Returning on the Day of Ashes

 

During our liturgy today on Ash Wednesday (a colloquial name for the Day of Ashes), the priest made an interesting point. This is not a “holy day of obligation” for Catholics. Yet, like Christmas and Easter, it is among the most attended gatherings for worship every year.

Why do you suppose that is?

This is a time for lowly repentance. The beginning of Lent, the season in which we focus on the Lord’s painful sacrifice and our regret of its necessity, is marked by ashes to remind us of death.

“From dust to dust” — we reflect on our smallness before the Creator of all things; our total dependence on Him. “Ashes to ashes” — we remember that death is the consequence of sin; that only through death to mortal desires, through complete transformation made possible by God’s own perfect sacrifice, we can be restored to life.

During this time, we do not forget the beauty, mercy, joy, and life that awaits at the end of a hard road. But to everything there is a season. This is the season for mourning; a season of reflection and preparation; a season of hunger, scarcity, and difficult sacrifices.

This draws Christians back to worship and communion?

Perhaps it is easier for prodigal children and wayward brothers to return before the celebrations begin. When one is keenly aware of the need to change, perhaps it is easier to begin again at the start of that long road. Grand celebrations are daunting for strangers. First, one must become comfortable in the family again.

The ashes today represent death but mark us for life. Like the lamb’s blood smeared above the doors of Jews in Egypt to claim them for God and tell the angel of death to pass over them, the Lamb’s cross drawn in ash on the foreheads of Christians claims them for the Lord. We are a somber sight today, but the darkness will pass and leave much to celebrate.

There are 14 comments.

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  1. Franz Drumlin Member
    Franz Drumlin
    @FranzDrumlin

    I was walking through mid-town Manhattan an hour ago and was amazed at how many foreheads bore an ashen cross. They can’t all be tourists 

    • #1
  2. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Franz Drumlin (View Comment):

    I was walking through mid-town Manhattan an hour ago and was amazed at how many foreheads bore an ashen cross. They can’t all be tourists

    That is some of the best news I’ve heard in a long time. You answered Aaron’s question.

    • #2
  3. Nancy Spalding Thatcher
    Nancy Spalding
    @NancySpalding

    our priest several years ago used to laugh about it — two of the most attended days were when the church “gave something away”! (Ashes and palm fronds)… perhaps we get worn down by invisible duties, and visible ones remind us of the larger reality? after all, so many things today just blend in, and the nature of sacraments, and sacramentals, is to make visible an invisible reality, to make grace present to us. 

    I have a colleague at work who is a practicing Catholic and he is not sure what all he believes, but he is held to the Church by the reality that he is participating in something that people are doing all over the world, and have done for 2,000 years. God pulls us by whatever thread we allow…

    • #3
  4. Virtuous Heathen Inactive
    Virtuous Heathen
    @heathen

    Aaron Miller:

    This is the season for mourning; a season of reflection and preparation; a season of hunger, scarcity, and difficult sacrifices. 

    This draws Christians back to worship and communion? 

    In short: Yes–but not for the reasons you outline.

    Before I go long: I am not Catholic and in that light, please do not take this as an intent to debate theology. 

    It may be for some Catholics–given their theology–that they feel a need to be prepared once again. As you say, “made comfortable.” However.

    Church membership is dwindling nationwide–catholic and protestant–among all age groups. Yet, some research and polling suggests that more more traditional/orthodox church bodies are more likely to retain millennial congregants.

    For the sake of argument, let’s suppose those millennials are not too different from anyone else (a stretch, please bear with me).

    If churchgoers are craving the traditional religious experience–however that is defined–Ash Wednesday certainly has a more appeal than the average Sunday service/mass or even the various days of obligation which may not even fall regularly in the same weekday. 

    In short–and to borrow secular lingo: Ash Wednesday has a recognizable brand. August 15th does not. 

    • #4
  5. GFHandle Member
    GFHandle
    @GFHandle

    Virtuous Heathen (View Comment):
    In short–and to borrow secular lingo: Ash Wednesday has a recognizable brand. August 15th does not. 

    A reasonable theory. My fist take was Chesterton’s idea that the doctrine of original sin is the part of Revelation that has the most empirical evidence.  Ash Wednesday makes sense to anyone with an ounce of self-awareness.

    What we will miss most from Christianity is the idea that we are all poor sinners.  The new WokeJamoke religion says that only straight white males are. You can see where THAT leads….

    • #5
  6. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    Incidentally, a friend in Alabama shared these public scenes of Lent on the Gulf Coast. The first is Mobile. 

     

    • #6
  7. EODmom Coolidge
    EODmom
    @EODmom

    It is a rich liturgy and causes even just sorta faithful Christians to engage theology. I went to a noon service in a town I visit frequently and then got on the car ferry to go home. The ticket taker said “Oh – it’s Ash Wednesday. Where did you go? What time?” I told her and she thanked me and I got on the ferry. People will go to soup supper study nights during Lent when they won’t go to summer BBQ. Go figure.  Maybe it’s not saddled with current politics? Just one message. 

    • #7
  8. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    Nancy Spalding (View Comment):

    our priest several years ago used to laugh about it — two of the most attended days were when the church “gave something away”! (Ashes and palm fronds)… perhaps we get worn down by invisible duties, and visible ones remind us of the larger reality? after all, so many things today just blend in, and the nature of sacraments, and sacramentals, is to make visible an invisible reality, to make grace present to us.

    Ash Wednesday offers two 

    Virtuous Heathen (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller:

    This is the season for mourning; a season of reflection and preparation; a season of hunger, scarcity, and difficult sacrifices.

