Tuesday night is given an envelope containing a gift card to a local food store, no matter what they use the $2 bill to buy. He says that he always increases the number of cards he buys when the economy is bad. Someone at our table asked him how much it cost his father, and now him, to do this. “Much less than an indulgence in the Middle Ages,” was his response. The more I think about his answer, the more I think that his family must truly equate Tuesday pancakes with repentance, forgiveness and Christlike love. What started out as a way to make sure everyone felt welcome turned Into a way to make sure that those who were struggling enough to need the $2 had enough to eat for more than just that night.

    (Someone at the table asked him if it bothered him that some people used the money to buy cigarettes or alcohol instead of food. He said that it bothered him that people asked him that question _every year_ because it often meant that those who were the least of theode among us were often being ridiculed for being human. He said that his biggest surprise when talking to the store employees who had handed out the envelopes, was that many people who were making purchases weren’t buying things for themselves, often they were buying things for other homeless people who they considered more needy than themselves.)

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