Thursday, February 22, 2007

Ashes, Ashes

Well, we've recovered from the Ashes Frenzy that always accompanies Ash Wednesday, and the day really got me thinking (this is a dangerous thing, this thinking) about why people come to Mass on Ash Wednesday.

This is one of the highest attendance days in the Church. You know on any given Holy Day of Obligation, we have three Masses, and you could combine the attendance at all three and not equal half a church. Then Ash Wednesday comes along which of course is NOT a Holy Day of Obligation and the pews are filled for four Masses.

Hopefully, the majority of the people there are present for the right reason - to make a public witness to the call to turn away from sin, to "return to the Lord" as the Prophet Joel reminded us. The ashes are a symbol of that turning away. And we are there, of course, to build ourselves up on the Body and Blood of Jesus and the Word of God as the best things that can help us on our journey.

But, then there are the "others." Some of these are the people who call and want ashes "over the counter" at the Office, or at the door of the friary, or the ones who bolt out the Church door once they've received their ashes and do not stay for the Liturgy of the Eucharist. Some of them are the ones who call to find out what time Mass is at so they can plan to arrive at the end and just ask for some Ashes.

What amazes me is the phrase that I hear over and again on this day, "I've got to get my ashes." Because what shocks me, and saddens me, is that from some of this group of folks, I never hear, "I've got to receive Jesus." The throngs of strangers who come to Church on this day for some reason have a great desire to have some palm ash on their foreheads, but do not have a desire to seek out the Lord in the Eucharist, in His community, around His altar. In fact, too often, not only do they not "return to the Lord," but the turn right back around and exit the Church as quickly as they can contented that the got their foreheads marked.

It saddens me, of course, because in a back-handed way this is such an insult to the Eucharist as through their actions, they are saying that burnt palm branches rubbed on their foreheads is far more important than the incredible miracle that takes place on the altar every day, as St. Francis says in his Letter to the Entire Order, "Let the whole man tremble with fear, let the whole world begin to completely quake, and let heaven exult, when upon the altar in the hand of the priest is 'Christ, the Son of the living God'! O admirable height and stupendous esteem! O sublime humility! O humble sublimity, that the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself, to hide Himself on behalf of our salvation under the limited, little form of bread!"

So, perhaps we can add to our Lenten practice a fervant prayer for those marginal Christians. Let us pray that God will lead them from ashes to Eucharist, from ashes to communion, from ashes to the full active life of faith that every Christian is called to.

"Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart."

1 comment:

  1. Hi Fr.


    Sounds like you needed to vent. I understand your frustration and I also agree with you.

    Long ago, I was one of those that you speak of.

    Although I still have many unanswered questions concerning God/Religion, I know now that I cannot live without Jesus in my heart by way of communion and prayer.

    All you can do is pray for them. Hopefully one day, they will see the light.

    Take care.