Thursday, March 2, 2017
WHY SUCH H-U-G-E CROWDS FOR ASH WEDNESDAY?
My new parish in Richmond Hill, of which Savannah is a suburb, also has a brand new year old church building. It can seat comfortably 1,200 and was built this large in anticipation of our city's explosion 💥 of future growth.
Thus even when the Church is half full, that is about 600 people! My old parish in Macon only sat about 550 and thus it looked packed compared to my new church which only looks half full with about 550 people.
Because of the size of the Church we only needed two Ash Wednesday Masses, one at 9 am and the other at 7 pm.
We had about 450 at 9 am but almost 1,200 at 7 pm!!! And children 👶 galore!
Even our local weekly newspaper sent a photographer to our early Mass for a story next week.
WHY IS THERE SUCH FASCINATION WITH ASH WEDNESDAY FROM CATHOLICS AND THE WORLD? I ASK, YOU ANSWER!
Posted by Fr. Allan J. McDonald at Thursday, March 02, 2017
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Ashes , they are one of the few things that Catholics do that is an outward sign to the world any more, fasting all through Lent, almost gone, meatless Fridays gone for the most part, processions, 40 hours devotions, nada. Plus maybe we all sense that we indeed are sinners
Just my 2 cents
Father, years ago I posed this question to an older priest who had been ordained for almost 50 years. He responded that he felt that on Good Friday and on Ash Wednesday, Catholics jam the Church because those who can't approach Communion (for whatever reason) can approach the altar to either venerate the Cross or to receive Ashes just as everyone else in the congregation. That always made sense to me.
E-man has it right. But what I would add is that this relic of the bad old days draws them, doesn't it! Reverence, contrition, acknowledging how we have erred and how much we want to be with Our Father again in His place. Wouldn't this be a great time to bring back the 'old' liturgy in some incremental way?
Our schola had concert of sacred music last year. Lots of people from progressive parishes came out of some curiosity and nostalga. I have been asked, unsolicited, when we will do it again. There is a longing and an emptiness to fill.
Deo, I think you may be onto something. The Sunday after St. Blase, we offered the blessing of throats for anyone who wanted it following all our Sunday Masses. I think everyone came for the blessing even though they were free to leave without it. I think the same principle is at play.
Father McDonald, when the pastor is faithful and orthodox, the people come! This is a tribute to your work.
I have also contemplated why Ash Wednesday Masses -- not a Holy Day of Obligation -- are full. I think it has to do with repenting and sin. Everyone knows we fall short of God's love and glory.
I believe that our Masses would be full again, if homilies noted the need for repenting of sin. The priest yesterday reminded us how sin (and its effect) linger. The young priest indicated that men who view porn can't even look at a woman without lust. It was pretty powerful and poignant. I wish I heard more of this type of homily.
I think it's part of a "cultural Catholic's" life. This is the time when they can "do" something Catholic that is novel and "fun," like going to a Fourth of July fireworks show, or going to Thanksgiving dinner. It's a "belonging" ritual - something that requires minimal commitment on their part but lets the feel as if they are reaffirming their belonging to the Church. For the most part it's a very superficial participation, but I guess that's okay. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make them drink.
I consider many of these people the people who Jesus says the seed falls on the rocky or thorny ground; "...this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful." Matt. 13, 20-22
I think of them like the large crowds that came to hear Jesus, but then went on their way because what He had to say really doesn't fit in with their choices in life.
I just want to add, lest someone think I am being critical and "unwelcoming" in my comments, that I am not condemning this sort of person who comes to services. Hopefully at least some of them will receive enough graces to actually turn to God and keep a good Lent. Who knows which ones of those who came are truly converting? But in my prior comments I am only being a realist...that those who actually reform their hearts are few compared to those that show interest at first.
I like Deo's answer, a lot. Might give it some thought. People bring children forward for a blessing ( from the PRIEST) who can't recieve communion. Why not invite adults to come forward and recieve blessing and not communion? Maybe a series of homilies on why we should NOT always recieve, then discuss how it can happen.
"because those who can't approach Communion"
EVERYONE goes to communion, absolutely everyone, if you stayed in your pew there would be questions like who did you kill, don't you know the penitential rite at the beginning of mass takes care of everything??
My theory is that it's one of those few things the poorly educated laity keep from the degrading Separate/parochial school system because elementary and high schools do Ash Wednesday Masses or services. So it's an ingrained "t"radiation that even the most liberal "c"atholics keep as part of nostalgia from youth.
Every mass begins with an acknowledgement of sin in the Penitential Rite, so that's not the reason people come for ashes.
Even here at my parish where, some would say, the pastor is anything but "faithful and orthodox," our masses were exceptionally full. Plus, there was a much larger number of non-school folks at the 8:30 a.m. school mass.
The vast majority (at least 99.9%) of those who came for ashes also come for communion, so I don't think it is those who "can't approach" who swell the crowds. The attendance for the Good Friday liturgy which includes the veneration of the cross are nowhere near the size of the Ash Wednesday crowds.
It has todo with Catholic identity. By receiving ashes and appearing to family, coworkers and the general public with a dark spot on the forehead (a cross if father made a careful mark) is a confessional gesture. At a time when many Catholics neglect their religion the black cross on the forehead is a powerful reminder of our human destiny, of the importance of authentic liturgy.
The law of prayer is the law of belief.
