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By Daniel E. Parks

Saint Croix, US Virgin Islands



You probably know that the time of feasting and revelry known as Carnival is touted as a bacchanal.  (The English noun bacchanal is from the Latin bacchanalis = “having to do with Bacchus”.  Bacchus was the Roman god of wine and revelry.)  Carnival certainly lives up to its reputation.  It is an orgiastic and hedonistic festival noted for its revelry, drunkenness, lewdness, promiscuity, and so forth.
     But did you know that Carnival has an association with established religion, especially the Roman Catholic Church?  It is identified with Shrovetide, the two or three days immediately before Ash Wednesday and Lent.  It is most popular in places with a strong Roman Catholic influence, most notably Italy, Brazil, and New Orleans.  (Carnival in New Orleans is called Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, the day immediately before Ash Wednesday.)
     On Ash Wednesday, Carnival observers sprinkle ashes on their heads as a sign of penance (remorse for wrongdoing).  They also approach the priest so that he may dip his thumb into ashes he has blessed and apply them to their foreheads while saying “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return.”  Then they begin the forty days of Lent, in which they commemorate the forty days of fasting by Jesus in the wilderness by giving up something (e.g., chocolate or cauliflower).  Then they look forward to next year’s Carnival.
     Not all Carnival observers are Roman Catholics.  Adherents of other sects also like a bacchanal.  However, they probably will not be found doing Roman Catholic penance afterward.  But some of them may be found in their churches singing “O how I love Jesus!” and “Take time to be holy.”  Then they look forward to next year’s Carnival.
     Some like Carnival so much that they extend it to a month or more, as do some Caribbean islands.  They also may celebrate it at times other than the traditional Shrovetide.  For example, some Caribbean islands schedule their annual Carnival in such a way as to not conflict with Carnival on nearby islands.  Carnival lovers therefore may participate in their bacchanal more than once annually and for extended periods.
     Some say that this bacchanal for them is an observance that is more personal and cultural than religious.  Their honesty in this regard is commendable.
     Also commendable is the testimony of Christ’s apostles regarding bacchanalia in general.  For example:
     Paul includes among the “works of the flesh” uncleanness (moral impurity), lewdness (unbridled lust), drunkenness (delirious with or as if with strong drink), revelries (a result of drunkenness), “and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21).
     Paul exhorts believers, “Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy.  But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts” (Romans 13:13f).
     Peter adds, “For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles – when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries.  In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you.  They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Peter 4:3-5).


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Denham Springs, LA 70726

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