Burial of sardine marks Ash Wednesday

This evening in Spain many places will see a farewell to carnival known as the Burial of the Sardine.

In Madrid, where the custom was recorded by Goya, the procession with bands sets out from the Church of San Antonio de la Florida. The artist is buried there below his frescoes.

Most of the nationwide observances involve a solemn funeral procession with a coffin and sometimes a giant a paper sardine.

There are often songs about the wonderful sardine

This satirical lament for carnival may have its origin in the late 18th century when Carlos III ordered a shipload of rotting sardines to be buried.

But the custom also symbolises the burial of the past to allow for transformation during Lent.

In both Alicante and Arrecife in Lanzarote a large papier-mâché fish is burnt as ‘widows’ wail and in Santona, Cantabria, there has since 1981 been the Burial of the Sea Bream which involves a raft set alight at sea.

Shrove Tuesday: cakes & ale plus pancakes

Stationers passing through Temple Bar on Shrove Tuesday 2022

This morning the Stationers’ Company walked in procession in light rain to St Paul’s Cathedral for its annual service.

On return to the livery hall the members and guests were due to enjoy a buffet lunch known as ‘cakes and ale’.

The annual Shrove Tuesday event dates from 1612 but until recently was held on Ash Wednesday. This was because of an endowment which named the first day of Lent for the occasion. Today’s preacher David Meara will receive a ten shillings (fifty pence) fee.

Only in 2016 did the Company, persuaded by the Dean of St Paul’s, agree to come on the more appropriate Shrove Tuesday.

Traditions often do change slightly over years.

The processional route from Stationers’ Hall to the cathedral used to be by way of Ludgate Hill. Now the robed figures approach St Paul’s by passing through Paternoster Square and under Temple Bar which in living memory stood in rural Hertfordshire.

This year there was another slight but temporary change. Due to building work the procession came from nearby Cutlers’ Hall where afterwards the cakes and ale was to be enjoyed.

Meanwhile pancake races were starting outside the Guildhall.

Stationers walking in procession through the City in rain passing Vidal Sassoon

Two books for Lent

Lent starts in early March.

The first day of the month is Shrove Tuesday and you can read about all the traditional pre-Lent fun as well why we eat pancakes in Keeping Lent & Easter.

The book guides you through the forty days of Lent to Easter.

After Mothering Sunday, Lent’s halfway point at the end of March, we can move into real time in following Jesus.

There is an exciting new book to help us follow Jesus’ movements and actions day by day and sometimes hour by hour to Easter and on to Pentecost.

The Hour is Come: Passion in Real Time is by Dean of Southwark Andrew Nunn.

The Dean will be talking about his book at Southwark Cathedral on Sunday 13 February at 12.30pm (following the 11am Choral Eucharist). Book free ticket.

There will also be an online introduction to the book on Tuesday 15 February at 7pm. Book free ticket.

The Hour is Come: Passion in Real Time is published by Canterbury Press, £12.99.

Keeping Lent & Easter is published by Darton, Longman & Todd, £9.99.

Both books are available at discount and post free from Blackwell’s.

Candlemas: At the end of Christmas

On Wednesday 2 February we say that, forty days after the birth of Christ, the Holy Family is leaving Bethlehem.

A month in the stable is enough.

It’s back to Nazareth, or maybe on to Egypt, by way the Temple.

This is where we are for today’s main reading from St Luke’s Gospel as we look both back and forwards to Holy Week.

In some churches the candles to be used at Easter will be blessed after we have together carried our own candles into church to be the Light of Christ going to the Temple.

Snowdrops, known as Candlemas Bells, are appearing in gardens.

The 12 Days of Christmas

A Christmas card featuring the three kings visiting Baby Jesus by Nina Somerset (1893-1982)

Boxing Day this year is Holy Family Sunday unless you are at a church dedicated to St Stephen where it is patronal festival day as usual.

Monday is St John’s Day.

Holy Innocents on Tuesday is when we can think (out of sequence) about Herod’s reaction to the Three Kings arriving at the climax of the Twelve Days.

Wednesday is the Martyrdom of St Thomas of Canterbury when Canterbury Cathedral recalls their most traumatic Christmas which saw their Archbishop Becket murdered.

