Having lived over eight years in South Louisiana I am somewhat familiar with the hype around Mardi Gras in Catholic and non-Catholic circles. I have never been part of any of the floats or have gone to the balls, but I have gone to the parades to catch some beads and plastic cups or Frisbees and they were “okay.” We used to go to the “family-oriented” parades, but they turned out to be everything but fit for the family. My coworkers and I limited ourselves to eating the King Cake in the office and hoping we didn’t get “Baby Jesus” so we wouldn’t have to buy the cake next time. That has been the extent of my participation in the Mardi Gras festivities.
I would say that most of my Catholic friends from Louisiana, without exception, participate actively in the Mardi Gras festivities since January 6th (technically, Mardis Gras in French refers to Fat Tuesday only, but the term is also applied to the days and festivities that precede this day). In all honesty, I don’t understand it. I don’t understand the concept of participating in excesses and indulgences before the fasting and penance that characterizes the sacred season of Lent. I don’t understand it and I don’t agree with it. I’m going to go as far to quote the words of my dear boyfriend regarding Mardi Gras: “Mardi Gras is a mockery of the Catholic faith.” I agree. It is a mockery of the Lenten season and of its purpose and sacredness.
My friends make it sound as if Mardi Gras is intrinsically Catholic and although there may be some truth to the fact that the feast is related to Catholicism by association, the festivities are everything but Christian in nature. In fact, history places the origin of carnival festivities back to pagan spring fertility rites during pre-Christian times.
Lent is supposed to be a time to grow in virtue through penance, sacrifice, and mortification. The purpose of the Lenten season is to prepare our bodies and souls to grow closer to God so we can accompany Him faithfully during his Passion, death, and then His glorious resurrection. Although Lent in itself is a time for preparation for the Triduum, preparation is also required prior to entering the Lenten season, because we need to get our minds and bodies in the mode of receiving God (just as in Advent).
So, what is the purpose of Mardi Gras? What is the goal of excessive eating, drinking, and partying right before Ash Wednesday? Is it an attempt to forget about God right before “reality” hits during Lent? How do the carnival festivities help us in growing closer to God in preparation for Lent? How does Mardi Gras aid our spiritual and physical preparation to receive God?