It is a non verbal gesture like genuflecting in-front of the tabernacle or the real presence on the altar after consecration, incensing, sprinkling with water, and other liturgical events that in the novus ordo have been we rarely experience even when allowed.The net result of the so called simplification is enforced pauperization of our liturgies that in the past communicated the Catholic faith to believers and nonbelievers witnessing them. These acts were so important because they wordlessly communicated emotions that built faith, unity, and solidarity.
Put simply...it's Catholic. It is Catholic. Give the people "Catholic"...and they will flock to church.
It goes back to the following article written by then-Archbishop Dolan:
External Markers of Our Faith
"It caused somewhat of a stir . . . A few months back, you might have heard, the bishops of England reintroduced the discipline of abstinence from meat on Fridays.
"Every Catholic mid-fifties and older can recall how abstinence from meat on all Fridays was a constant of our lives. In 1967, Pope Paul VI relaxed this discipline, decreeing it no longer obligatory, but voluntary, while highly encouraged, on Fridays (except during Lent, when it remained binding).
This modification–the pros and cons still being debated–almost became the symbol of “change” in the post-Vatican II Church.
Whether one agrees with that decision or not, all must admit that penance and mortification–essentials of Christian discipleship, according to Jesus Himself–have sadly diminished as a trait of Catholic life. Such was hardly the intent of Pope Paul VI, as is clear from his 1967 teaching, but, it is a somber fact.
Another reason that usually surfaces in any discussion of this issue is the value of what are called external markers enhancing our religious identity.
Scholars of religion–all religions, not just Catholic–tell us that an essential of a vibrant, sustained, attractive, meaningful life of faith in a given creed is external markers.
The essence of faith, of course, is the interior, the inside life of the soul. Jesus, for instance, always reminds us that it’s what’s inside that counts.
However, genuine interior religion then gives rise to external traits, especially acts of charity and virtue.
Among these exterior characteristics are these markers that the scholars talk about.
For some religions, it might be dress; others are noted for feastdays, seasons, calendars, music, ritual, customs, special devotions, and binding moral obligations.
Islam, for example, is renowned for Ramadan, the holy season now upon them; dress; required prayer three times daily; and obligatory pilgrimage.
Orthodox Jews are obvious, for instance, for their skull caps, for the seriousness of the Sabbath, and for feastdays.
What about us Catholics? For God’s sake, I trust we are recognized for our faith, worship, charity, and lives of virtue.
But, what are the external markers that make us stand out?
Lord knows, there used to be tons of them: Friday abstinence from meat was one of them, but we recall so many others: seriousness about Mass on Sundays and Holy Days of Obligation; fasting on the Ember Days; saints names for children; confession at least annually; loyal membership in the local parish; fasting for three hours before Holy Communion, just to name a few.
But, almost all of these external markers are now gone.
Besides the black smudge on our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, is there any way we Catholics “stand out” as distinctive?
Debate it you may. But, the scholars tell us that, without such identifiable characteristics, any religion risks becoming listless, bland, and unattractive. Even the sociologist Father Andrew Greeley, hardly some nostalgic conservative, concluded that the dropping of Friday abstinence was a loss to Catholic identity.
And that’s another reason many welcomed the initiative of the bishops of England as a step in the right direction: restoring a sense of belonging, an exterior sign of membership, to a Church at times adrift.
Is it fair and timely to ask if we “threw out the baby with the bathwater” when we got rid of so many distinctive, identifying marks of Catholic life five decades ago?
"...whoever is holy cannot dissent from the Pope."
— Pope Saint Pius X, 1912 A.D..
By the way, an ordained cleric receives the ashes on his (tonsured) head, whereas the laity receive them on their foreheads. Not a lot of people know that.
Well, I guess in the spirit of ecumenism, our local paper here in Atlanta showed an Episcopal "priestess", vested in cassock, surplice and stole, distributing ashes at the world's busiest airport. "Ashes to go" I guess they call it. I guess Lent isn't really observed among fundamentalists, but hey, at least mainline Protestants observe the season and Ash Wednesday. Our church was full at the evening worship even with dark skies and an impending storm---how appropriate for the start of Lent!
Fr. K., what do you think it is? I understand what you say about the act of contrition in the first part of Mass, but don't you think that actually putting ashes on your head is more profound and meaningful to them, at least subjectively? I am not sure how people view the Act, either. Do they understand what it is and means? Do some strike their breasts, etc.? Why do you think so many come to that Mass. it isn't even an obligation and they pack the place! Wouldn't you want to know why and see if you can touch that same nerve every week?
I agree with Father K and Bee. The idea that people come because they are able to approach the altar is a real stretch. Would be nice if it was true but highly doubtful and could be confirmed through a survey of priests who probably would say the same that Father K observed. Our hope and prayer is that people who are irregular attendees are affected in a way that might cause them to attend more often. To increase the chances this happens priests should take the opportunity on these occasions to deliver homilies with messages specifically targeted at the uncommitted souls(a soft sell most likely). Maybe this should be a topic of discussion at diocesan meetings with strong guidance given by bishops on how to take advantage of opportunities to lead souls to Christ.
Is this being too practical?
rcg - First, "I" am not touching any nerves. If any priest think he is doing it, or if anyone (TJM) thinks it is the priest, I think, in this case, there is a serious misunderstanding of the power of symbols and of motivations. They show up regardless of who is distributing ashes.
I think the numbers can be explained on a much more fundamental level. Each of us bears the scars, the remnants, of sin. Even if, consciously, a person is Nov aware of his/her di , the conscience is operative.
People come for ashes because they want to be set free from sin. They recognize in ashes the outward signs of that desire.
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