Why Is the day before Ash Wednesday called Shrove Tuesday, Pancake Tuesday or Fat Tuesday ?
The word ‘shrove is derived from the verb “to shrive” or to “be shrove”. In Old English it meant to confess one’s sins and be absolved. Seen in the context of preparation for Lent, it originally also included receiving the advice of a spiritual counsellor. Having done this, you had been “shrove.”
The Anglo-Saxon “Ecclesiastical Institutes” translated by Abbot Aelfric about A.D. 1000, tells us that in the week immediately before Lent, everyone was expected to go to his or her confessor and confess his deeds and the confessor would ‘so shrive him’ (absolve) after which a penance was given. This means that historically Shrove Tuesday was a period of self-examination. Traditionally, in this week long pre-Lent preparation, the Christian would contemplate their sins that they needed to repent and then make amendments and sacrifices for the Lenten season based on their confession and penance given.
On Shrove Tuesday, the shriving bell would be rung to remind and call people to church to confess. People were encouraged to keep their Lenten sacrifices with an oft heard greeting on that day; “May God bless your Lenten sacrifice.
Sadly today, there is a tendency to organize the sacrament of reconciliation just before the Sacred Tridum, more in preparation for Easter rather than what is was meant to be. Confession and absolution make more sense at the start of the Lenten season; in this way one can begin the season with a clean slate, making a new start with God.
Other traditions on Strove Tuesday also included the practice of placing a basket in the Church to collect the previous year’s palm branches that were distributed on Palm Sunday. On Shrove Tuesday, the church burned these palms to make the ashes to be used during the services held the very next day; Ash Wednesday.
The Pancake Tuesday custom was a social appendix to the spiritually charged Shrove Tuesday. It evolved into a day of celebration before the austerity of the Lenten season of abstinence and fasting kicked in. Pancake Tuesday originated in Europe when Pope St. Gregory prohibited Christians from eating all forms of meat and animal products during Lent around A.D. 600. This then extended to all other forms of celebratory foods. What would one do with flour, butter, eggs, milk and sugar that was still left over the day before the Lenten season began? The answer was in the ingredients; make pancakes. Making pancakes was a practical way for people to clear their cupboards of everything they could not eat during lent rather than let it spoil & waste. The need to eat up the fats (butter) gave rise to the French naming the day Mardi Gras or translated into English, ‘Fat Tuesday’.