Prayers for all of you. It’s hard to believe, but in just a week, Lent will be upon us. I’m very thankful that this year, it looks like we’ll actually be to celebrate the Lenten and Easter Season in Church!
Of course, as always, there will be some slight modifications this year. This past Tuesday we celebrated the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, also known as Candlemas. With that feast day, we bless candles. Next to our votive lights in the Church are boxes of blessed candles. Please feel free to take a set home to light at home. We simply ask for a $2 donation per box to cover the cost of the candles. Right after with Candlemas on February 2nd, we celebrate the feast of St. Blaise on February 3rd. Sadly this year, we can’t do individual blessings of throats. However, we will have a communal blessing of throats at the end of all masses this weekend.
Similarly, because of contact restrictions, the distribution of ashes for Ash Wednesday will be a little bit different this year than in years past. Typically, on Ash Wednesday, we come forward to have the priest or deacon make a cross on our foreheads so that we walk around all day bearing that sign on our foreheads. I know when I was little, I remember thinking it was strange to hear the Gospel reading that said, “When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, but anoint your head and wash your face” only to see us walk around all day on the day we’re fasting with crosses on our forehead.
Now, of course, there’s two related symbols going on at the same time. On one hand, when we wear that cross on our forehead, we’re witnessing to our faith, we’re identifying ourselves as a Christian. Ashes aren’t meant to be a symbol of honor, but a symbol of our sinfulness. In the days long before Christ, the Jewish people would express public repentance by wearing sack-cloth and ashes. It was meant to be a symbol to all the world publicly expressing sorrow for what they had done. In many ways, it’s hard to think of a comparable symbol today because we live in a world that really struggles with the concept of forgiveness and conversion. When someone has done something wrong, the idea of doing public penance, making real amends and those amends being meaningful was very real to the ancient world. To us, it’s hard. I see it in our prison ministry all the time with the expression “once a con, always a con.” It’s certainly true that there’s many who go through life unchanged, but there are also many of us, who really do grow up and change, who can look back at the person they were and say “I’m not that person anymore.” Our world
struggles to give real meaning and traditions to those permanent changes. That’s what those ashes worn were meant to symbolize. Far from something to brag about, they were meant to be more of a public sign of penance that I’ve done wrong and wish to change. It was all about finding forgiveness for public sins.
Yet, that isn’t the only thing going on for Ash Wednesday. It’s also a time of self-denial and spiritual training. Like a soldier heading to boot camp, it’s a time when spiritually we fast, do penance, and work to train our abilities of self-restraint. There’s a great line in the prayers for Mass on Ash Wednesday that talk about fighting evil with the weapons of self-restraint. The idea is that we often fall into temptation and when we fast, when we abstain from things, and when we commit ourselves to regular practice, it’s exercise to train our souls. With that in mind, Jesus calls us to avoid pride by making sure that we’re doing these things so that we can train our souls and not because pride leads us to want to win the praise of others.
This year, for Ash Wednesday, because of COVID, ashes won’t be distributed the way we usually do. Instead, they’ll be distributed in the “European Way” by being sprinkled over our heads. On any normal year everywhere in the world except for the United States, on Ash Wednesday, the ashes are sprinkled over the person’s head. It’s done that way to keep in line with the Gospel reading that encourages us not to brag about the fact that we’re fasting, but instead to realize that this is a symbol that we are beginning this season of training and exercising our souls. So as we come to Ash Wednesday this year, I’d encourage you to realize that symbol, that unlike some of our other COVID-related changes, this one actually brings us closer into the way the rest of the world celebrates Ash Wednesday.
In Parish News, I have a couple new things to share. Our next Parish Council Meeting will be this Wednesday at 6:30pm in the Church Hall. If you’d like to come, you’re welcome, but please be patient as we’re still ironing out our normal procedures and roles.
Our Diocese also just finalized a subscription to a new communications product that you’ll be hearing about very soon. It’s called “FlockNotes”.
It’s a communications tool that will allow you to very easily sign up for Text Message or Email notices about things going on in the parish. We’ll be using it for Religious Education and for reminders about various meetings and cancellations. If you like, you’ll also be able to sign up for a number of optional messages. For example, you can choose to be notified when the bulletin or this column is posted, those involved could receive copies of our Altar Server, Lector, Eucharistic Minister schedules, or even regular little Catholic reflection notes. There’s a capability for easy “sign-up” tools that can make it easier to ask the appropriate folks if we have an Altar Server / Lector / EM cancellation, or probably a lot of other things that we haven’t thought about yet.
Right now, we’re still working our way through getting the system set-up, but I should have sign-up information for anyone interested in the next couple of weeks.
May God Bless you now and always
- Fr Matt
Father Matthew Baum is the Parish Administrator at Prince of Peace Church in Northern Cambria, PA.