Shrovetide, Ash Wednesday and Lent

Shrove Sunday (laskiainen, the Sunday before Lent, also known as Quinquagesima) marks a turning point in the public ministry of Jesus, as he begins his journey towards Jerusalem and his passion and death. But the resurrection is assured: the liturgical colour is therefore green, expressing growth and the power of life.

The origin of the Finnish word laskiainen is unclear. Many linguists believe that it derives from the verb laskea, “to count”, Shrove Tuesday being followed by the counting of days of fasting. A second popular explanation is based on the verb laskeutua, “to descend”: after Shrove Tuesday, we “descend” into a time of fasting. In Finland, Shrove Tuesday is a day for pea soup and special buns, and a day to go sledging – the equivalent of carnival in Roman Catholic countries.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and continues until Easter. The name Ash Wednesday derives from the biblical practice of wearing sackcloth and sprinkling the head with ash as a sign of repentance and restoration. Many parishes offer an evening Eucharist or Service of the Word on the day, and, as a sign of penitence, those attending the former may receive the sign of the cross marked in ash on their foreheads.

Forty weekdays of fasting follow, as fasting is not practised on Sundays. Lent calls us to be judged by God's holiness and love, as revealed in the suffering and death of Christ; to repent of our sins and our attachment to the things of this world; to seek a new, more responsible way of life; and to make personal sacrifices for the welfare of those in need.

A cross on a plate containing ash.