Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Mass365: Ash Wednesday

And so it begins - Ash Wednesday, the first day of our Lenten season of fasting and penance. On this day (and Good Friday also) Roman Catholics 14 through 60 are obliged under pain of sin to fast and abstain from meat.
Ash Wednesday is also the day each year when Catholics receive the mark of Jesus Christ - a cross - on their foreheads, causing their non-Catholic friends and colleagues to do double-takes all day long. The usual greeting begins, "Did you know you've got something on your ....?" (You'd think you'd get used to it, but after a short dozen years as a Catholic, I haven't.)
Contrary to common opinion, although the fast and abstinence are mandatory, Mass attendance is not this day, i.e., it's not a holy day of obligation like Easter and Christmas. That doesn't stop millions upon millions who do not normally attend Mass during the week from showing up this day.
That was certainly the case today at Holy Family Cathedral, where Mass was celebrated by our wonderful orthodox bishop His Excellency Edward Slattery. The cathedral was overflowing -- in fact, there was literally no room to add anyone else. I've only seen it that full one other time -- when the monks at Clear Creek were there for Solemn Vespers a couple of years ago.
In addition to the beautiful liturgy -- full of the highest, and most solemn hymns of the Church -- Bishop Slattery surprised me by performing the Mass "ad orientem" (literally "to the East") -- the traditional way of facing the altar instead of the congregation. I'd noticed when I came in that the free-standing altar where the New Mass is normally celebrated, was covered with special linens and set up with the traditional six beeswax candles -- a throwback to the pre-Vatican II rubrics of the Mass -- and wondered whether this meant the Mass would be celebrated ad orientem. ("Can it be?" I thought to myself.) Yes, it was. And it was very moving and dignified.
I'm sure that not everyone there understood what this meant, but I did and I thank God for the opportunity to see this solemn celebration conducted with such dignity and grace as it should be. (Deo gratias.) I'm beginning to sound like a broken record, but once more I am forced by charity to acknowledge what a wonderful bishop we have (and thanks also to Msgr. Patrick Brankin - who was no doubt instrumental in arranging this.) We are fortunate beyond measure here in the Diocese of Tulsa.

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