March 9th, 2011

sin happens


Burning dried palm fronds is not my favorite task, but it's become an Ash Wednesday ritual for me. The smell that clings to my clothes and hands afterwards reminds me of the lingering stench of sin.

Dust and ashes

Well, we did our standard Ash Wednesday service tonight. I've been doing substantially the same Ash Wednesday service for years; I just tinker with the hymns a bit. Basically, we do the whole, long-form communion service from the back of the old hymnal, which we inherited from the Book of Common Prayer. Cranmer, of course, was updating the medieval mass, so even Roman Catholics my age and older feel "at home" with the service.

Why do it now? Because it is serious and solemn and weighty, just right for Ash Wednesday. Why not do it every time? Because the eucharist embraces the whole of life, and therefore has many moods. We must rejoice in Christ's victory from time to time as well as mourn for our sins. Plus, in a church where we don't do communion every Sunday, printing the whole shebang of text for people to follow makes liturgy a test of one's reading skills.

Some day, I think we will go to communion every Sunday. I embrace that, but I think we need about four liturgies in the pews for people to get used to. We can pick or choose the rite of the day based upon the season and the thrust of the day's proclamation. I am not one of those who want to "do it different" every time. That way just leads to confusion. But neither am I one to do it the same way every time.

Anyway, everybody loves the old service. I get more compliments on Ash Wednesday than on almost any other service in the year (including Christmas Eve).