Letter to the Editor: We can fast without religion

When I first went to Jaffa, Israel, to work as a chef for an Anglican guest house, a different choice of breakfast was offered each morning.

Letter to the Editor: We can fast without religion

When I first went to Jaffa, Israel, to work as a chef for an Anglican guest house, a different choice of breakfast was offered each morning.

One of the choices was homemade pancakes, or crepes, which had to be tossed in a very hot frying pan. Some of the volunteer workers from various countries assigned to this duty dreaded the ominous “pancake day” as it often had its share of disasters, giving them the in-house nickname of “panic cakes”!

In the various establishments I have worked in over the years, even if they were secular, there was always the obligatory Pancake Day or Shrove Tuesday, even though the tradition is linked to the fasting of Lent that begins the following day on Ash Wednesday.

Today many folk celebrate this holiday without even realising its ecclesiastical connections. It was a day to use up eggs, milk, and other rich foods before the 40-day fasting period.

This gave rise to the name “carnival” coming from the Latin “carnem levare” (to take away the flesh) and for others ‘Mardi Gras’ meaning “Fat Tuesday”. Pope Gregory (d.604) issued the following rule to Augustine in Canterbury: “We abstain from flesh, meat, and from all things that come from flesh, as milk, cheese, and eggs.”

Ash is still daubed on the foreheads of participants on Ash Wednesday in some denominations from burnt palm fronds made into crosses from the previous year, almost reminiscent of some religious practices in India, but which was linked to the time of penitence and confession.

I have never panicked making pancakes, but I do question whether Jesus would actually require this practice from anyone who chooses to follow him?

Certainly there were no such traditions in the early Church. Jesus fasted in the wilderness for us. We don’t need to do it ourselves.

Fasting can come freely at any time of the year, but not by ecclesiastical obligation. Besides, following him and not religious traditions invented by men is the best recipe for success in my book.

Colin Nevin

Rathgill Park

Bangor

Co Down

This readers' opinion was originally published in the letters page of the Irish Examiner print edition on February 24, 2020.

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