Remember Thou Art Dust…

If Iwere a sociologist of contemporary religion, I would study mass attendance in Catholic parishes on Ash Wednesday.  It truly is an puzzling enigma:  I have been a Catholic for nearly seven years now, and no matter what parish I am at, the Ash Wednesday mass is always the most well attended mass of the entire year.  More than Christmas, more than Easter, and surely more than any of the Marian feasts in the church’s calendar:  these days are days of obligation, as are Sundays, whereas Ash Wednesday is not (though it is a day of obligatory fasting).   Much the same is true elsewhere from reports that I have heard; often enough, being a member of the choir in my parish, I will notice people coming up to receive ashes who are clearly not Catholic and have no idea what they are supposed to do when they get up there.  But the majority are of course Catholics who never bother to go to mass much in the first place, so much so that I have come to dub the afternoon mass at my parish on Ash Wednesday as the “Cafteria Mass,” where all the Cafeteria Catholic come once a year—for what, I’m not quite sure.  Do they come just to get ashes smeared on their forehead?  Is it because they somehow like this ritual and the accompanying injunction from the priest to “remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return”?  Do these postmodern people actually like being reminded of their mortality?  Or do they just sort of understand that they are sinful, and perhaps this solemn recognition of this at Lent attracts them because it embodies this in a communal way, where they do not have to own up to their sins as individuals?  It would surely explain why all those communal penance services held every year at this time are so well attended.  (Our parish did not this year, probably because a large number of our kids actually do go to confession on a regular basis.)   These may or may not be satisfactory answers; but my real question is this, if I could ask all these people myself:  why do you make such a point of attending this one solemn event every year, when the mass itself, the beliefs and teachings which it is meant to convey, has (at least to my perception) so little affect on the way you actually live your life?  I mean, I go to mass in order to be changed, to have it alter my perceptions bit by bit, to become one in the church’s public prayer, even while I am always myself.  What exactly do they get out of it is my point.  For now I guess I’ll just have to chalk it up  to the mystery of human belief, that it flickers even in the dullest of souls—like mine.

Have mercy on me O God, according to thy steadfast love!  (Ps. 51:3)

~ by Alypius on February 18, 2010.

One Response to “Remember Thou Art Dust…”

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