Ash Wednesday



As I write this, its about 10:45 pm.  This is much later for me to be awake than is normal, but I’ve got a couple things on my mind.  This barricade is the first one.

My office at the chancery is right across the alley from the Cathedral of St. Mary in Cheyenne.  We have a parking lot behind the office that belongs to the Diocese of Cheyenne, but we lease it out to the state of Wyoming for parking for employees.  A couple times a year, most notably Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, we tell the state employees to find other parking accommodations because we need the parking for Mass during the day.  (Good Friday isn’t a Mass, but you get the idea.)

That’s when these barricades go up the night before.  I don’t believe I have ever seen them stuck in snowbanks before, but it is effective in making sure they are seen.  Tomorrow the lot will be filled several times, as Ash Wednesday Mass will be celebrated 5 times before the day is over, and it is likely that each Mass will be full.

That’s not the case for most Sundays.  Sundays have 5 Masses as well, but, while they are well-attended, they don’t get full like they do on Ash Wednesday.  Ash Wednesday is, for many parishes, the most well-attended Masses of the year, beating out Christmas and Easter.

Here is the speculation as to why that is.  From a cynical point of view, and Church workers can often be cynical, people come because they get something – a smudged cross on their foreheads.  I think there may be some validity to that, but not a lot.  I do not believe people would be that shallow.  They can get smudged in a lot of places, so they don’t have to go sit in a crowded church for an hour with a bunch of people they don’t know.

My own hypothesis on why Ash Wednesday is so well attended is because people WANT something, something that they can’t get in their everyday not-Church world.

They see the shallowness of their existence without God.  They see that people who are regular church-goers are happier, more fulfilled, and living longer lives.  They see that churchy-types have more substance, more gravitas, than those who always sleep in on Sundays.

The people who show up on Ash Wednesday, who may not have been to Mass in a long, long time, are hungry.  They are hungry for God, they are hungry for the substance that Faith puts in their lives.  They want what the churchies have, and getting Ashes on their foreheads, on a day of fasting and prayer, is one way to get started down that road.

On the other hand, I won’t be going to Mass tomorrow.  No ashes for me for the first time in many, many years.  I can’t remember the last time I missed Ash Wednesday Mass.  Instead, I’ll be in a surgical center in Colorado getting my shoulder fixed.  As far as surgeries go, it’s not a big deal.  15 minutes of instruments repairing some tears, then a few days of recovery.  For me, however, I am more worried than I ought to be.  In an irrational mindset, I am imagining everything going wrong that can, which is why I am awake tapping out these words on my computer.  I asked our bishop to anoint me tonight, which he did, then prayed over me for successful surgery and healing, and guidance for the medical team working on me tomorrow.

I don’t imagine I will post anything tomorrow, but you never know.  It might be funny as I write while under the influence of pain killers.  Still, in that addled state of mind, I might make more sense than I usually do.

Now that I’ve written all this, it occurred to me that the answer to sleep isn’t typing, it’s remembering that I can hand my worries over to God.  He can take care of me, and I can go to sleep.

I won’t have to worry about the crowds in the morning, and some parishioner taking my parking spot, because I won’t be there.  I will, however, be overjoyed that someone tomorrow will come back to the Lord because he/she got  a smeared cross on their forehead.


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