Ash Wednesday 2009 w/Poll – UPDATED

Graphic Shamelessly Cribbed from Concord Pastor

UPDATE: Readings from Mass for Ash Wednesday are podcasted, here.

In my never-ending quest to restore a useful awareness over recent, rather bland, instruction, I repost a bit of this:

A few years ago a deacon pal and I were discussing ashes. He was helping to distribute them for the first time in his parish and was trying to decide if he would use the old smudge-formula, “Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return,” or if he would forego that for the “new, improved, feel-good” formula, “Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel.”

I could only tell him that I didn’t need to be treated like a delicate flower with some benign advice about believing the Gospel. “If we’re Christians and we’re there receiving ashes, isn’t it pretty much a given that we’re already believing the Gospel? No, please, say it the old way – it’s a pithy reminder that we should ask ourselves – if we die tomorrow – have we been living our lives to right purpose? We hear nothing but happy platitudes about our specialness from the rest of the world (and too many lecterns) every single day. For this one day, let us face some cold, hard truth.”

Milwaukee Archbishop Timothy Dolan, newly-named, Archbishop of New York City says it better:

“Maybe the greatest threat to the church is not heresy, not dissent, not secularism, not even moral relativism, but this sanitized, feel-good, boutique, therapeutic spirituality that makes no demands, calls for no sacrifice, asks for no conversion, entails no battle against sin, but only soothes and affirms.” – (source)

Then there are these words from slain Archbishop Oscar Romero, which challenge all of us, from far-right to far-left, and are well worth pondering for the whole 40 days:

“A church that doesn’t provoke any crisis, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a Word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, what kind of gospel is that? Preachers who avoid every thorny matter so as not to be harassed do not light up the world!”

That’s something to really think about, not simply from a social perspective but – much more importantly – from a personal perspective. Consider where the gospel is unsettling for you, and why that might be. Is it because Christ challenges you out of your comfort zones and certainties?

I did not watch the Oscar telecast last week, but I happened to flip channels in time to see the evangelical atheist Bill Maher using his stage time both to grouse about his documentary not being nominated and to proselytize for his belief system and against the “silly gods” he so dislikes. I couldn’t help thinking, “if a Christian entertainer took every opportunity before a mic to proclaim his beliefs, people might justifiably get tired of it. When atheists like Maher can’t resist the opportunity to push his beliefs, why isn’t his incessant proselytizing considered equally as tiresome, rude, inappropriate, insensitive and offensive? Why is it not even seen as proselytizing, when it clearly is? And if he is so sure of what he does not believe, why does it haunt him so? He doth protest too much.”

One answer to that, of course, is that whenever one encounters something that reveals the worst of oneself to oneself, one tries to push that thing as far away as one can. We all do that; it’s human nature. But Dinesh D’Souza gets even closer to it:

It’s not as if the atheist objects to the resurrection or the parting of the sea; rather, it is Christian morality to which atheists object, particularly Christian moral prohibitions in the area of sex. The atheist looks at all of Christianity’s “thou shalt nots”—homosexuality is bad; divorce is bad; adultery is bad; premarital sex is bad—and then looks at his own life and says, “If these things are really bad, then I’m a bad guy. But I’m not a bad guy; I’m a great guy. I must thus reinterpret or (preferably) abolish all of these accusatory teachings that are putting me in a bad light.”

Yes, disciplining oneself is the hardest thing, isn’t it?

I haven’t decided yet if it is easier to believe – as the atheists charge – or if it is easier not to believe. I used to think it was easier not to believe, and that may be so. But when I see someone like Maher, who seems so hunted and haunted that he cannot stop talking about it, then I think it might be harder not to believe.

And that’s something to think about at Lent, too. What do you believe? Why do you believe it? What part does choice play in belief; do you choose to believe?

The Gift is freely given. One can freely walk away from it. If one cannot do that, cannot walk away without making sure he drags away as many others as he can, well, then that’s not freedom.

Deacon Greg’s MUST READ homily: We just can’t live without ashes!

There IS something about Ashes that makes so many people, even folks of nominal faith, and lately even non-Catholic Christians scurry to get them.

Note: If you’re in a tug-of-war – feeling drawn to faith, but struggling – confession doesn’t hurt.

If you need a focus, here is one. Praying for the president is always a good practice.

And if you hate to say the rosary alone, you can say it with me.