On Thursday it is the Translation of St James, the brother of St John remembered on Monday. Both knew and followed Jesus when an adult and leader.

After New Year’s Day we look to the coming of the Three Kings, or Wise Men, at what we know call The Epiphany.

So no camels until Epiphany Eve on Tuesday 5 January!

If you forgot to make a Christmas cake it’s not too late. The cake was originally the Twelfth Night cake to be enjoyed no earlier than the eve of Epiphany 5 January.

Christmas Eve

The Crib, said to include ancient wood from the manger where Jesus lay, in Santa Maria Maggiore Church in Rome

At last it is nearly Christmas.

At dusk tonight we can say Christmas has arrived.

Mary and Joseph have arrived in Bethlehem.

There will be the carols from King’s College Cambridge on Radio 4 from just after 3pm and cathedrals will have the first Evensong of Christmas.

Thanks to Covid it is now possible to watch the Grandisson Service live from Exeter Cathedral at 6pm.

From about that hour the First Mass of Christmas will be celebrated in many places. This is the new ‘Midnight Mass’ which for various reasons has been slipping earlier and earlier in recent years.

This is not the climax of Christmas but the end of Advent. We shall now begin the Twelve Days of Christmas not forgetting that the full Christmas season lasts until 2 February when the Holy Family leaves Bethlehem.

Advent Prose

Southwark Cathedral seen from Borough Market.

In many churches the ancient Advent Prose , Drop down, ye heavens, from above,/ and let the skies pour down righteousness, is sung between the first readings during Advent.

The words are from Isaiah:

Pour down, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness.
Turn your fierce anger from us, O Lord,
and remember not our sins for ever.
Your holy cities have become a desert,
Zion a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation;
our holy and beautiful house,
where our ancestors praised you.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness.

We have sinned and become like one who is unclean;
we have all withered like a leaf,
and our iniquities like the wind have swept us away.
You have hidden your face from us,
and abandoned us to our iniquities.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness.

You are my witnesses, says the Lord,
and my servant whom I have chosen,
that you may know me and believe me.
I myself am the Lord, and none but I can deliver;
what my hand holds, none can snatch away.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness.

Comfort my people, comfort them;
my salvation shall not be delayed.
I have swept your offences away like a cloud;
fear not, for I will save you.
I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel,
your redeemer.

Pour down, O heavens, from above,
and let the skies rain down righteousness.

Hear the Advent Prose sung live during Southwark Cathedral’s Sunday Choral Eucharist at 11am.

Advent antiphons

Advent turns on the 17 December as the O Antiphons are heard daily at Mass and Evening Prayer.

They are familiar to many as we hear five of them in the Advent hymn O Come, O come, Emmanuel.

We are looking at last towards the birth of Christ. By tradition it is now that Mary and Joseph are said to be setting out from Nazareth for their week long trek with a donkey to Bethlehem.

***Keeping Advent & Christmas (£9.99), with more about St Nicholas about the main days of the season, is available from DLT at 40% off using offer code xmas21.

St Lucy’s light

Swedish Lucia

St Lucy’s Day, Monday 13 December, provides another suggestion of the coming light of Christ.

It is an important stepping stone in Advent for those in Scandinavia, Sicily and Venice.

In Swedish homes and churches it is the tradition for girls to dress as Lucy and wear a crown of candles to recall the manner in which she lit the way and kept her hands free to help the poor and persecuted.

In her home town of Siracusa there is a week of celebration and in Venice many visit her body displayed in a lovely new dress in San Geremia e Lucia church.

The Lucia service at Southwark Cathedral

Loreto’s Holy House

The Translation of the Holy House of Loreto on 10 December marks the arrival on this day in Italy of the front section of the house where Mary lived in Nazareth.

It took several years to move the house although the iconography suggests that angels carried the little building. This was based on a misunderstanding.

What is important for us it that if this house is where Mary heard that she was pregnant then this day offers the opportunity to reflect on the Annunciation.

Recently Pope Francis raised the status of the day to make it a universal option for observance.

Pictures of the house today and live coverage of evening worship on Thursday 9 December and morning worship on Friday 10 December can be found on the Loreto website.

Leigh Hatts