I can’t believe I am saying this, but I miss the old catholic traditions for celebrating lent…and I just realized why. This morning I dashed into the nearby church and did the quick in and out circuit to get my ashes. It’s a NYC tradition. Ash Wednesday is when all the lapsed catholics “come out of the closet” so to speak, and indulge their religious leanings, just in case….We are too busy to stay for mass, much less stand in line a long time to get the yearly ashes on our foreheads, so downtown churches make it as easy as possible. One has the priests standing ON THE SIDEWALK in front of the church, and people need only pause for a second to get their ashes on their foreheads…at another, bigger location, they have Mass celebrated in the upper church, while a line of priests stand ready in the lower chapel to distribute ashes…if you time it just right, you can make a straight circuit from the sidewalk, downstairs to the chapel, get your ashes, and be back out on the sidewalk again without even breaking stride.
My favorite was a church on Wall Street that had special accommodations for the stock brokers and traders. Just after communion, the priest walked to a small table on the side of the altar, piled with little white boxes, and announced ” Would all the people designated to bring ashes back to their offices please come forward?” Yep. I worked down there as a temp for several months, and people on the trading floors seldom leave their desks for anything: food, massages, dry cleaning, and all other needs (they don’t have chamber pots, but I’m sure catheters were considered at one point). Some secretaries were going to take the ashes to work and give them out.
Catholics aren’t required to do a lot of the things we used to when I was a kid, but I’d like to bring back a few. Skip giving something up for Lent. It’s just planning to fail, like your New Years Resolutions.Not for the sake of religious fervor, but as a break in routine, celebrating the change in seasons and to give myself something to look forward to. For the 6 weeks of Lent, I don’t eat meat on Fridays, follow the custom of fasting (1 full meal)and abstaining(no meat) on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and before going to the Easter Parade, I go to Mass on Easter. Churches used to cover all religious figures and pictures with purple cloth during lent, skip all the big music during mass, and only use a few candles on the altar. Then on Easter Sunday, you would walk into the church and everything was uncovered, the church was full of flowers and many candles, and the choirs were allowed to sing in their full glory. The changes from the last six weeks made your heart fill. Just as mulching your flowers during winter makes them bloom with more vigor in the Spring, I think some of the traditions of lent can do that for the soul, psyche, spirit, or whatever you choose to call it.
Just a thought…..