Check back for continuous “updates” as I find Ash Wednesday stuff to link to:
Deacon Greg has some really excellent and unexpected links in his roundup – check it out.
Concord Pastor: Excellent stuff on fasting and I really like his pretty graphics. I’d like to blogroll him, if blogroller ever gets back up!
The Summit Dominican Nuns: They’re talking about a Patristic Reading Plan that might interest you.
Lenten Reading Suggestions
Fr. Dwight Longenecker Learning the faith
Zoe Romanowsky: Likes Ash Wednesday!
Happy Catholic: A Lenten prayer for Catholics in the blogosphere
Paragraph Farmer: Pitches in with some Peter Kreeft
Conversion Diary: Why Life is better when you’re open to Life
Kansas Catholic: church sign dialogue

How about a few polls, just for fun?

Who is getting ashes
Not me!
Me! I’m Catholic
Me! I’m Episcopal
Me! I’m Anglican
Me! Lutheran
Me! I’m Methodist
Me! I’m Presbyterian
Me! I’m Baptist
Me! I’m not churched at all!
Me! Other church free polls
I get ashes because
I want to declare myself as Christ’s
My family makes me get them
It’s the only time I feel connected to church
I like the tribal aspect of it
I’m reconnecting to traditions
It’s counter-cultural
It helps keep me mindful
I don’t really know free polls
What are you doing for Lent?
Giving up Chocolate
Giving up Bread
Giving up Dessert
Giving up “buying”
De-cluttering house and soul
Giving up Making Excuses
Trying to pray more
Listening better
Cultivating Patience free polls

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Kensington

    Getting ashes always troubles me, because it feels like I’m making a spectacle of myself in that way that Jesus spoke against. Perhaps that just means I misunderstand it, but I’d love to read some thoughtful alternative take on it.

  • joewxman

    Shortly after Maher’s rant, a winner for Slumdog Millionaire (one of tech awards) uttered three short words at the end of his speech.


    Undid the Maher stupidity in short order.

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  • rightwingprof

    Ash Wednesday is a Western ritual. Our Great Lent begins on Clean Monday, the day after Forgiveness Sunday (here’s a good link:, on which we attend Forgiveness Vespers, where we beg forgiveness of one another. Nor, I fear, is giving things up for Lent something we do, other than meat, dairy, olive oil, fish (with fins), and alcohol until Pascha.

    [I did an Orthodox Fast for Lent one year. Very good. - admin]

  • tim maguire

    Why in the world would someone, anyone, consider replacing “Remember you are dust and into dust you shall return,” with “Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel”?!?

    What does the second one have to do with ashes? It could be said at any time. And if you are going to say that, then why bother with the ashes? In fact, if we start saying that then in 20 years we won’t bother with the ashes anymore because only the old will remember why they’re there.

    Even the flower children knew that all we are is dust in the wind and they weren’t afraid to say it.

  • Hubbard


    It is a spectacle of sorts, but it’s not like loudly praying on a street corner. It’s reminding ourselves of the truth. And sometimes this Mark of Cain affects the people around us in a good way. A few Ash Wednesdays ago, I bumped into a man just after services. He started, said that he hadn’t been to church in years, and suddenly said, “I miss it. Do you think they’ll take me if I show up late?” I said that I was certain the minister would be happy to have him, and he came back.

    Chesterton once wrote that people need reminding more than anything else, and an ashen forehead reminds us. It’s preaching the gospel without words.

  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    “this sanitized, feel-good, boutique, therapeutic spirituality that makes no demands, calls for no sacrifice, asks for no conversion, entails no battle against sin, but only soothes and affirms”

    I thought about asking this question the other day, what with such divergent groups referring to Archbishop Dolan as being “pastoral.”

    Just exactly what does “pastoral” mean??? I’ve usually heard the word coming from the more “progressive” folks in the Church, e.g. the expressed hope in 2005 that we would get a “pastoral” pope.

    I’ve never really understood what the word means. Or, rather, I’ve understood the word to be a mealy-mouthed weasel word, like “conscience” or “social justice,” which has been co-opted and twisted to mean all sorts of things. In short, I’ve always gotten the feeling that, in practice, “pastoral” means a sanitized, feel-good, boutique, therapeutic spirituality that makes no demands, calls for no sacrifice, asks for no conversion, entails no battle against sin, but only soothes and affirms. A kind of laughing, back-slapping, kind uncle/grandpa, Bing Crosby priest.

    So, I am glad that Archbishop Dolan is not a fan of that approach.


    Kensington –

    What Hubbard said.

    [Speaking only for myself, when I refer to someone as "pastoral" I mean, "thoughtful, human and willing to listen to what is being said in order to respond in a way that may be fully understood." It is one thing to give an "this is how it's done," answer, and quite another to listen to someone speak, really hear their question, and then be able to answer it in a way that THAT PERSON may understand it. Kind of like a priest or minister being able to use a baseball analogy, to explain a matter of faith. When I say "pastoral" I mean, "authentically human, down to earth and approachable." Others may mean something else. - admin]

  • Gayle Miller

    I’ve also decided to “give up” about 20 pounds off my all too solid derriere!

