Something to celebrate

Fat Tuesday. Mardi Gras.

Most have heard about or seen the parties on television, or have bought some beads, but the meaning behind the celebration often gets much less attention.

Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras in French, is a tradition celebrating the beginning of Lent.

And for Father Jim Fox, of St. Michael Catholic Church, the season following Mardi Gras is what it's all about.

"Lent is the denying of self to make room for Christ," Father Fox said.

In the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, Lent is the 40-day season of penance leading to Easter.

In the early days of Catholicism, people preparing to enter the Church endured long periods of fasting and penance to understand the belief of Jesus's sacrifices. This is an imitation of the belief that Jesus spent 40 days in the desert, showing in flesh that it is possible to persevere in the face of temptation, Fox said.

The reoccurring Biblical theme of 40 days was later applied to Lent.

"The significance is hungering for God," Fox said. "The intention is to grow spiritually."

During each Lenten season, Craig resident Fran Davis does just that.

Davis thinks of her penance as unconventional, because rather than fasting, or giving up something she cherishes, she adds something, usually a prayer, to her daily routine.

"Most everybody gives up something for Lent," Davis said. "I don't have anything that serious to give up."

And she does this for the entire year.

"I renew my faith and fulfill myself by doing this," she said.

Davis plans on saying a Rosary everyday for the next year, starting this Lenten season. In the past, she has prayed to the Sacred Heart of Jesus or St. Michael. One year, she said a prayer for every wound Jesus endured during the crucifixion; a number, she estimated, about 5,480.

"After that, I can do anything," she said.

Lent is not observed by all Christian denominations. Churches that have a continuous history extending before 1500 AD observe Lent, according to Rev. Kenneth W. Collins' Web site, www.kencollins.com.

In the Eastern Churches, Lent is a continuous 40 days, which includes Sunday. In on other churches, Lent is observed for 40 days, not including Sunday because they are regarded as days of worship.

"The whole purpose of Lent is taking penance," Fox said.

Whatever it's referred to -- Fat Tuesday, Carnival or Mardi Gras -- the celebration leading to Lent is meant to bring people together before the fast.

In Craig, St. Mark's Episcopal Church and Lutheran Church of Grace Outreach Group is hosting a Shrove pancake supper from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, at 657 Green St. The tradition of the final pancake meal before Lent started when meat, butter, eggs and milk were forbidden during the fast. Families with stocks of these supplies would gather for one last meal before Lent.

For those looking to celebrate Mardi Gras, St. Michael Catholic Church is holding a Cajun dinner in celebration of Lent from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. today at 678 School St. Mardi Gras, or Carnival, are both festivals dedicated to the one final blowout before Lent.

John Henry can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 209, or jhenry@craigdailypress.com.

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