Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Ash Wednesday, then & now

For those who asked, or were wondering, Sunday's dinner went well. Although my parents have this habit of arriving early, when we're still cooking. I love them, but please, when I say come at 5, that means come at 5 or shortly thereafter. Not 4:30! We can't visit much when we're still cooking and busy with last minute things. And yes, we're totally informal and they are welcome to hang out in the kitchen (or wherever) while we're wrapping things up, but I don't like that!

Anyway, back to the topic at hand. As some of you may know, I was raised Roman Catholic. I went through all the sacraments, was pretty involved with my parish (even served as Youth Representative to the Parish Council), went to a Roman college, where I thought I'd meet a nice Roman boy, get married, have cute Roman babies and raise them in a Roman parish. And then everyone lived happily ever after. The end. I know, I'm oversimplifying waaaayyy too much, but aren't stories fun? :) Especially when, post-college, I didn't really go to church all that much. I guess you could say I was culturally Catholic at that point?

How things turn out! My "boy" was Byzantine Catholic, not Roman (well, he was Roman at the time, but didn't know it...this could get messy, more later). When I met him (and not IN college--the scandal!), I had never heard of Byzantine Catholics! When he described it to me, I thought he meant Orthodox, which I had heard of, and even had Orthodox friends in college, including one girl who's father was a priest. He kept saying that he wasn't Orthodox, that he was under the Pope too, but not Roman. I remember thinking, "Okay, crazy boy, whatever." He didn't go to church that much either, but all was cool. Later, I was fully educated and saw how one could be under the Pope but different. I might have understood, but me trying to explain it to my family and my friends? FORGET IT.

Fast forward a bit, we were married in the Roman church but for the most part, practice as Byzantines. Someday I will post more about that. I do feel at home with the Byzantines, and most of the time I don't miss the Roman church. Sure, I miss the familiar hymns (especially at Christmas) and I don't know Slavonic (an old church language; it's the Byzantine's equivalent of Latin, but not all Byz liturgies are said in Slavonic, thankfully).

When do I miss it? Ash Wednesday.

I know, it's weird. See, Byzantines don't get ashes. They don't celebrate Ash Wednesday. There's no leaving work early or coming in to the office late with ashes on your forehead. We shouldn't have to "show off" our faith/religion, but to me, there was something communal about walking around with your smudge on your forehead. Seeing other people with theirs and knowing "we're in this together." A college professor called sacraments an outward sign of an inward reality, and I feel like that could apply to the ashes. Maybe the "community" feeling comes from having attended the college I did, where faith was welcomed and incorporated into almost every moment of every day. (I say almost because certain things went on during the weekends that couldn't be included here ;-) but no worries, my college had a late night Sunday Mass which was often standing room only.) I sound like I was on my way to becoming a nun, but rest assured, I wasn't and still am not a saint. I swear. I drink alcohol. I drive too fast. I say stupid/mean/wrong things.

Now that I don't participate in Ash Wednesday, I feel weird when I see someone with ashes. Like I need to tell them that I, too, am Catholic. Perhaps I should wear a sign that says "hey I'm Catholic!" or "I believe, even if I don't have ashes!" Would anyone really care? Probably not, and I'd get some strange looks or comments from my signs. Maybe someone would ask why I don't have ashes, but have that sign on, and that would start a conversation that I don't feel 100% ready to have with a stranger who probably knows as little about Eastern Rite Catholics as I did when I met Turtle.

Does it matter who gets ashes or not? No. Does that really make one person or group of people better, more faithful, whatever, than another? No. Does it make me less Catholic or less believing? Absolutely not. This is coming from someone who went to ash distribution services religiously (ha!) every year. From someone who was scared of the "dirt" when she was little and couldn't wait to rush home after church to scrub the ashes from her forehead. But this someone still feels like she's forgetting to do something every Ash Wednesday. My forehead looks too clean...


  1. great post! I can relate- my family became (Roman-rite) catholic when I was 12 and I became Byz Cath by virtue of marriage 13 years ago...I will link to this post for my post tomorrow :)

  2. I loved this post! I couldn't get myself up for the 6:30 am service today, so I'll be going to the 7:00 pm one tonight when I get home from work. I do feel like I'm missing that "Catholic badge," the solidarity with people on the street who have ashes. It's also strange, after being at a Catholic university where practically everyone walked around with ashes on Ash Wednesday, to see no one at my work with ashes.

  3. I actually left early enough to go to Mass tonight. . . alas, I have been working insane hours and elected to go to sleep, as I feel like I'm getting sick.

    I love Ash Wednesday, and I love the song "Ashes". . . It's just such a beautiful depiction of what Lent is all about.

    Not sure if I ever blogged about this, but I remember one Ash Wednesday in college, I wore a dress and went to Mass early. I was feeling like I looked pretty cute. . . and people were staring at me. I was thinking. . . "Daaang, I must look good," as I walked to my first class. Then I realized. . . they are staring at me because of my flipping ashes!

    I am such a dork.

  4. But those in the Byzantine church have Clean Monday, which is a different, yet also beautiful way to commemorate the start of Lent. Have you been to the service that includes 40 prostrations (forehead to floor) as you read beautiful hymns together? You may not have ash on your head afterwards, but you will be sitting down gingerly for a full week!!

    Or the preceding day, Forgiveness Sunday, where everyone goes up to everyone else in the church (two big circles of people going around the nave) and asking for forgiveness. "As God forgives, so I also forgive."

    Or the Byzantine Lenten Prayer of St. Ephraim - "Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust of power, and idle talk. (Prostration) Instead, grant me your servant the spirit of purity, humility, patience, and love. (Prostration) Yea, O Lord and King, grant that I might see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for you are blessed unto Ages of Ages. (Prostration).

    Lord have mercy upon me a sinner (repeat 12 times with a bow at each time)

    Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust of power, and idle talk. Instead, grant me your servant the spirit of purity, humility, patience, and love. Yea, O Lord and King, grant that I might see my own sins and not to judge my brother, for you are blessed unto Ages of Ages.(Prostration)"

    I also have Western roots and am in a Byzantine church (Orthodox, not Catholic), and I find that the more I learn about the Byzantine church, the less I miss the Western traditions.

    Well, except Christmas carols. I agree that the Greek and Slavonic tunes just aren't quite the same. I sing Western carols at Christmas time. But did you know that the Byzantine Church has Easter carols too?

  5. I found your blog via the Priest's Wife. I'm looking forward to reading more!


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