I hesitate to comment since I was attending Mass this morning at a Church that I don’t usually go to. The Ash Wednesday Mass was available in the morning, whereas at my Parish it wasn’t going to be celebrated until dinnertime. I like to start off Lent without missing a whole day, so we chose another Parish to attend for the beginning of Lent Mass.
So we attended the 8:15 AM Mass at a Parish that is also the local Catholic School. When we attend Mass with the school it is usually at the High School campus, where the liturgy is celebrated in a more mature fashion – so this Mass was geared toward the elementary students who took up the first half of the pews. It truly is a wonderful sight to take in, especially as parents joined their children in the rows with the classes. I really like that, and since Father preaches to the children, I can usually understand the nuances of the homily and the simplicity of the message. In other words, I can come to Jesus like a child without being a child – and I like that! Especially at this important moment in the liturgical calendar.
We had the usual challenges getting to Mass because The Boyz weren’t used to being out and about that early in the morning. Since we home school, they are more relaxed in the morning and not getting into their Sunday best. The schedule was a bit discombobulated, and the youngest forgot to go to the bathroom before we left – not really…he just has this narcissism that any eight year-old has in that he has a need to control and center activities around him – and the middle boy neglected to get dressed beyond his sweat pants and t-shirt. And of course the youngest had eaten breakfast probably just beyond the requisite hour of fasting before receiving the Eucharist.
All this and more piled into the car to get to Mass. We got into Church two minutes before the procession.
This is where things got a bit un-Catholic.
As Catholics, we are defined in large part by our community. The Body of Christ is the Community. The Church is the Community. And, as happens at Easter and Christmas, there are often Catholics in attendance who only go to Mass on Ash Wednesday. In fact, Ash Wednesday is the day with the highest attendance at Mass of any day throughout the year! Some Churches in our local deanery have half a dozen or more Masses just to accommodate everyone. Which is awesome!
The nice thing about Ash Wednesday is you don’t have to be Catholic to receive ashes. The ashes are a reminder of where we came from and where we are returning, and ad human beings we all share that singular corporeal origin and fate. Even the staunchest atheist agrees that we are all matter – stardust, as Isaac Asimov put it.
This makes us a part of the atheists’ celestial community, now that I think of it.
The point being that we are all in this Community, and all are welcome at Ash Wednesday Mass (or any other Mass for that matter) regardless of your faith tradition or spiritual situation.
So – to stop bird walking – here’s the situation when we walk halfway up the side aisle, looking for space in a pew for the five of us: The Church is crowded.
We get up to the last pew that is reserved for the students of the school…about ten rows back from the sanctuary, and see every row behind those are dotted with people. Obviously mostly people who are attending before they need to get to work, and each individual or couple – and some moms and dads with infants and young children – appropriately distanced from each other with the usual personal space observed.
We are standing there in the aisle trying to figure out where to sit. There is no room for five people between the personal spaces of people obviously not related to each other – if they were they would be sitting closer together. But there is plenty of room if people would sit closer to each other.
So my wife and I are having an obvious discussion on how to convince people that, as a family, we would like to be sitting together – it’s not like we came into a movie late and there are no more seats available – and everyone in the pews know that there is plenty of room if they would just squish together a bit. They could even leave two feet of space between them and there would be any of five different places our family could fit.
But nobody moves. They just stare ahead or look at us as if we are interlopers. One guy looked at us like he had never been to the Church before and thought he might have been sitting in “our pew” (I know that look because I have made it myself) but he stayed firm in the middle of the pew, six feet of space on either side of him.
I finally looked at the entire group of twenty people in five pews and said, loudly, “We are a community, folks, we can make some room,” just as Mama made a command decision and started us filing into the available space in the Fourth Grade pew.
I heard chuckles to my comments and, frankly, hope there was shame in there as well.
I mean, really? It is Ash Wednesday in a Catholic Church.
Is there no room? Are all not welcome? After the procession we scooted down and made room for a mom and her baby and two young ladies who were with her who had just arrived as Father began the Mass.
The gargantuan spaces behind us remained…
It was an inauspicious beginning to Lent for many people.
I wonder why they were there.