March 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 47
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NEWS & VIEWS     Acknowledgments
Articles provided through Catholic World News and Church News at Noticias Eclesiales and International Dossiers, Daily Dispatches and Features at ZENIT International News Agency. CWN, NE and ZENIT are not affiliated with the Daily CATHOLIC but provide this service via e-mail to the Daily CATHOLIC Monday through Friday.

Use of Costumes Originated in Short Popular Plays

    ROME, MAR 6 (ZENIT.org).- The origins of Carnival (or Mardi Gras) are lost in history. Apparently it developed out of Greek pagan festivals some 5000 years ago. These spring fertility rites to Bacchus later gave rise to the Roman "Lupercalia," which were still celebrated in the first Christian centuries.

    Just as the external trappings of the Feast of the Unconquered Sun were taken on by Christians in their celebrations of Christmas, so too, the Lupercalia became a sort of preparatory period for Lent. The Christian name for the feast, "Carnival," apparently comes from "Caro, Vale" [Goodbye, meat] or perhaps "Carnem levare" [lift up meat] -- the sense being that days of fasting and abstinence from meat are on their way.

    While the focal point of the celebrations is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the celebrations differs from country to country. For instance "Fasching" [probably from "faseln" -- be fruitful, refering to the pagan celebration] in Bavaria begins with Epiphany. New Orleans' Mardi Gras [Fat Tuesday] also begins at this time. On the otherhand, the German Rhineland celebrates Fastnacht [Fasting eve] starting on November 11 (at 11:11 a.m., of course). Rome's "Carnivale," while not particularly famous, starts on the Thursday before Lent.

    Perhaps the most unusual schedule is that of Basel, Switzerland. A Bishop had banned "Fasnacht" celebrations, and the people apparently decided that if the celebration was a sin, they might as well make it a big sin. As a result, Basel celebrates its Carnival after Lent has already begun.

    In early times, Rome was the center of this festival of the streets, which was decisive in the development of popular theater, songs in the vernacular, and folkloric dancing. The use of masks began in Germany and Switzerland, not for purposes of hiding, but to present short humorous plays. The custom extended from there to much of the world, for example, to the elegant Venetian Carnivale.

    In Spain, Carnival was prohibited in 1939, with the advent of Francisco Franco, but reemerged during the democratic transition, although it is only in evidence in a few cities like Cadiz or Tenerife.


    The country that today embodies Carnival is Brazil, where the whole nation stops its routine to engage in this ritual that frees repressed instincts and ends every year in several street deaths. Several Catholic groups are offering alternatives to this celebration, including massive convocations. Among the most determined are members of the Charismatic Renewal Movement.

    At this time of year, the Archdiocese of Rio de Janeiro offers a program of processions, retreats, Masses and Prayer Vigils. At the request of Cardinal Araujo de Sales, the Archbishop, Holy Hours and Vigils are scheduled. The retreat, which the Charismatic Renewal Movement has organized for 10 years, began on Saturday in the "Nossa Senhora da Piedade" School. 25,000 people are participating.

    Another news-catching initiative is that of the St. Benedict of the Holy Cross parish in Sao Paulo, which will hold a parade of Fr. Esdras Moraes Freire's "samba school." The parade includes some 800 persons, divided into 7 wings and 3 allegorical carts, which will travel along the principal streets of the city. The attraction of the parade is a live representation of "Moses' Prodigies," accompanied by music composed for the occasion. The allegorical carts reproduce passages from the Old Testament, like the Passover and Pharaoh's court, and the wings represent additional prodigies of Moses in the Exodus. "I do everything for the love of God," Fr. Freire said. He explained that the Christian parade is an opportunity for the faithful who do not like the traditional Carnival. "The idea is to celebrate Carnival in a healthy way," the priest, member of the Charismatic Renewal, said. ZE00030505


March 7, 2000
volume 11, no. 47

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