‘Tomorrow we will fast. I don’t know how your father will survive’
Family Fortunes: A reader recalls preparing for the Lenten fast as a child. But first – some pancakes
Shrove Tuesday, or Pancake Day as we children called it, was the day before Lent. Like spring, it was time to be reborn, start afresh. “Well,” so Mrs Duggan, our teacher, told us, “time to give back to God. After all, didn’t he make a wonderful sacrifice for us, dying on the cross to save us and cleanse us of our sins.”
Poor Jesus, I thought. To a 10-year-old, this was really a sure sign of how much he loved us, so I decided I would get up early and go to six o’clock Mass for Lent, starting on Ash Wednesday the following day. But first I decided I would have a bit of a feast to get me through six long weeks.
I intended roping in my pals for Holy Thursday, to do the seven churches to gain indulgences for the poor holy souls that were suffering in purgatory. It might give us a leg up and help us when our turn came to get into heaven. I rushed home from school that day, my mouth watering as the smell of the hot pancakes hit my nostrils as I turned my key in the hall door.
“Homework first, then dinner.” Mum had a warming stew ready. “Then you may have your pancakes.” They were delicious, the butter and sugar melting in my young mouth, pure heaven. “Tomorrow we will have to fast and there will be no meat on Wednesdays, fish on Fridays. I don’t know how your father will survive, he loves his meat after a hard days work in the park.” Mum shook her head.
She called me at six the next morning. Gee, it was freezing – no central heating in those days. ‘Time for Mass, young lady, remember the promise you made, you don’t want to be late on your first morning.”
Pulling myself out of bed, washing and dressing as fast as I could, having fasted since the night before going to receive Holy Communion, I said goodbye to Mum. “I’ll have a nice bowl of hot porridge for you when you get back,” she said.
The priest put the ashes on my forehead. “From dust you came and unto dust you shall return.” I told God I didn’t really want to turn into dust. Still, I clipped back my fringe to show off my ashes.