February 17, 2015

Ratzinger on Mardi Gras

Fasching—Mardi gras—is certainly not a Church festival. Yet on the other hand, it is unthinkable apart from the Church’s calendar. Thus if we reflect on its origin and significance, it can contribute to our understanding of faith. Fasching has many roots, Jewish, pagan and Christian, and all three point to something common to men of all times and places.

But behind this exuberant, worldly feast, there is also an awareness of that temporal rhythm which was given classical expression in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; …a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance”. Not everything is appropriate at all times, man needs a rhythm, and the year gives him this rhythm, both through creation and through the history that faith sets forth in the yearly cycle.

This brings us to the Church’s year, which enables man to go through the whole history of salvation in step with the rhythm of creation, simultaneously ordering and purifying the chaotic multiplicity of our nature. Nothing human is omitted from this cycle of creation and history, and only in this way can all human reality, its dark side and its light side, the world of sense and the world of spirit, be saved.

Let us go back to think about the roots of Fasching. As well as the Jewish, there is the pagan prehistory whose fierce and menacing stare at us in the masks worn in Alpine, Swabian, and Alemannic parts of Germany.

At this point we can observe something of great significance: in the Christian world the demonic mask becomes a light-hearted masquerade, the life-and-death struggle with the demons becomes fun and merriment prior to the seriousness of Lent. This masquerade shows us something we can often see in the psalms and in the prophets: it becomes a mocking of the gods, who no longer need to be feared by those who know the true God. To that extent, Fasching actually does contain elements of Christian liberation, the freedom of the One God, perfecting that freedom commemorated in the Jewish feast of Purim.

In the end, however, we are faced with a question: Do we still enjoy this freedom? Or is it not a fact that, ultimately, we would like to free ourselves from God, from creation and from faith, in order to be totally free? And is not the consequence of this that we are once again handed over to the gods, to commercial forces, to greed, to public opinion? God is not the enemy of our freedom but its ground. That is something we ought to relearn in these days. Only love that is almighty can ground a joy that is free from anxiety.

—Joseph Ratzinger

All the same, dear Pope Benedict, I'm going to have a Sazerac tonight and several bowls full of beignets! HT: John Herreid

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