Pastor’s Desk – February 27, 2022

Dear Fellow Parishioners,
One of the distinctive features of Ash Wednesday is that it pops up, seemingly out of nowhere, on a different day each year; this year it is on March 2nd. It is the first day of Lent, which ends on Holy Thursday, and is followed by the Triduum – the three days between the Last Supper and the Resurrection of Our Lord on Easter. Another distinctive feature of Ash Wednesday and Lent has been, unlike the great seasons of Christmas and Easter, the absence of Holy Days of Obligation. This is consistent with the Ash Wednesday Gospel which appeals directly to the deepest conscience of the believer before our Heavenly Father, who sees in secret.
The traditional 40 days of Lent reflect the 40 days and nights Jesus fasted and prayed in the desert. The biblical number 40 is significant throughout salvation history, and generally represents a prolonged period of testing – the 40 days and nights of rain in the flood of Noah; the 40 days and nights Moses spent on Mount Sinai on two occasions to receive God’s law; the 40 years the Israelites wandered in the desert; the 40 days after the resurrection when Jesus appeared to his disciples and others, to name just a very few.
The date of Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after March 21 (the spring equinox). The original reason for this complex calculation was to associate the date of Easter with the date of the Jewish feast of Passover, which Christians believe was the occasion of Christ’s crucifixion. (See John 19:14). In time, the Church wished to eliminate dependence on the Hebrew calendar and began to associate the date of Easter directly to the spring equinox, which continues to today.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of a 16-week period whose major feasts and memorials are moveable – that is, determined by the date of Easter – up to the memorial (i.e., a lower-ranked feast) of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on June 25 this year. The significance of Ash Wednesday to the faithful is clear. Traditionally, it has the biggest turnout of any day that is not a Holy Day of Obligation, and far better attended than many that are. (Second place goes to Thanksgiving among Anglos, and Our Lady of Guadalupe among Latinos.) The blessed ashes themselves are not a sacrament, but a “sacramental,” a religious sign that can be given to anyone who wishes to receive.
The Ash Wednesday Mass is a model of noble simplicity. The usual Penitential Act at the beginning of Mass (“Lord have mercy”) is omitted. The blessing and reception of the ashes takes its place after the homily as the symbol par excellence of repentance and conversion. The Gloria is not sung or recited again until Easter when it is rung in accompanied by bells.
We will be offering a few different options again this year. There will be the daily 8:00 am Mass, and a 12:15 pm Mass, both in English with ashes after the homily. As a concession to the larger crowds, there will be two outdoor Liturgies of the Word followed by ashes: at 6:00 pm in English, and 7:00 pm in Spanish. As before, these outdoor liturgies will take place in the plaza outside the main entrance of the church. They are available to all, but especially to those who still have residual concerns about COVID-19 in more crowded indoor spaces.
I wish you all a blessed and fruitful beginning to this Lenten season.
Fr. Bill Donahue

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