  • ultraguy

    “if a Christian entertainer took every opportunity before a mic to proclaim his beliefs, people might justifiably get tired of it.”

    If all those who casually identified themselves as Christian took every opportunity available to them to live (and speak) like the gospel were true and central, the results would be… amazing.

    Some people would get tired of it, sure (they always do) but, I suspect, probably far fewer than we imagine.

  • Kensington

    Thanks, Hubbard. Your perspective makes a great deal of sense.


    As for Bill Maher and the hypothetical Christian entertainer, I think that what they would do would likely be the polar opposite of each other. Bill Maher complains about what the others are doing, but the Christian entertainer would likely proclaim positively about what Christ is doing in his life.

    The bitter complainer is always going to be more likely to irritate than the positive advocate, except perhaps to the most sour of souls.

  • KIA

    Anchoress praying the rosary in podcast is HUGE. I hope many join in, never underestimating how badly we,our families, our country, and the world needs the “spiritual protection.”

    Little know fact: It’s “naturally impossible” to survive a nuclear attack at ground zero however 8 Jesuit priests, dedicated to Fatima and the rosary, did just that; the 8 survivors of Hiroshima

    Here’s a quote from Father Schiffer, one of the long surviving priests:
    The eight
    Jesuits say “we believe that we survived because we were living the
    message of Fatima. We lived and prayed the rosary daily in that home.”
    Fr. Shiffer feels that he received a protective shield from the Blessed
    Mother which protected him from all radiation and ill-effects.
    Fr. Schiffer attributes this to devotion to the Blessed Mother, and his
    daily Fatima Rosary; “in that house the Holy Rosary was recited
    together every day.”

    Anchoress you will be WELL BLESSED for this, as will all who join in. Those Children of Fatima had good reason to find you! Thank you profondly!

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  • Bender B. Rodriguez

    when I refer to someone as “pastoral” I mean, “thoughtful, human and willing to listen to what is being said in order to respond in a way that may be fully understood.”

    Well, that would describe Pope Benedict, but then we heard this from Hans Kung, “”The election of Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as pope is an enormous disappointment for all those who hoped for a reformist and pastoral pope.”

    That also describes the progressives’ claim that they desire “dialogue,” which really is nothing more than an excuse to talk and talk and talk for so long that it effectively ends up being a rejection of Magisterial teachings.

    Sigh. The concept of “pastoral” is, I suspect, another of those things that I will have to continue to grapple with in this age where language is continually corrupted. Then again, that is the preferred way to deny truth and spread error — if you can corrupt language and relativize the meaning of words, then truth itself becomes relativized.

    Winston Smith only thought that it might be 1984; he fully admitted that he could not really be sure what year it was. Indeed, for all he knew, the story might actually have taken place 25 years later than that.

  • DaveW

    Don’t think you’re alone in being dismayed by the corruption of language Bender B. It has long been a big concern of mine.

    I gave up coffee for Lent. This is my first Lent, I’m a catechumen, we have the Rite of Sending and Election this weekend. Pretty excited, yes, I am.

    Though I comment rarely, Anchoress has been a source of a good portion of the knowledge of Catholicism that I’ve developed over the last year and a half.

    I took ashes because we do it in our parish and were invited to attend for that at RCIA. I’ll do my first station of the cross this Friday evening for the same reason. There’s much to learn about a very rich faith here and I need all the tools and help I can get.

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  • Ellen

    My priest always uses the formula, Remember Man that you are dust and unto dust you shall return. The Ash Wednesday Masses were full to overflowing – there is something about them that draws people. I think that we know in our heart of hearts that we need to slow down, to do penance and to pray. We want to, and Lent offers us a time to do so.

  • jtd7

    I got out of work too late yesterday to hear Mass at my parish, but I found the next parish down the road had an even later Mass. I am so grateful that I was compelled to delay dinner and attend that Mass, not only to receive ashes but also to hear a tremendous sermon. Speaking of Lenten sacrifices, the pastor preached that we might exercise discipline over our bodies and demonstrate great self-control, without drawing any closer to God. “Ours is not a religion of self-control; ours is a religion of self-surrender.” Self-control puts the emphasis on our own accomplishment. Self-surrender puts the emphasis on our Lord and His grace. What a profound shift in attitude. I will be thinking about that for the next forty days.

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  • copithorne

    I’ve had a personal tradition for over twenty years of reading T.S. Eliot’s poem, Ash Wednesday, on the day every year.

    I’m always in tears by the end.

    [Edited to admit link - admin]

  • Gina

    A blessed Lent to everyone. I am Orthodox so I took the “not me” option, however the spirit is much the same.