The three days leading up to Ash Wednesday we call the “Parce Days” (pronounced PAR-chay, for those unfamiliar with ecclesiastical Latin). These are days are observed as days of special penance in reparation for the excesses of Mardi Gras, going back to at least the 13th century.
During the Parce Days, we pray special prayers of reparation, most notably by dropping our other employments and returning to choir (the nuns’ part of the chapel) every hour on the hour to sing the Parce, from which these days take their name.
Given that nowadays the Mardi Gras celebration in certain regions runs much longer than three days, it might seem that we need a longer period of reparation. In fact, given the current cultural situation, don’t we need reparation year round? We have it. A Dominican spiritual writer of the early 20th century states: our life as religious, organized as it is totally in relation to God, is an exact reparation for the Godlessness of secular society.
On normal days, we don’t hurry to choir on the hour to pray special reparation prayers as we do during these Parce Days. But we do return to the choir time and time again each day, for Holy Mass and to chant God’s praise in the Divine Office. Each hour also finds a new Sister beginning her Hour of Guard in our continual vigil of Eucharistic Adoration and Perpetual Rosary.
Every moment of our lives is consecrated to God through our public vows and the witness of our life in community. We offer this to Our lord in reparation for those who exclude Him from their lives and instead vainly search for fulfillment in so many other ways. Have mercy, O Lord! As in the prayer the angel taught the children at Fatima:
O my God, I believe, I adore, I hope and I love Thee. I ask pardon for those who do not believe, do not adore, do not hope and do not love Thee.