Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spiritual Not Religious: All the Ashes, Without that Pesky Commitment to Church

Oh, you know it had to come to this.   And this.

Check out the reasons why people are liking drive-through ashes, or ashes given out on the street.  No time commitment, no need to be embarrassed about going into a church... Oh my.  Although I personally abhor the Catholic practice of distribution of ashes without Mass, which is only slightly better. At least with that, however, people darken the door of a church.

God IS certainly available on the go - but once a year, wouldn't it be nice to make one's self  available to God?  Wouldn't it be helpful to hear the Word of God, challenging us to spend 40 days reflecting on inner change? Better yet, to hear that AND receive the Eucharist, which is the nourishment which will strengthen us to keep our 40-day commitment to change.  Only then are we fully ready to claim in the ashes our sinfulness and our identity as belonging to Christ, marked with his Cross.

Ashes are NOT simply a blessing, as these Protestant churches imply.   Rather, they are a visible sign of our commitment . Might be nice to have some (commitment, that is). Just sayin' - this is what happens when a symbol gets a divorce from its accompanying ritual. It loses much of its original meaning and becomes something vaguely about "encountering Christ", devoid of its original connection to a concept of repentance. Postmodern reinvention, I guess. Sigh.


  1. One of the priests in my area did "drive-thru" ashes last year but was reprimanded by our Bishop. He did not do it this year, thankfully.

  2. My first reaction is to agree with you completely. Drive by ashes just seems wrong. But then I tried to see it from another perspective. Ash Wednesday is not a day of obligation for the faithful. Many people work long hours and getting to Church on a weekday just isn't possible. The sign of commitment for someone to drive down to the Church, perhaps during a 15 minute coffee break jut to get a mark of repentance put on their foreheads is actually, in that case, quite high. I presume also that the mark will not be covered up but will be worn throughout the day at work, most likely in a secular workplace where defending one's faith is never an easy job also makes the act commendable.
    I still agree that it is problematic, I like how you ended your post with a sigh.

  3. Yes, it is problematic. Most of all the issue is that we are not willing or are unable to clear time in our lives for something this important. I agree there are some people for whom what you say is true. For many others, I suspect, it is a cultural habit rather than a spiritual commitment. Ash Wednesday: got the ashes - check it off the to-do list, then go back to whatever else they were doing.

    I have seen several articles on the 'net that say bringing the ashes out into the world to distribute is a good thing because it is evangelizing. I still think that divorces them from their connection to penitence and commitment, and makes them merely an empty symbol. How can you invite people to Christ through a symbol of sin? Not sure. All I can say is this is another example of remaking religious traditions to fit the needs of individuals, instead of the individuals to conform to Christ and his Church.

  4. Too funny! What better way to show repentance and receive the grace you need for your Lenten journey than to worship God in Mass? They should have a kiosk at the mall where you can get sackcloth too. One stop shop for all your repentance needs.