March 10, 2006

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

Allow Lent to still reflect the joy in our lives

Ash Wednesday has passed so everyone must be “partied out”—assuming, of course, that every one of us participated in some form of revelry before the beginning of Lent.

Our parish holds a Mardi Gras celebration, although unfortunately my husband, Paul, and I have not yet had the pleasure of enjoying this gala function. However, sometimes (including a few weeks ago) we do attend Karneval, a German pre-Lenten celebration held at the Athenaeum in Indianapolis.

The program this year featured (among other entertainment) the talents of the Indianapolis Maennerchor, a male chorus for which Paul sings baritone. The program noted: “The tradition of Karneval in Indianapolis goes back to the 1880s when German societies like the Maennerchor, Independent and Socialer Turnverein held lavish masked balls.”

“Karneval” (“carnival”) means the absence of meat from meals. According to the program, “In years past, the Church and all good Christians observed the 40 days before Easter by very strict fasting and abstaining. Since Lent was a period of penance and self-denial, any type of entertainment or self-indulgence was restricted. Therefore, the period before the beginning of Lent was one last chance to eat, drink and party to you heart’s content.”

It might seem insensitive or mean-spirited of me to dwell on this now that Lent has started, but I have a reason: As Lent progresses and we creep closer to Easter, good memories of such events can help us over some rough penitential patches along the way. Happy memories also boost our longing and anticipation for Easter and springtime.

The Athenaeum, by the way, has a sister city in Cologne, Germany. There—and in most German communities—Karneval is called Fasching, Fastnacht and similar terms. Of course, the French term is Mardi Gras.

The Athenaeum’s party was surely as festive as any held in Germany. It included introduction of Karneval royalty and Prinzengarde, the presentation of an Orden (medal of honor), exuberant performances by a Maedchengarde (high-stepping girls of the guard dance group) and the traditional Grande March, featuring all costumed revelers.

Next year, I hope Paul and I will be able to experience our parish Mardi Gras, a dinner-dance that surely includes festive camaraderie and fun.

As I ponder Lent, I know these six weeks are really not a time for gloom and doom, but rather a time for willingly obeying rules of fast and abstinence, willingly making sacrifices as a means of cleansing our spirits and willingly adding a few spiritual practices to enrich our lives.

If so, “you will be endowed with the strength needed to stand fast … to endure joyfully whatever may come” (Col 1:11).

After all, we are also advised to “Rejoice in the Lord always!” (Phil 4:4).

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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