What does ‘shrove’ have to do with Mardi Gras?

By Fr. Kyle Sladek | For The Compass | February 23, 2022

Question:

Why is it called “Shrove Tuesday”? I thought it was called “Mardi Gras”? – Menasha

Answer:

“It all depends on your emphasis.” Both Shrove Tuesday and Mardi Gras refer to the day before Ash Wednesday, but each name emphasizes different traditions associated with the day.

“Shrove” is derived from “shrive,” which is an archaic word meaning “to absolve from sin.” This refers to the (also somewhat archaic) practice of confessing one’s sins to prepare for Lent. Nowadays, many people wait until Lent begins to confess their sins, while Shrove Tuesday is given over to, ahem, less spiritual practices.

Speaking of which, the other name for the day — Mardi Gras — perhaps more accurately captures the prevailing culture’s attitude toward the day. 

Mardi Gras is French for “Fat Tuesday.” The emphasis of this day slowly moved from spiritual preparation to pre-fast celebration, with many parts of the world holding Mardi Gras carnivals or festivals.

In addition to beingfare rich in sugar (and drinks rich in alcohol), foods containing milk, eggs and butter are often eaten in earnest, hearkening back to the days when Catholics tried to use up these ingredients before Lent because even the byproducts of animals were forbidden during the Lenten fast. The name “Fat Tuesday” refers to this use of fatty ingredients.

In several European countries, the “fatty” food of choice on Fat Tuesday became pancakes. While Eastern Catholics still observe to some degree the restriction on meat byproducts during Lent, Latin-rite Catholics are no longer bound to observe this. So I am free to eat pancakes whenever I like.

Fr. Sladek is administrator of St. Mark Parish, Redgranite, and Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish, Poy Sippi.

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