Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Mardi Gras: a Word from Pope Benedict

I have to thank my friend Father Bryce Sibley (from Our Lady of Wisdom) for tipping me off to this apologia for Mardi Gras by none other than Joseph Ratzinger! (If anyone tells you Facebook is good for nothing, this proves them wrong.)

My annual Mardi Gras display in the convent refectory.

It seems incongruous to speak of Mardi Gras in a theological meditation, because it is at best only indirectly a time in the Church year. But are we not somewhat schizophrenic in this regard? On the one hand, we are only too ready to say that it is precisely in Catholic countries that Mardi Gras is most at home; on the other hand, we nevertheless ignore it both spiritually and theologically. Is it, then, one of those things that as Christians we cannot condone, but as humans we cannot deny? In that case we should ask: Just how human is Christianity?

Granted, Mardi Gras is heathen in origin: fertility cult and exorcism merge in it. But it was the Church that had to step in and speak the exorcism that banned the demons who do violence to men and destroy their happiness. Then, after the exorcism, something unexpected, something new, appeared - a merrymaking that is wholly exorcised. 

Mardi Gras is to Ash Wednesday a time of laughter before the time of penance, a time of lighthearted self-irony, whose laughter speaks a truth that may well be closely akin to that of the Lenten preacher.

Thus Mardi Gras, when it has been exorcised, reminds us of the words of the Old Testament preacher: “...a time to weep, and a time to laugh” (Qo 3:4). For Christians, too, it is not always a time for penance. There is likewise a time for laughter. Yes, Christian exorcism has routed the masked demons and replaced them by the laughter that has been exorcised.

All of us know how far removed from this ideal our present Mardi Gras often is; how frequently it is mammon and its henchmen that reign there. This is why we Christians do combat, not against, but in favor of, laughter. To struggle against demons and to laugh with those who laugh - these are inseparably united. The Christian has no need to be schizophrenic: Christian Faith is truly human.
Joseph Ratzinger


Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing this Sr. Anne. Any idea when Joseph Ratzinger said this or where I can find the original quote? Would love to use this in the future and having the details of the citation would be helpful. Have a blessed Lent.

Sr Anne Flanagan said...

I don't know the source! I copied it right off of Father Sibley's Facebook post; you might want to message him...