Sunday Night Journal — February 19, 2012

Standing Room Only

That was the situation in my parish church for this evening's Ash Wednesday Mass. There had been one at 8:30, presumably less well attended. This was very close to Christmas and Easter levels. I was a few minutes late, and when I was about a block from the church I realized I was in a traffic jam. It was another ten minutes before I could park the car (a block and a half away) and get inside, arriving just in time for the Psalm. The pews were mostly full--the only empty seats being way in the middle of a row, which one doesn't like to push one's way to--and there wasn't even much space to stand against a wall. I went to this Mass for Ash Wednesday last year, and I don't remember it being this full. Surely it's a sign of good things happening.

(Alas, I had to hear "Ashes." I had forgotten about it until after communion, when I realized the choir had not sung it. But they had saved it for last.)


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The choir at my Mass sang traditional Lenten hymns and was pretty good. Unfortunately, when the organist played instrumentals, he chose things like, "Jesus Walked That Lonesome Valley." By golly, I'm not walkin' that valley by myself. If He doesn't go with me, I'm not going. Anyway, we didn't have "Ashes," just ashes.

The deacon did say that I was dust and returning to dust. I was so happy. Nobody has told me that for years.


I don't think the lay person who marked me said anything. Or maybe my mind was just wandering. I would like to hear it, too. It's a pretty weird approach to Christianity that would try to avoid the stuff about death.

Our music was ok except for that one thing.

Oy. I've tried to understand y'all's point of view on this Ashes thing. I think I get it, mostly. Much of what you do here is an aid to my spiritual life and I thank you for it, but going to mass parsing the words to each hymn sung has definitely not been helpful to me. I've no doubt that you are correct, but still...

Was it St. Theresa de Lisieux (sp?) whose devotional artistic tastes tended toward the velevet-elvis-painting end of the spectrum?

It's kidding around between friends, Dave.


Then, on the other hand, songs are important. Why do you think that nations have anthems and national songs that draw them together. And music is the closest thing to spirit. The words that you sing are carried right into your soul even when you aren't thinking about them and inform your thinking. There are songs that we sing in Mass that contain heretical concepts. It's pretty dangerous in a congregation that is poorly catechized to sing, "Precious Body, precious Blood, here IN bread and wine." They will think that surely that is what the Church teaches about the Eucharist.

And as for ASHES, it's all about what WE do, which is not what's going on at all. It's about how we "create ourselves anew." Well, that's doomed to failure for sure.


What I mean is that that is what the song is about.


Exactly. That one line about creating ourselves anew is the most egregious, but much of the rest has a pop-psych narcissism feel about it. There's hardly any actual repentance there--it's more like "we didn't fully live up to our potential."

I admit I dislike it aesthetically in a more fundamental way: it makes me think of a bad Broadway song, musically and lyrically. But that alone wouldn't bother me much if it weren't for the actual content.

Yes, that's true. I was going to say they, but was in a hurry.


Yes, I know. I already knew those arguments. They are unassailable. I still have no doubt that you are correct.

My point was that I don't like being a curmudgeon even when I am correct.

"going to mass parsing the words to each hymn sung has definitely not been helpful to me."

I certainly wouldn't argue with your principle there. And actually I try to resist that, and mostly succeed. There are just a few hymns that have something so egregiously wrong that I can't overlook it--it's like having the cantor in the Psalm stop at the end of every...whatever the pieces are called...and blow his nose messily. Really, I'm not exaggerating the effect it has on me. "Gather Us In" is another, with its snide remark about believing in heaven. I don't have to open my mouth about it, of course, and believe it or not I keep the harshest of my reaction to myself.

Parsing was something I did when I was learning what you already knew. I suppose I am better off now for knowing it myself too, but I'm not certain of that.

Now, like you, I must try to resist it too and I mostly succeed. I know you aren't exaggerating and I know you keep the harshest to yourself. I appreciate your restraint.

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