My blog entry last week was written the day before Ash Wednesday, known traditionally as Shrove Tuesday. The name is derived from an old English word shrive which meant the act of Absolution in the Sacrament of Penance in Confession. It was the custom in Pre-Reformation Catholic England for many to go to Confession on the day before Ash Wednesday to be shriven of their sins, i.e., absolved.
I wrote some reflections on Ash Wednesday and our new policy of not only distributing Ashes at several Liturgies but throughout the day until about 8:30 PM. I ended with James Joyce’s quip about the Catholic Church: Here comes everybody!
While at no time were we overwhelmed the priests and deacons found a steady stream of people seeking Ashes especially in the early and late afternoon as well as the 7 PM Mass and afterward. As I imposed Ashes on men, women, and children I often heard a whispered Thank you, Father. There was one rather arthritic lady who I saw starting to make her slow way up the main aisle on her walker. I got up from my chair at the altar rail and was able to meet her not too far up the aisle. She was delighted and tearful at the gesture, sparing her what would have been a laborious trek up to the rail and then back out again. For me, it was a gesture of simple politeness. I had no line waiting for Ashes and it seemed so natural to not make her walk all the way up. It was an easy thing for me, yet a very moving one for her. As for the day long availability, apart from the congregations at the Masses and the Liturgy of the Word, it made for a more unhurried and kindly atmosphere in which one might impose Ashes on individuals in a less frenetic atmosphere.
Ash Wednesday is about simple things I guess: economically worthless palm ash, a simple sentence, a cross of black smudged on a forehead. Yet perhaps, a lot of good.
March 14. Monday in the first week of Lent.