(SHROVE SUNDAY or QUINQUAGESIMA)
The focal point and center of the Church Year is the period from Good Friday to Easter Sunday - the PASCH, Easter. On Quinquagesima we are fifty days from it, and we are three days before the beginning of the 40 days that in English we call LENT.
In the classic prayer book of the Anglican Communion, THE BOOK OFCOMMON PRAYER, the Eucharistic Lectionary for this day follows the ancient Latin tradition of having as the Epistle, Paul' great "Psalm in praise of Love" [1 Cor.13] on the central virtue of LOVE, charity (Caritas, Agape), and for the Gospel, Luke 18:31ff., which presents Jesus going ahead towards His Cross.
However, the English Reformers in 1549 chose not to use the ancient Latin Collect but to create a new one based upon the content of the Epistle. They would have rendered the ancient one something like this: "We beseech thee, O Lord, mercifully to hear our prayers; that we, being absolved from the chain of our sins, may be defended from all adversity.." The theme here fits in of course with the old English name for this Sunday - Shrove Sunday - which points to the confession and absolution of sin (see "to shrive" in a good Dictionary) as the right attitude and activity for the beginning of the Lent Fast, as we join with our Lord in his forty days of fasting and prayer.
Archbishop Cranmer wrote the new Collect for a good purpose --- in order to put a positive emphasis into the preparation for the beginning of Lent. Not that the English Reformers wanted to take away the emphasis upon self-examination, confession of sins and absolution (see the Service of Commination for Ash Wednesday for proof of this) but that they wanted to make it clear, as does the Epistle from 1 Corinthians 13, that all activities [Lenten discipline, all fastings, all mortifications, all self-denials, all piety and devotion] WITHOUT love do not truly please God or sanctify the soul. That is, all good works and self-discipline that are not in their innermost center guided by charity (agape, caritas)] are worth nothing before the brilliant and pure holiness of the righteous God and also do nothing for the salvation and sanctification of the person doing them.
O LORD, WHO HAS TAUGHT US THAT ALL OUR DOINGS WITHOUT CHARITY ARE NOTHING WORTH; SEND THY HOLY GHOST, AND POUR INTO OUR HEARTS THAT MOST EXCELLENT GIFT OF CHARITY, THE VERY BOND OF PEACE AND ALL VIRTUES, WITHOUT WHICH WHOSOEVER LIVETH IS COUNTED DEAD BEFORE THEE. GRANT THIS FOR THINE ONLY SON, JESUS CHRIST'S SAKE. AMEN.
It has always been assumed from the 16th century in the Reformed Catholicism that is the Anglican Way that the essentials of Lent, whose origin reaches back into the fasting of the Catechumens before Easter in the ancient Church, would be kept by English Christians (now Anglicans worldwide). For example, that Ash Wednesday is a day of abstinence and of special self-examination and prayer, and likewise is Good Friday. Unless one is sick or with child or feeding a child, abstinence means no food, but can mean drinking fluids, according to need.
On the other 38 days of Lent fasting means eating less and especially abstaining from meats and animal products so as to make space and time for more devotion and almsgiving, in union with our Lord in his 40 days. Sundays, being the Lord's Day and festivals of the Resurrection are not part of Lent and the discipline of the 40 days is relaxed on them, especially on the mid-Sunday in Lent, known by various names - e.g., Mothering Sunday or Laetare Sunday.
The old custom of the minor feast on Shrove Tuesday in northern Europe was to use up from the larder the eggs and oil (thus pancakes or donuts) because in Lent only vegetables, fruit and non-dairy food would be used. No one ever went out to buy special food for Shrove Tuesday, rather they used up what was there (having no freezers to put it in for use after Easter!). Regrettably, in the secularization of Christianity and of the Church, the minor feasting has become for some a big meal with entertainment - as the carnival scenes in Rio de Janeiro and in New Orleans and as the Shrove Tuesday feasts of Protestants illustrate.
In union with our Lord, and in preparation for the true celebration of EASTER, let us keep a holy Lent seeking to please God and to sanctify our hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God.
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon, February 6, 2002 Vice President of the American Prayer Book Society