“Remember, O man, that thou art dust”: Matt Kennedy on the Ash Wednesday ashes

Matt Kennedy - Ash Wednesday ashes

Abusus non tollit usum.

 

Ash Wednesday: Lent begins

Today, known as Ash Wednesday, marks the first day of Lent in the Western Christian tradition – including Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Old Catholics, Lutherans, and others. And Lent is, of course, the holy season of self-examination, penitence, and preparation as we who are Christians prepare for the Feast of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. These two lovely images, from Enid Chadwick’s marvelous little volume, My Book of the Church’s Year, do an excellent job of presenting the key themes of Lent!

There are actually six Sundays in Lent; the others being Passion Sunday (Lent V) and Palm Sunday (Lent VI) – which, as the above notes, are found in a separate image – and are collectively known as “Passiontide.”

Wishing all my Christian viewers a holy, blessed, and fruitful Lenten observance!

Nota Bene: Chadwick’s book has recently be re-published by St. Augustine Academy Press. I’ve obtained a copy (not receiving any compensation for this “plug”), and I commend it to your attention!

 

It’s Shrove Tuesday – tomorrow, Lent begins!

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Wishing all my Christian friends a holy and blessed Lenten season. May our time of self-examination, penitence, and preparation prepare us for a joyful and blessed celebration of the Feast of the Resurrection, come Easter!

(Image, from Enid Chadwick’s My Book of the Church’s Year, shared from a Facebook friend’s posting. This splendid little book has recently been republished by St. Augustine Academy Press.)

 

Shrove Tuesday: penitence, absolution, and… pancakes!

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Pancake races are apparently a “thing” in the UK, for Shrove Tuesday  – the day before Ash Wednesday, and the start of Lent – and have been for centuries. Even clergy and choristers get into it, on occasion! Not to mention some really cute kids…

The town of Olney takes credit for their origin, as recorded on the town website:

“According to tradition it was in Olney, back in 1445, that pancake racing started. On Shrove Tuesday the church bell rang out to signal the start of the church service.

“A local housewife who was busy cooking pancakes before the start of Lent, ran to the church. She was still carrying her frying pan and wearing her apron and headscarf, and tossed the pancake to prevent it from burning.

“Local people who saw this were amused, and later started to organise pancake races. Pancake races still take place in Olney each Shrove Tuesday.”

Several of these pics are from Olney itself (a town which presumably gave its name to a town in Maryland, near where I grew up), both modern and historical; others are from elsewhere around the web… and the UK!

But of course, Shrove Tuesday (Pancake Day, Doughnut Day, Fastnacht, Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, etc.) is not just an excuse to eat yummy pancakes or doughnuts. It is about preparing for a holy Lent by being shriven (past participle of “shrove”) – forgiven, pardoned – for one’s duly repented sins, in preparation for the great season of self-examination, repentance, and preparation that is Lent.

 

Plough Monday, 2020

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Today is Plough Monday, the first Monday after Twelfth Night and Epiphany, and what used to be an important date in the agricultural calendar. Traditionally it was the day on which farm workers returned to their duties after the Christmas and New Year break. On this day,

“A plough would be taken to the local church to be blessed in order to ‘speed the plough’ and ensure a bountiful harvest later in the year. It was a difficult time of year for ploughman, as the ground was hard and difficult to work on, so the ploughmen would decorate their ploughs and take them around the local villages where they would ask for money from the wealthy landowners.”

This money was formerly used to pay for “plough lights”: candles lit in the church, to pray God’s blessing upon the agricultural work. And if a donation was not forthcoming, the miserly one might find that his yard would be plowed!

Today would be the perfect day for a classic English “ploughman’s lunch,” which at its most basic consists of rustic country bread, one or more varieties of (originally local, now any British) cheese, pickled onions, chutney and/or some other sort of “pickle,” and ale or (generally “hard,” but sweet would be a perfectly fine substitute) cider.

Some would add an apple, others some type of greenstuff (watercress would seem a traditional choice, as it might have been picked fresh from the stream running at the bottom of the field), or perhaps a boiled egg; but though one occasionally sees them with smoked meats, pork pies, or even Scotch eggs, there seems little need to go too far beyond the basics, to me.

Plough Monday, Cottage Loaf and a Ploughman's Lunch (Recipes)

This one includes spring onions and a (somewhat anachronistic, in my view) tomato, but otherwise sticks pretty close to the basic plan!

In conclusion:

Let the wealthy and great
Roll in splendor and state:
I envy them not, I declare it.
I eat my own lamb,
My own chickens and ham;
I shear my own fleece, and I wear it.
I have lawns, I have bowers,
I have fruits, I have flowers;
The lark is my morning alarmer.
So, jolly boys, now,
Here’s God speed the plough!
Long life and success to the farmer!

(I am almost positive that this verse is on the other side of the mug seen in the picture, above!)

Rogation Sunday and Rogationtide

 

Rogationtide – My Book of the Church's Year
From My Book of the Church’s Year, by Enid M. Chadwick. London: Mowbrays (no date).

So, what is Rogation Sunday, and Rogationtide (a.k.a., the Rogation Days), anyway…? The lovely Anglican blog, “Full Homely Divinity,” explains:

“The week of the Sixth Sunday of Easter [note: for those of us using the traditional calendar, the Fifth Sunday after Easter] is busy with processions and outdoor activities. The week begins with prayers and celebrations that focus on stewardship of creation and culminates in the great (but lately much-neglected) Feast of the Ascension of our Lord into heaven on the fortieth day of the Paschal Feast.

“The Rogation Days, the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday before Ascension Day, originated in Vienne, France (not Vienna, Austria), in 470 after a series of natural disasters had caused much suffering among the people. Archbishop Mamertus proclaimed a fast and ordered that special litanies and prayers be said as the population processed around their fields, asking God’s protection and blessing on the crops that were just beginning to sprout.

“The Latin word rogare means ‘to ask,’ thus these were ‘rogation’ processions. In an agricultural society, closely connected with the soil and highly vulnerable to the uncertainties of nature, this was an idea that took root quickly, and the custom spread around Europe and over to Britain. The Sunday before the Rogation Days came to be considered a part of Rogationtide (or ‘Rogantide’) and was known as Rogation Sunday.”

Thus, the blessing of crops, and from that, a more general sense of exercising good, due, and proper stewardship of Creation, is an important part of this day, and this Tide.

Furthermore, there developed in England the concept of “the beating of the bounds,” in which the Rogation Procession made its way around the bounds of the parish, reaffirming a sense of place, and instructing the young in the geography of home, and significant locations, sites, and features within those bounds. Because those boundaries were sometimes transgressed, it also provided an opportunity to reconcile with one’s erring neighbors.

Another excellent blog, “The Homely Hours,” notes,

“George Herbert gave the following reasons to observe the Rogation Days, that are still practical for us today: 1) [asking] a blessing of God for the fruits of the field; 2) Justice in the preservation of the bounds; 3) Charitie, in living, walking and neighbourliy accompanying one another, with reconciling of differences at that time, if they be any; 4) Mercie, in relieving the poor by a liberal distribution of largess which at that time is or oght be made.

The author of that blog, Amanda, further recounts, “I remember the first time I participated in our church’s Rogation Day ‘Beating of the Bounds.’ I was deeply impressed by the way that the Rogation Days took seriously the life of the body in the world.”

So should we all!