Travelling from Pancakes to Ashes


Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday are connected events.  They take us symbolically from pancakes to ashes

What is Shrove Tuesday? 

Several years ago, I was helping at a pancake supper when I overheard two ladies waiting in line. “It’s a pity that so many churches have pancake suppers on the same night,” one of them said to the other.

This year, St. George’s Lowville will hold a pancake suppers on Tuesday February 25th. We call that day Pancake Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday. And it’s an important day in the church year, not just because some churches use the opportunity for a fund-raiser!

Shrove Tuesday is the last day before the start of Lent, a solemn time in the church year. Lent is the forty days (excluding Sundays) when the Church remembers the events that led up to the arrest and Crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday. Traditionally, Lent is a time of prayer, reflection, and fasting (eating simply and in moderation). Not the same as just giving up chocolate for a few weeks!

Lent begins on a Wednesday each year, in order to accommodate forty days before Easter. (Sundays don’t count. They are always “Feast days of Our Lord”, that is, Resurrection days). Therefore, the last day before Lent has to be a Tuesday. The name Shrove Tuesday originated in olden times. On that day, Christians went to church to confess their sins to a priest. That made them “clean” before God ahead of beginning their Lenten obligations. The old word in English for confess was ‘shrive’; its past tense is shrove or shrived. In other words, you shrove your sins on Shrove Tuesday.

But why eat pancakes?

Because Lent was a time for fasting, people needed to use up all the luxurious foods in their pantries (probably to avoid temptation during Lent!). Butter and other fats, sugar and syrups. These would be made into ‘one last feast’ of foods like pancakes. So another name for Shrove Tuesday is Fat Tuesday, whose French translation is ‘Mardi Gras.’ These days, Mardi Gras has almost lost its sense of confession before Ash Wednesday; it is just a huge and rowdy party.

And what’s with the ashes on Ash Wednesday?

Image from

Ashes are an ancient symbol of mourning. The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) record several occasions when people wore sack-cloth and either sat in ashes or covered their heads with ashes. Often, this was because they grieved for past sins.

Ashes remind Christians that humanity bears responsibility for Jesus Christ’s death on Good Friday. We mourn and also remember the frailty of human life. To symbolize these ideas, the priest marks a person’s forehead with ashes in a special ceremony at the Ash Wednesday church service. The words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return,” emphasize that Ash Wednesday is not a happy occasion. That makes it very counter-cultural in today’s society. 

Celebrate with us at St. George’s, Lowville

You can participate in these special events at St George’s Church, Lowville in the following ways.

Join us on Shrove Tuesday for a pancake supper, any time from 5 to 7 pm. Bring the family. It’s a free will offering. Pay nothing, or whatever you wish to contribute.

The next morning, you can experience the solemnity of Ash Wednesday at the 11 am church service. Imposition of ashes is optional. After the service, join us for a simple meal of soup and bread (no charge).

I hope very much to see you at one or both these special events.  Walk with us the symbolism of travelling from feast to famine, from pancakes to ashes

Your brother in Christ,

(Rev.) Nigel Bunce, Priest-in-charge