It's Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (that's what "Mardi Gras" translates to, you know...Mardi is Tuesday, Gras is "fat"). A special day just for me!
The only vestige of my Catholic faith that I continue to cling to is Fat Tuesday. It's an excuse to have pancakes without guilt, because isn't that what people do on Fat Tuesday? Eat panakes?
Wednesday will be Ash Wednesday when it used to be that lots of people you saw every day walked around with big black spots in the middle of their foreheads, having gone to church and had the priest remind you that you were dust and to dust you would return....and then 6 weeks of Lent.
When did I stop paying attention to Lent? I don't remember. When I was a kid there was lots of Lenten observance. We never ate meat on Friday during Lent or on Ash Wednesday. On Fridays, the students in my grammar school were marched over to the church next door for the "stations of the cross," a ceremony where the priest visited and said prayers at each of 14 visual representations hanging on the walls around the church, of parts of Jesus' travel from being condemned to death to his burial in the tomb and including such events as Simon of Cyrene helping to carry the cross, Veronica wiping his face, the actual crucifixion, and ultimately placement in the tomb.
Each station came with prayers, standng, kneeling, genuflecting, etc. And incense, of course. Was there ever a Catholic ceremony that did not come with incense?
When I was old enough, we were supposed to fast on Fridays -- only one big meal, and two small meals.
And, of course, there was what you were going to give up. It was traditional that you give up something you liked to do penance during the six weeks of Lent. I always gave up candy and looked forward to the Easter Bunny bringing me lots on Easter morning, nicely mixing my religious vs. my fantasy beliefs!
My father always gave up liquor to prove that he wasn't an alcoholic. He had a gin fizz first thing, after returning from Mass, on Easter Sunday morning. He probably would have had the gin fizz before Mass but in those days you couldn't eat or drink anything before Communion, so he would have had to give up going to Communion.
Going to Mass on Easter sunday was a Catholic's "Easter Duty" and if you didn't go on Easter Sunday, it was a mortal sin, I think. I hate to think of the blackness of my soul since I can't remember the last time I was at any Mass, let alone an Easter Mass.
I wondered if it counted the day we got to church too late to get a seat, or to get standing room inside the vestibule of the church, so we had to stand outside, where we could neither hear nor see anything. Did that count? We were on church grounds, Mass was going on, and at some point we did get to go in and take communion....
This Lenten season, Catholics (and others) around the world will be thinking of the resignation of Benedict XVI. I have to admit that I greeted the news with "it couldn't happen to a nicer person..." I was not a fan of Cardinal Ratzinger and was very disappointed when he was elected Pope. And he sent the Church reeling back to the 19th century and beyond, very firm on things like homosexuality, gay marriage, abortion, stem cell research and all those hot button issues. Very liberal on priestly pedophilia and hiding the perpetrators.
I am reading a book right now called "Holy Crosses and Nazi Flags" by Garry O'Connor, which is a fascinating look at the life of the about-to-be gone Pope. It nicely complements the documentary, Mea Culpa, I saw recently about the sex scandal in the Catholic church.