Hey, it’s February and no one has mentioned anything about Shrove Tuesday, Ash Wednesday, or Lent (at least until now)! That’s because none of these occur until March this year. All of these events are based on the date for Easter Day, which is April 21.
Did you know there are “rules” for finding the date of Easter Day? Easter Day is always the Sunday after the full moon that occurs on or after the spring equinox on March 21, a date which is fixed in accordance with an ancient ecclesiastical computation, and which does not always correspond to the astronomical equinox. This full moon may happen on any date between March 21 and April 18 inclusive. If the full moon falls on a Sunday, Easter Day is the Sunday following. But, Easter Day cannot be earlier than March 22 (which will not occur until after 2089) or later than April 25 (the next year being 2038). For more information about the rules, please refer to the Book of Common Prayer, pages 880-883.
So, then, when are the other dates? Shrove Tuesday (or Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday) will be March 5 and Ash Wednesday will be March 6. While we enjoy a pancake supper and a fun evening on Shrove Tuesday, there really isn’t any spiritual focus for this day other than some parishes burn palm branches left from the previous Palm Sunday to use on Ash Wednesday. The name comes from the English word “shrive,” which has to do with obtaining absolution for sins.
Ash Wednesday begins the forty day period prior to Easter Day, during which Christians repent, ask for God’s forgiveness, and recognize that God’s forgiveness comes at a price – the death of Jesus Christ on the cross on our behalf. On this day, the historic churches mark the beginning of this period with special services explaining the season, calling the people to repentance, signifying repentance with ashes, by which a cross is marked on the forehead of penitent Christians.
And thus the 40 days of Lent begin, excluding Sundays. Sundays are not included because they commemorate Christ’s resurrection on “the Lord’s day.” There are several significant meanings of the “forty” days of Lent: it rained for 40 days and nights during the Flood, for 40 years the Jewish people wandered in the desert after fleeing from Egypt , Moses was on Mt. Sinai for 40 days and night, for 40 days Jesus was tested by the devil in the desert, and there were 40 days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension.
The final week of Lent is called Holy Week. It begins with Palm Sunday (April 14) and includes Maundy Thursday (April 18) and Good Friday (April 19).
So, we haven’t forgotten anything (yet) this year. That ancient ecclesiastical computation is just late this year!