February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

Each year on Holy Thursday evening, the sober joy of Lent gives way to the joyful wonder of the Paschal Triduum. At the Mass of the Lord's Supper, we hear the new commandment of love and act it out literally in the ritual of the washing of feet. As we put the word we hear into practice, we celebrate the Lord who has given us the grace to live "according to the pattern of his holy Gospel."

Today, at the other end of Lent, it is not so. Today too we hear a command of Jesus:

"But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you." (Matthew 6: 17-18)

At today's Mass, after hearing the Gospel, we all line up to do not what Jesus commands, but the opposite. Unlike Holy Thursday, when we act out the command of Christ as literally as we can, today we do just what Jesus says not to do. He tells us to wash our faces, and then we all scramble to have someone put dirt on our heads. It is a kind of ritualization of our failure to live the Gospel, a common confession that we have not done what the Lord commands, a plain and public admission of our unfaithfulness.

May the humility of our mutual and public confession break our hearts open. May the open wounds of our compunction be a path for the grace of baptism to pour into us anew. By the time we arrive at Holy Thursday night, may we have been transformed anew by the God who makes willing and humble disciples even out of hypocrites.

9 comments:

Karinann said...

Thanks for this Brother Charles. I had this exact thought this morning- if God is telling us to wash our faces and keep secret our prayer and good works, why are we lining up to have dirt put on our foreheads? Thanks for answering the question.
Have a blessed Lent!

Warren said...

It is the opposite of what Jesus asks for, and yet Jesus is asking the opposite of what the prophets were told by God to tell the people.

In this I see God's dialogue with a fallen humanity. This people honors me with their lips. God has chosen to reveal (in Christ), not only the fullness of his deity, but also to reveal to us, the very natural way in which a person, deeply wounded by our sins would speak. I asked you to do this. And in watching how you responded to me, I say, no, do not do this, if that is how you do these things.

The liturgy of the hours office-of-readings, has that reading from Isaiah where it talks about the true fasting being to feed the hungry, to bring justice to the oppressed, and to seek restoration of the breach:

"You will rebuild the ancient ruins,
build up on the old foundations.
You will be called ‘Breach-mender’,
‘Restorer of ruined houses.’"

As a Franciscan, I cannot help but see that Francis is one of these Breach-menders. May we go and do likewise.

Warren

Brother Charles said...

"Rebuild my Church..."

Qualis Rex said...

I have thought about this for quite some time. I think we are NOT doing the opposite of what Jesus asks, because we haven't done it yet. Meaning, we receive the ashes on the first day of Lent, before we have really begun to fast or do severe penance. It's like all of us joining together saying, "Here we go again!" But the rest of the ride is up to us as individuals, and THIS is where we must do as Jesus commanded from here on out.

As I type this, I'm in an office of mostly Indians (Hindus, Jains and Mohammedans) who are giving me bizarre looks as they pass by. I just smile back, but it is definitely an exercise in humility.

ben in denver said...

I went to the E.F. this morning, and we lined up to do the opposite of what the Gospel said before we heard it.

That gives us a bit more plausibility when we make our excuses later ;)

But seriously, we had a lovely mass this morning. I was able to go to confession between receiving ashes and recieving communion, I've not ever had the opportunity for confession on Ash Wednesday before. It was wonderful--better than the ashes.

Rae said...

Thank you. I hope that you do not mind that I have linked to your post since I found it to be the most concise and insightful post on Ash Wednesday that I remember seeing.

Brother Charles said...

Thank you for your encouragement!

Elizabeth Mahlou said...

Yes, indeed, may it be so! (I enjoyed the post; it reached home.)

Victor S E Moubarak said...

Thank you.

God bless.