A few years ago an American friend visited Germany with her family during the February half-term. As part of their visit they spent a day in Cologne and were very surprised (and disappointed) to find that the cathedral was closed. Unbeknown to them, they arrived on Fat Thursday or Weiberfastnacht in German, which in Cologne is an important date.

Because on that day, the final phase of the Carnival celebrations begin and women take over the city for a day. The celebrations take place in the street and usually become very exuberant and often even boisterous. That's why the cathedral is closed, to avoid any damage if people get carried away. And my friend and her family accepted that this was necessary.

The point of the Carnival celebrations is to live it up before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, because in the past this was a time of fasting.

In our time, this has changed and the idea tends to be to give up something for Lent, e.g. sweets, biscuits or alcohol - a commendable practice which is also good for our health – but this may not be for everybody. An alternative approach, and this may seem strange, is to commit to doing something extra, e.g. a short time of prayer or just of quietness. This is well worth a try and not surprisingly, I don't find it strange at all but rewarding! 

Deacon Klaus Reidel
St. Bede's Catholic Church