Saint John Chrysostom said “Ubi caritas gaudet, ibi est festivas, Where love rejoices, there is festivity.”
In the Catholic Church, “Fat Tuesday” or Mardi Gras is a festival that precedes the penitential season of Lent. Why celebrate before Lent? Because life is good. Because creation is good. At the end of the Six Days of Creation, “God looked at everything he had made, and he found it very good.” (Genesis 1:31) He rested on the Seventh Day – the source and destination of all festivals, a celebration of Goodness, as Josef Pieper puts it: “the prime festive occasion… to reduce it to the most concise phrase, at bottom everything that is, is good, and it is good to exist.” (Pieper, In Tune with the World, p. 26)
So how is this connected to Lent, a season of penance, sacrifice, and mortification – a seeming denial of good things? Pieper goes on (p. 21):
The act of freely giving oneself cannot take place unless it grows from the root of comprehensive affirmation – for which no other term can be found than ‘love’… We do not renounce things, then, except for love.
The renunciation of things frees us from the ideology of utility, in which things are only valued for their usefulness. In doing so, it frees us to recognize the “giftedness” of all things, all Creation. As Pieper concludes:
There can be no festivity when man, imagining himself self-sufficient, refuses to recognize that Goodness of things which goes far beyond any conceivable utility; it is the Goodness of reality taken as a whole which validates all other particular goods and which man himself can never produce nor simply translate into social or individual ‘welfare’. He truly receives it when he accepts it as pure gift.
Thus, we celebrate before Lent because Life is Good. The renunciation of Lent then prepares us for the greatest celebration of Life in the Resurrection. As Pieper says, “Carnival is festive only where Ash Wednesday still exists.”