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Coming from a Protestant tradition, I grew up hearing about Lent but never having any practice associated with it. In the years since, I've gathered that there's some sort of connection between Easter, Lent, Ash Wednesday, and Fat Tuesday.

Would someone please explain how it all fits together?

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As a former Baptist pastor(now Episcopalian), I feel your pain. I was once asked in a worship class to come up with 3 Easter Week services + Easter and Palm Sunday. I had to tell my instructor, most Baptists can't name 3 days of Holy Week, even including Easter and Palm Sunday! –  Yuletide Geek Feb 23 '12 at 6:28
    
Only ones I could think of were: Maundy Thurs. Good Fri. Chrism Mass. Vigil (That is separate from mass on Easter Sunday proper). –  cwallenpoole Feb 23 '12 at 20:54

3 Answers 3

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Lent

Lent is a period of penance in preparation for Triduum (Maundy Thurs. through Easter Sun). The faithful are encouraged to increase their works of mercy and decrease their self-indulgence. It begins on Ash Wednesday, which is 40 days (minus Sundays) before the Triduum.

Ash Wednesday

So called because it invokes the ancient practice of covering oneself in ashes when in morning. Often it is accompanied by, "Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return." As a side note: the ashes are generally from (at least in part), the palms of the previous Palm Sunday.

Shrove Tuesday

Well, "Mardi gras" means "Fat Tuesday" in French, so there's that.

Fats and fatty foods are often given up for Lent (at one point abstaining from all meat was a requirement), but fat will go rancid if it is left out for all of Lent. So, instead of letting it go to waste, it would be used for cooking. Often this would mean that there would be a rich supper immediately before Ash Wednesday.

It is called, "Carnevale" because that, originally, was "Carne vale," which means, roughly, "without meat." I believe the relationship with "Fat Tuesday" would be obvious (for more ways of saying the same thing, look up Shrove Tuesday).

Unfortunately, with the rise of secularism, this tradition became bloated and corrupt, and eventually lead to the depravities which can be seen in New Orleans.

Easter

We all know what Easter is... I hope. It is the Teutonic name for an ancient pagan festival, brought to mean the celebration of the resurrection of Christ, apparently because the German speakers were too lazy to use the word pasch, which is what it is called in basically every other language on earth.

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(Side note: converted from Protestantism to Catholicism, so I do understand how this could lead to dizziness) –  cwallenpoole Feb 22 '12 at 20:08
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Last night, I heard that the local news interviewed some people coming out of an Ash Wednesday service who were asked about the relationship between it and Mardi Gras. Apparently, they said the ash was to remind them that they couldn't act the way they did the previous night for the entire year. At least they got that much of the message, I suppose. (And I hate to think what the news would get after an Easter service at our church. Brrr...) –  Jon Ericson Feb 23 '12 at 20:24

Here's the Catholic Lenten Cliffnotes. I see I've been beaten to the punch at answering, but what the heck.

  • Mardi Gras is some sort of French meaning Fat Tuesday.
  • It's called that because the next day is Ash Wednesday
  • Ash Wednesday (today) is the beginning of Lent.
  • It is a precept of the church that Catholics are supposed to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and abstain from meat on Fridays during lent. (we usually give something up too)

The connection is that Mardi Gras is the last chance to celebrate before Lent.

  • Lent is observed for 40+ days, remembering Jesus' temptation in the desert.
  • Lent is officially over at sundown on Holy Thursday (Thursday before Easter).
  • Thus begins the Holy Triduum (Thursday, Friday and Saturday until Dusk)
  • Then Easter begins, it is a 50+ day celebration seemingly ending on Ascension Thursday, but actually going until Pentecost (and the week after).

So, if properly observed, you've just completed a quarter of the year, Catholic style.

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Well written. I learned a lot. Thanks! –  Jim McKeeth Feb 23 '12 at 4:50
    
+2 (One for this answer and the other for the joke you linked to.) –  Jon Ericson Feb 24 '12 at 18:53

I'd like to add some comments from a Protestant who lived in New Orleans for 4 years. I like the idea of Lent as a time to reflect on what Christ's sacrifice means to us, and a way to draw closer to Him as we approach the celebration of His resurrection, and I have used this in church settings. Unfortunataly, for some it is merely an outward ritual that does not reach to their soul (true in all denominations). In New Orleans, more emphasis seems to be on the carnival than the self-denial. Despite falling during the Lenten season, St. Patrick's Day (3/17) and St. Joseph's Day (3/19) are celebrated with parades and parties. It is our challenge to lead others to the true meaning behind these rituals. By the way, an alternative translation of carne vale that I have heard is "farewell to the flesh," not only in the sense of giving up meat but also getting outside ourselves and closer to God.

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Yeah, in the Madison diocese, we've been given an indult by our Bishop to eat corned beef on St. Patrick's day if it falls on a Friday. I'm not so sure that's a bad thing, what with the sabbath being made for man, not the inverse and all. –  Peter Turner Feb 23 '12 at 16:06

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