Wednesday, February 06, 2008

"We Rise Again from Ashes..."

It's hard to believe that it's already the first day of the 2008 Lenten season, but it is. Today was a full day at work so I was really looking forward to closing the day with Mass at my parish.

In the same way that our parish is deliberate about its weekly celebration of Sunday liturgy, it is also intentional about walking the Lenten journey together. Today's liturgy was no different: reverant and engaging and motivating.

In one way, however, today's Liturgy was different because I had the grace-filled opportunity to assist with the distribution of ashes. For many years now, our parish has had lay leaders and ministers assist in this ritual after the ashes are blessed by the priest. Anytime I have the opportunity to have a more participatory role in a liturgy or sacred experience I try to be focused about it and appreciative of the opportunity. I've been a music minister on many occasions over the years, a lector, a Eucharistic Minister, a greeter, a presenter of the offertory gifts, a reader, a planner, to name a few. But this was the very first time I assisted with the distribution of ashes, and it was an soul-opening experience.

Each time I placed my thumb into the small bowl of blessed ashes and embarked upon making the sign of the cross on the forehead of the person before me, I tried to convey a true sense of invitation as I stated the words our parish uses: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

As I performed this ritual over 100 times, sometimes upon faces I recognized, sometimes upon faces I did not recognize, I was struck many times by the range of facial expressions and postures of the individuals who come forth to receive ashes on Ash Wednesday and I came to realize the profoundly personal and intimate God and person experience that coming forth to receive ashes is.
Much has been said, often critically, sometimes sadly, about the people who only come to Church on Ash Wednesday, who only come for ashes and rarely or never come for Eucharist. In our parish we are deliberate in expressing how glad we are you are here with us today, hoping that the spirit of genuine welcome helps to overcome whatever has kept a person away. However, as I distributed ashes, I came to realize (thankfully) how the act of coming for ashes - whether for the frequent Church-goer or the "estranged" -- isn't about the ashes: coming forward for ashes is about bowing before God to receive God's invitation to "turn away from sin and be faithful for the Gospel," hoping that God's grace will provide the power and strength needed to do that. The signing of the cross with ashes on the forehead means that, at minimum, the person is open to the invitation and the possibility that God's grace will take root and make its home within him/her. For that we should be grateful and, yes, even rejoice in God's goodness.

As the distribution of ashes to the congregation concluded, the choir was still singing so we waited to be able to include them in the marking of ashes ritual as well. Once we had concluded, I returned my small dish of ashes to the stand next to the cauldron in which the blessed palms were burnt and after bowing before the altar returned to my seat. As the Mass continued, I contemplated what I had experienced, marked by the backdrop of the song "We rise again from ashes, from the good we've failed to do...", and thought of the invitation that God has extended to me: "Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel."

As the Liturgy drew to a close, I realized that, for me, the challenge of the invitation is found in the "and": the Lenten journey is about turning away from sin (our human weaknesses) AND being faithful to the Gospel. I pray that I may be receptive to God's grace that awaits me.

Let's continue to pray for one another as we walk this journey with Jesus!


At 11:58 PM , Blogger Easter A. said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 12:04 AM , Blogger Easter A. said...


Hello! I got your blogsite from Sr. Lorraine's blog. This is the first time I am visiting your wonderful blog. I am a Pauline Cooperator. I was truly amazed for as I was reading this post, it was as if I was reading about myself. My husband and I and our children are very active in our parish. I saw myself in the roles you mentioned, though yours are more extensive than mine. I love to meditate as well, etc.

I invite you to visit my blog. I am looking forward to visiting yours again. Thank you, Lisa!

p.s. I love the way you write! :-)

At 8:11 PM , Blogger Lisa said...

Thanks for visiting, Easter, and for sharing such affirming feedback. I hope you'll visit again.

I hope I didn't sound like I was boasting about the various liturgical roles I have held. I haven't done them all at once. It's just a listing of the various ones I've done over the years. Thinking about them and then contemplating the experience of distributing ashes this year was very profound for me.

At 8:16 PM , Blogger Easter A. said...

Dear Lisa,

I was blessed by your visit and words of love and encouragement.

The thought that you were boasting never occured to me. Funny, I do that too sometimes, because I freely share with friends, even on my blog, what I love to do. I sometimes can't help but look back and wonder if I was boasting. But here you are, sharing with us your experiences and your ponderings. Lisa, I LOVE IT! I thank you for not hiding your warm heart. It is a beautiful one! I will include your blog to my sidebar. I will be visiting you again, that's for sure. :-)

BTW tonite we will be with the Daughters and St. Paul for our next session. It will also be our last visit with Sr. Timothy as she will be going back to Boston. Nevertheless, it will be a joyful gathering of prayer, learning, and fellowship.

At 4:24 PM , Blogger Odile said...

Hi, just looking up the lyrics for "Ashes", came upon your beautiful post. I have the joy and privilege of putting together our small community's song sheet eachmonth. (In March there will be one for the first three Sundays, and one for Palm Sunday through Good Friday.) "Ashes" is a really catchy tune, which is what I love to use for a recessional, so I'm thinking of using it for a Lenten Sunday recessional. I do have a problem with the words "to create ourselves anew" - we can do no such thing! God creates us, his Spirit renews the face of the earth, but we are far from that kind of fruitfulness. So I've changed that line in our song sheet to "to let you make us new". Pass the word.
Love your post, there's no boast in it. "If you must boast, boast of the Lord," as says St. Paul (or something like that). I feel blessed that each month I get to spend hours checking the readings, searching through hymnals for just the right song with a good easy tune and meaningful words in the right theme, googling for images to illustrate our song sheet, and carefully formatting it. How did I get to be so lucky?
Best to you, from far away.


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