Ash Wednesday Bonus Post!
This Wednesday I checked out my first truly Catholic service of the year. I attended the Church of the Resurrection in New Albany with my best friends – Jenny and Aaron. If you have already read my How to Read this Blog post, then you know Jenny partially inspired my journey and this blog, and her husband Aaron has been very supportive as well. For the past 6 months or so, Jenny and Aaron have been working hard to help start a church in Gahanna called Three Creeks that is a Fellowship of Grace Brethren church, a plant of the Movement church in Hilliard. I haven’t been to either church yet, but I know from Jenny and Aaron they are very open, welcoming, and intentional in their worship. I intend to visit both during my journey this year. Although Aaron has been investing his time in helping to plant Three Creeks, he is a Catholic (born and raised) and I promised him my first Catholic mass would be with him.
He took the responsibility of taking me to church very seriously, and we chose to attend Ash Wednesday because his Sundays are typically filled with Three Creeks business. He also described Ash Wednesday as a “fan favorite.” Aaron sent me a 2200 word email to prepare me for the mass, going into exactly what I should expect and when, why it was important to Catholics, and what the pieces of the service represent. I was so touched by the email. The fact that Aaron took the time to explain everything to me so I wouldn’t feel out of place or uncomfortable during the service was incredibly heartwarming (and informative). Someone putting forth effort to bring you into and include you in their service is inspiring. It’s also a casual brag that I have the best friends in the world.
The service itself was nice. The priest sounded a little like Sourbill from Wreck it Ralph, very monotone and so unenthused about Lent. But I think this can attributed to the somberness of the Lenten season. The church is beautiful and modern in appearance, and the ritualism of Catholic Mass is undeniably attractive. I appreciate the way the services are intended to be the same across the world, and the routine is so rote that everyone there seemed to be aware of the procedure without having to read the program.
I wanted to use this post to quickly explain the purpose of Ash Wednesday, and of the ashes themselves, since I had no clue about any of it before doing a bit of research for this blog and reading Aaron’s awesome mini novel of an email.
So, the giving of ashes is actually relatively “new” to the Christian faith, not becoming popular until the 11th century, and it marks the beginning of Lent. The ashes are made from the burned palms from the previous palm Sunday (Sunday before Easter) mixed with oil to make a paste and applied to the forehead in a cross formation. Ashes represent sacrifice, rooted biblically in Daniel chapter 9 which links fasting with ashes as well as Genesis 3:19, “for dust you are and to dust you shall return.”
The ash is used to represent mourning for Jesus’ crucifixion, and marks Christians as having repented for their sins. I also read that the ashes represent the impermanence of material things.
The ash ritual was cool to me, even though I got a little bit of ash in my eye, which seems like it has to be a common problem. I’ve been wrestling a lot lately with the idea of the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, which is a very important part of this season and, also, the basis of all Christian faith. I know if I can’t believe in Jesus as the sacrificial lamb/son of God, I won’t be able to call myself a Christian. It’s a little terrifying to confront that thought in a Christian church, with my amazing Christian friends beside me. I feel like a huge disappointment. I feel slightly ashamed, and not because my friends are shaming me in any way, but because I feel like my whole journey will lack purpose and this blog will lack credibility. But, confronting these questions is the part of my journey, and the more I learn and the more questions I ask myself and others, the more comfortable I will feel with my ultimate ideology. Plus I think questioning the biggest, most foundational pieces of faith is normal, right? Right? (Please say yes, I'm struggling here.)
All that to say, the rest of the service had me feeling all kinds of anxiety and doubt as I wrestle with my complex Jesus feels, but the ash ceremony meant a lot to me and was the part I felt most at peace during. Human life is temporary, and the ash ceremony is a super heavy reminder of that. But it’s also beautiful and grants some much-needed perspective for when we get wrapped up in the trivial things.