Have you observed the phenomenally high attendance at Ash Wednesday Mass? It blows me away every single year. This morning, the pews were packed at the 8am Mass, in a parish that echoes with empty pews on Sundays. This afternoon at the noon Mass (when I was getting Bella from school), the same church parking lot was a lawless traffic jam, incapable of accommodating all the mass-goers.
It’s not only the sheer number of attendees that catches my eye; it’s the demographic. There is no other Mass all year with such a high turnout of young single adults, coming to Mass alone (not with their parents like perhaps at Christmas), wearing everything from business suits to grungy workout clothes to scrubs.
They come to get their ashes.
Some come ONLY to get their ashes. In the survival-of-the-fittest parking lot today during noon Mass, there was a large exodus of people halfway through Mass, leaving with ashes on their foreheads but before the Liturgy of the Eucharist had begun.
It’s beautiful, the way they come in droves on Ash Wednesday to be reminded that “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, or to “Turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel.”
It’s also beautiful, this desire by SO MANY MORE than usual to be visibly identifiable as a Catholic for one day, wearing the ashes on the forehead.
How do you explain this? What is so compelling about the message of Ash Wednesday? Especially when we live in a culture that is obsessed with ignoring the reality of sin and the inevitability of death.