Please allow me to blow your mind for a moment—Ash Wednesday is NOT a holy day of obligation. Yes, you read that correctly—there is NO obligation to receive ashes on your foreheads this Wednesday. The title “Ash Wednesday” (technically “feria quarta cinerum”) can be traced back to Pope Urban II around the year 1099. So yes, the day is steeped in history and worthy practice. However, it does not celebrate a dogma of the Church, which is the function of actual holy days of obligation. In fact, Ash Wednesday is less about ashes on your head and more about penance in your heart. The real obligation of Ash Wednesday is fasting and abstinence.
We are called to abstain from meat and fast by eating only one full meal (and two additional meals that, combined, don’t equal the full meal). The ashes on your forehead, should you choose to receive them, simply symbolize the penitential spirit that should be prevailing in your heart for the next 40(ish) days. “But Father, fasting and abstinence are just so hard to do!” Yea, I know. I struggle with it, too. But if Jesus can endure three hours nailed to a cross, after all the other junk He endured before those nails, well then... I think we can easily give up a meal or two. So, no you are not going to Hell if you fail to get that black smudge on your forehead. But you might be heading in that direction if you obstinately refuse to observe the obligation of fasting and abstinence. Have a great week!
Our readings this weekend have much wisdom to challenge our culture. “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you...No one does He command to act unjustly, to none does He give license to sin.” (Sir 15:15,20). God never tells us, “Go and party hard tonight, then, skip Mass in the morning.” Nor does He tell us, “Ignore whatever I teach through My Church, especially if it messes with your life plans.” As Fr. Mark wrote last month, sin is no laughing matter. One sin has the power to send us to eternal damnation. Do you ever consider that fact as you contemplate (or catch yourself in the act of) committing a sin? Have you ever considered how your personal sin, even just one of them, affects Jesus? Have you ever considered how much a single sin saddens your Savior, Jesus Christ?
Perhaps when we are tempted, we could keep in mind, “What about Jesus, my best friend?” Then remember that there is always hope for the sinner—we have the Sacrament of Reconciliation to draw us back in. But we must first recognize the effects of those sins and feel sorrowful for them. God’s desire is for no one to go to Hell. So, He is always waiting to extend His merciful love through His priest cleansing us of the filth of sin and making us once again shine with His beauty. To no one does God say, “Go ahead and commit that sin” (#ThingsJesusNeverSaid). But to everyone God says, “Come to me all who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest” (Mt 11:28).
When is the last time you thought about how you receive Holy Communion? It is so easy to fall into bad habits with something we do time after time. But receiving Holy Communion is probably one of the most important and beneficial actions we commit in our lives. It also has the possibility of being one of the riskiest things we do in our lives because of how vulnerable our Lord Jesus makes Himself and how trusting He is in our love and care for Him. Do you show enough care for your Savior Jesus Christ in the way you handle the Sacred Species (Sacred Host and/or Precious Blood)? If you receive on the hand, do you open your hands enough to make it easy for the minister to place the Sacred Host safely upon your hand?
Do you make sure you consume the entire Sacred Host, not dropping any crumbs or fragments that may fall off? Are you careful in handling the chalice, if you choose to receive from it? Parents—are you watching your children to ensure they receive reverently, too? One of the riskiest moves (and scariest for me to watch) is holding a toddler and still receiving on the hand. If one slips, what will happen to the other? In cases like this, receiving on the tongue is most certainly the safest and most reverent route. Now that receiving Holy Communion standing and on the hands is so prevalent, we must raise our awareness of how we receive and if we are doing it correctly and reverently.
On Monday, Februrary 3, we celebrate the optional memorial of St Blaise, bishop and martyr, and the blessing of the throats. St Blaise was the bishop of Sebaste in Armenia during the 4th century. He is believed to have been a physician before being ordained a priest and bishop. He is also believed to have cured a boy choking on a fishbone while praying over the boy with two crossed candles. The practice of invoking St Blaise in defense of illnesses of the throat dates back as far as the 8th century.
This year (and in the future) we will only offer the blessing of the throats on the memorial of St Blaise (this Monday) at the regular 8:00 am Mass. The Roman Ritual Book of Blessings clearly states that the blessing is given on February 3, and as a lowly priest, I am in no place to go against that or the Liturgical Calendar of the Roman Rite. While there are some concessions that would allow a feast being moved, St Blaise’s memorial does not fall into that category.
The same goes for Ash Wednesday, which is why there will no longer be a vigil Mass offered for that day at either St. Mary Basilica or Assumption BVM. The Second Vatican Council was clear that no priest should alter the Roman Missal or its calendar to his pleasing, and I must honor that to my best ability. St Blaise, bishop and martyr, pray for us!
Fr. Scott and Fr. Mark plan to trade months in offering
a weekly reflection or catechesis in our future bulletins.
Be sure to check out what they have to share!