    This draws Christians back to worship and communion?

    In short: Yes–but not for the reasons you outline.

    Before I go long: I am not Catholic and in that light, please do not take this as an intent to debate theology.

    It may be for some Catholics–given their theology–that they feel a need to be prepared once again. As you say, “made comfortable.” However.

    Church membership is dwindling nationwide–catholic and protestant–among all age groups. Yet, some research and polling suggests that more more traditional/orthodox church bodies are more likely to retain millennial congregants.

    For the sake of argument, let’s suppose those millennials are not too different from anyone else (a stretch, please bear with me).

    If churchgoers are craving the traditional religious experience–however that is defined–Ash Wednesday certainly has a more appeal than the average Sunday service/mass or even the various days of obligation which may not even fall regularly in the same weekday.

    In short–and to borrow secular lingo: Ash Wednesday has a recognizable brand. August 15th does not.

    A brand indeed. That cross on the forehead reveals the Catholic to the non-believer, the similar-believer and to other Catholics. There really isn’t any other day of the year that this occurs. 

    • #8
  9. Titus Techera Contributor
    Titus Techera
    @TitusTechera

    Well said!

    You remind me of something–I think Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer ends with Ash Wednesday!

    • #9
  10. Scott Wilmot Member
    Scott Wilmot
    @ScottWilmot

    Funny, I don’t see it so much as a somber day but as a joyful one. To me, the physical touch of the priest and the grit of the ashes, although a reminder of death, is also a reminder that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Paul says it well in Romans 8:

    What then shall we say to this? If God is for us, who is against us?He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, will he not also give us all things with him?Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies;who is to condemn? Is it Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised from the dead, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us?Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?As it is written,

    “For thy sake we are being killed all the day long;
    we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

    No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

    We are reminded that in all of these trials, the victory is ours. It starts with the reminder of the ashes.

    • #10
  11. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Virtuous Heathen (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller:

    This is the season for mourning; a season of reflection and preparation; a season of hunger, scarcity, and difficult sacrifices.

    This draws Christians back to worship and communion?

    In short: Yes–but not for the reasons you outline.

    Before I go long: I am not Catholic and in that light, please do not take this as an intent to debate theology.

    It may be for some Catholics–given their theology–that they feel a need to be prepared once again. As you say, “made comfortable.” However.

    Church membership is dwindling nationwide–catholic and protestant–among all age groups. Yet, some research and polling suggests that more more traditional/orthodox church bodies are more likely to retain millennial congregants.

    For the sake of argument, let’s suppose those millennials are not too different from anyone else (a stretch, please bear with me).

    If churchgoers are craving the traditional religious experience–however that is defined–Ash Wednesday certainly has a more appeal than the average Sunday service/mass or even the various days of obligation which may not even fall regularly in the same weekday.

    In short–and to borrow secular lingo: Ash Wednesday has a recognizable brand. August 15th does not.

    You are missing something in your statement – humility and repentance. Ok on the research and polling, but quite frankly, the Church is the last stand between good and evil – while some may think these are gray terms, they are not.  There is a powerful element that is pounding on the Church – the Catholic Church as we speak.  Evil progresses like everything else, and the very souls of humanity are at stake. Ash Wednesday pushes people (willingly and sometimes unwillingly) into the Mercy Seat (the Desert for 40 days), to wrestle and emerge renewed and restored.

    • #11
  12. Virtuous Heathen Inactive
    Virtuous Heathen
    @heathen

    Front Seat Cat (View Comment):

    Virtuous Heathen (View Comment):

    Aaron Miller:

    This is the season for mourning; a season of reflection and preparation; a season of hunger, scarcity, and difficult sacrifices.

    This draws Christians back to worship and communion?

    In short: Yes–but not for the reasons you outline.

    You are missing something in your statement – humility and repentance. Ok on the research and polling, but quite frankly, the Church is the last stand between good and evil – while some may think these are gray terms, they are not. There is a powerful element that is pounding on the Church – the Catholic Church as we speak. Evil progresses like everything else, and the very souls of humanity are at stake. Ash Wednesday pushes people (willingly and sometimes unwillingly) into the Mercy Seat (the Desert for 40 days), to wrestle and emerge renewed and restored.

    I was merely attempting to answer the question as to why this particular day attracted more than the average day–not to comment on its purpose or value of the brand in question. Only that on this day, people know what they are getting and believe in its value. The same can be said for Christmas and Easter–but gone are the days where the majority knows what to expect from a typical Sunday or any other day of obligation.

    • #12
  13. TBA Coolidge
    TBA
    @RobtGilsdorf

    I think believers have a hunger for something tangible. This is why Communion is a big deal, why Ash Wednesday is a big deal. 

    Proscriptions against graven imagery and warnings of the dangers of idolatry are there because this ‘hunger’ can get out of control. Nevertheless, manifested God is always going to be more compelling than invoked God or ideated God. 

    • #13
  14. CB Toder aka Mama Toad Member
    CB Toder aka Mama Toad
    @CBToderakaMamaToad

    Virtuous Heathen (View Comment):
    In short–and to borrow secular lingo: Ash Wednesday has a recognizable brand. August 15th does not. 

    August 15 is a the great feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is a Holy Day of Obligation.

    So actually, August 15 has a brand too.

    Ash Wednesday is always a different day each year (Easter is calculated in the Catholic church as always being the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring Equinox, and Ash Wednesday is 46 days before that).

     

    (Sorry for coming so late into the discussion but I just found this thread!)

    • #14

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