21 February 2023

Praying in Ordinary Time
with USPG: 21 February 2023

‘The Fight Between Carnival and Lent’ by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1559)

Patrick Comerford

Lent is only a day away, beginning on Ash Wednesday tomorrow. This time between the end of Epiphany and Ash Wednesday, is known as Ordinary Time, and is a time of preparation for Lent, which in turn is a time of preparation for Holy Week and Easter.

Today is Shrove Tuesday, and before Lent begins and before this becomes a busy day, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

In these days of Ordinary Time before Ash Wednesday, I have been reflecting in these ways each morning:

1, reflecting on a saint or interesting person in the life of the Church;

2, one of the lectionary readings of the day;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary, ‘Pray with the World Church.’

Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday is traditionally a day for self-examination and repentance, for thinking about amendment of life and spiritual growth, asking for God’s help in these areas. The term Shrove Tuesday comes from the word shrive, meaning ‘absolve’.

But popular practices on this day have also involved indulging in sweet and fatty food that might be given up during the 40 days of fasting in Lent, represented, of course, by pancakes. The term Mardi Gras is French for ‘Fat Tuesday’, referring to the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before Lent begins.

‘The Fight Between Carnival and Lent’, painted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in 1559, is a panorama with almost 200 characters marking the transition from Shrove Tuesday to Lent.

On Shrove Tuesday, many churches burn the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday to make the ashes for use on Ash Wednesday.

Lichfield’s traditional Pancake Races take place today, with the usual races including Men’s, Women’s, Mascots and under 10s. The races begin in Bore Street at 12 noon, and are followed by the traditional opening of the Shrovetide Fair on the Market Square by the Civic party, supported by the Town Crier, Adrian Holmes, who will give a shout to mark the occasion.

As I wake this Shrove Tuesday morning, I am taking some time to reflect on George Herbert’s poem ‘Lent,’ welcoming the ‘dear fast of Lent.’

Lent, by George Herbert:

Welcome dear feast of Lent: who loves not thee,
He loves not Temperance, or Authority,
But is compos’d of passion.
The Scriptures bid us fast; the Church says, now:
Give to thy Mother, what thou wouldst allow
To ev’ry Corporation.

The humble soul compos’d of love and fear
Begins at home, and lays the burden there,
When doctrines disagree,
He says, in things which use hath justly got,
I am a scandal to the Church, and not
The Church is so to me.

True Christians should be glad of an occasion
To use their temperance, seeking no evasion,
When good is seasonable;
Unless Authority, which should increase
The obligation in us, make it less,
And Power itself disable.

Besides the cleanness of sweet abstinence,
Quick thoughts and motions at a small expense,
A face not fearing light:
Whereas in fulness there are sluttish fumes,
Sour exhalations, and dishonest rheums,
Revenging the delight.

Then those same pendant profits, which the spring
And Easter intimate, enlarge the thing,
And goodness of the deed.
Neither ought other men’s abuse of Lent
Spoil the good use; lest by that argument
We forfeit all our Creed.

It’s true, we cannot reach Christ’s forti’eth day;
Yet to go part of that religious way,
Is better than to rest:
We cannot reach our Saviour’s purity;
Yet we are bid, ‘Be holy ev’n as he,’
In both let's do our best.

Who goeth in the way which Christ hath gone,
Is much more sure to meet with him, than one
That travelleth by-ways:
Perhaps my God, though he be far before,
May turn and take me by the hand, and more:
May strengthen my decays.

Yet Lord instruct us to improve our fast
By starving sin and taking such repast,
As may our faults control:
That ev’ry man may revel at his door,
Not in his parlour; banqueting the poor,
And among those his soul.

George Herbert (left) with two other Cambridge theologians, Bishop Brooke Foss Westcott (centre) and Henry Martyn (right), in a window in All Saints’ Church, Cambridge (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Mark 9: 30-37 (NRSVA):

30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it; 31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, ‘The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.’ 32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ 34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another about who was the greatest. 35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ 36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, 37 ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Burning Palm Crosses from Palm Sunday on Shrove Tuesday to prepare ashes for Ash Wednesday

USPG Prayer Diary:

The theme in the USPG Prayer Diary this week is ‘Social Justice in Sierra Leone,’ which was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today invites us to pray in these words:

Let us pray for the Diocese of Freetown and the North. May its work amongst the poor and marginalised people change attitudes and lives for the better.

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
whose Son was revealed in majesty
before he suffered death upon the cross:
give us grace to perceive his glory,
that we may be strengthened to suffer with him
and be changed into his likeness, from glory to glory;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion:

Holy God,
we see your glory in the face of Jesus Christ:
may we who are partakers at his table
reflect his life in word and deed,
that all the world may know his power to change and save
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

‘George Herbert (1593-1633) at Bemerton’ (William Dyce, 1860)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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