What Is Shrove Tuesday

What is Shrove Tuesday?

Temptation of Christ, St. Mark’s Basilica, Venice, Italy, c. 12th century Photo source: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/d/d2/Temptations_of_Christ_(San_Marco).jpg
Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday), is always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.  Most people think of Fat Tuesday as a day of wild debauchery before the drudgery of Lent begins.  However, this holiday has a much more pious history!

The “shrove” of Shrove Tuesday is an old English way of saying Confession and Absolution.  This is the most important feature of the holiday.  We confess our sins on Shrove Tuesday as a way of getting ready for Lent.  Once the distractions of sin are cleared from our lives we are prepared to focus solely on the merits of Christ’s passion for the forty days of Lent.

Another way that Christians prepare for Lent on Shrove Tuesday is by preparing for the Lenten fast.  Fasting has always been used among Christians during special seasons of repentance such as Lent.  Fasting helps us to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return, and also that man shall not live by bread alone but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.  In centuries past the Lenten fast included abstaining from any rich or fatty foods.  Because of this Shrove Tuesday became known also as Fat Tuesday, as this was the day Christians disposed of the fat, butter, and eggs in their homes which would otherwise spoil during the forty days of the Lenten fast.  Not wanting these ingredients to go to waste, people would use them up by cooking feasts of high-fat foods.  This is where the great tradition of the Shrove Tuesday pancake supper originates!

How Can I Celebrate Shrove Tuesday at Home?

This year we decided to pass on the Partnership Shrove Tuesday prayer service and pancake supper.  We weren’t sure we could safely host a meal of that size, and take-home pancakes didn’t sound very appetizing!

There are, however, several ways you can celebrate Shrove Tuesday at home.  You, of course, can make your family a delicious, high-calorie feast such as pancakes (keeping in mind that gluttony is still sinful any day of the year)!  Having a special meal on Fat Tuesday can remind you that our Christian life consists of times of feasting and times of fasting, times of joy and times of sorrow, times of action and times of rest, and so forth.  The Fat Tuesday feast before the Lenten fast can help you embrace every season of your life as a gift from God and a chance to grow in your faith and trust in Him.

Another way you can celebrate Shrove Tuesday at home is by confessing your sins.  It is a great gift to be able to have a pastor absolve your sins in the name of Jesus in worship or privately, but we do also have the opportunity to bring our sins before the Lord in prayer at any time.  As you confess your sins to God in prayer, consider this advice from Luther’s Small Catechism:
What sins should we confess?
Before God we should plead guilty of all sins, even those we are not aware of, as we do in the Lord’s Prayer; but before the pastor we should confess only those sins which we know and feel in our hearts.

Which are these?
Consider your place in life according to the Ten Commandments: Are you a father, mother, son, daughter, husband, wife, or worker? Have you been disobedient, unfaithful, or lazy? Have you been hot-tempered, rude, or quarrelsome? Have you hurt someone by your words or deeds? Have you stolen, been negligent, wasted anything, or done any harm?
Then, after confessing your sins to God, believe that all who repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ surely are forgiven of their sins before God.

A final way that you can celebrate Shrove Tuesday is by taking time to make a “game plan” for Lent.  Maybe this year you want to set a goal to attend every Lenten midweek service.  Maybe you want to plan a time every day during Lent to pray for your friends and family and say the Lord’s Prayer.  Maybe you want to pick a certain mission project or charity to donate extra money or time to this Lent.  Maybe you want to give fasting a try this year - either in order to make more time for prayer and reading the Word, or in order to learn from your hunger that all things needful come from the hand of God - so you need to plan exactly what your fasting will look like.  The goal with any of these Christian disciplines is not to treat them like they are laws you have to follow, but as helpful tools that can help strengthen your faith in the work of Jesus Christ for you and strengthen your resilience against the temptations of the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh.

God be with you this Shrove Tuesday and Lenten season!

Pastor Thomas Cowell
Partnership Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church, Algona IA/St. John’s Lutheran Church, Burt IA, LCMS
Shrove Tuesday, Anno Domini 2021


The Lutheran View of Fasting 

and Other Forms of Christian Discipline:
The Augsburg Confession of the 

Book of Concord, Article 26.30-45

Our adversaries object by accusing our teachers of being against discipline and the subduing of the flesh. Just the opposite is true, as can be learned from our teachers’ writings. They have always taught that Christians are to bear the cross [Matthew 16:24] by enduring afflictions. This is genuine and sincere subduing of the flesh [1 Peter 2:11], to be crucified with Christ through various afflictions. Furthermore, they teach that every Christian ought to train and subdue himself with bodily restraints, or bodily exercises and labors. Then neither overindulgence nor laziness may tempt him to sin. But they do not teach that we may merit grace or make satisfaction for sins by such exercises. Such outward discipline ought to be taught at all times, not only on a few set days. Christ commands, “Watch yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness” (Luke 21:34). Also in Matthew 17:21, “This kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” Paul also says, “I discipline my body and keep it under control” (1 Corinthians 9:27). Here he clearly shows that he was keeping his body under control, not to merit forgiveness of sins by that discipline, but to keep his body in subjection and prepared for spiritual things, for carrying out the duties of his calling. Therefore, we do not condemn fasting in itself [Isaiah 58:3-7], but the traditions that require certain days and certain meats[foods], with peril of conscience, as though such works were a necessary service.

Nevertheless, we keep many traditions that are leading to good order [1 Corinthians 14:40] in the Church, such as the order of Scripture lessons in the Mass and the chief holy days. At the same time, we warn people that such observances do not justify us before God, and that it is not sinful if we omit such things, without causing offense. The Fathers knew of such freedom in human ceremonies. In the East they kept Easter at another time than at Rome. When the Romans accused the Eastern Church of schism, they were told by others that such practices do not need to be the same everywhere. Irenaeus says, “Diversity concerning fasting does not destroy the harmony of faith.” Pope Gregory says, in Dist. XII, that such diversity does not violate the unity of the Church. In the Tripartite History, Book 9, many examples of different rites are gathered, and the following statement is made: “It was not the mind of the apostles to enact rules concerning holy days, but to preach godliness and a holy life.” 

Concordia: The Lutheran Confessions, copyright 2006 by Concordia Publishing House. Used by permission.
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