Saturday, February 21, 2009

Ash Wednesday

I had an awkward moment last Sunday with the kids in our CCD class.  We were talking a little bit about the liturgical year and liturgical seasons, and I'd given them a handout with a circular graph that has all the seasons, with the various holidays and holy days of obligation marked.  

We talked about the upcoming Lenten season, and the day that begins the season-- Ash Wednesday.  I asked the kids whether Ash Wednesday is a holy day of obligation.  "Yes!" they all responded.

Of course, Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation.  It's something that a lot of Catholics don't realize, apparently, especially given how completely packed the church by my old office always was on that day.  And so I told the students the truth-- no, it's not a day where we are required to attend Mass, though of course it's very good for us to do so and to receive ashes.  And we are required to fast and abstain from meat on that day.  

I was worried, though, that I'd just created a potential problem.  I had immediate visions of the students' parents rounding them up for Mass next Wednesday, with the kids digging in their heels about going:  "But Mrs. Petron says we don't have to go to Mass on Ash Wednesday!"  

Then again, I'd rather they never attend Mass on Ash Wednesday and always attend on those days when they are required to do so:  every Sunday; the feast of Mary, Mother of God, the feast of the Ascension; the feast of the Assumption; All Saints' Day; and the feast of the Immaculate Conception; and Christmas.  I think that's the thing that was always amazing-- and disturbing-- about Ash Wednesday for me.  All these folks crowding the church to get ashes . . . where are they on Sundays?  Where are they on the required holy days?  Why this fervor to get a smudge on the forehead, and where is the fervor on other days?

In the end, I wasn't going to mislead the kids about what the Church does not require of them, just as I don't want to sugar-coat what she does require.  (You should have heard their response when I told them that they really shouldn't be doing their shopping on Sundays, or that, yes, stealing a pencil from a classmate is still stealing.)  But I can't help feeling a little weird about the exchange.  I hope they will all want to mark the beginning of Lent with ashes. 

What should I have told them?

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