Ash Wednesday: Reflections from a small town girl

I never give up anything for Lent. I was explaining to my husband last night that I hadn’t even heard of giving up something for Lent until I was an adult. Well, he said, it was probably because you didn’t know any Catholics when you were growing up. I thought about it, and yes, that was true. I grew up in a small town. By small, I mean no traffic lights, no public library, and no McDonald’s. We had a Lutheran church and a Lutheran school, and if you weren’t Lutheran, you probably didn’t go to church at all. People who live in the suburbs where I live now have a difficult time comprehending the smallness of a town with only 800 people on a good day. But I also had no concept of how Catholics observe Lent. Moving to the suburbs with a high concentration of Catholics changed all that. Signs in local restaurants advertised egg and pepper sandwiches, and I wondered why. Well, if you can’t have red meat, that sandwich would make a good lunch. And not only Catholics gave up things for Lent. When he was single, Ed gave up fast food for Lent, although now he doesn’t because he rarely eats fast food so it wouldn’t be much of a sacrifice.

My Catholic acquaintances didn’t quite know what to make of me, either. The girl who sat next to me in homeroom was shocked when she heard my father was a priest! Um, that wasn’t quite right, as I explained that Protestant ministers are allowed to marry and have children. Just a couple of years ago, I mentioned to a friend that All Saints’ Day was difficult for me because I remembered my mom on that day. She was surprised that I, as a Protestant, even knew what All Saints’ Day was.

Today, Ash Wednesday, is an important day for both Catholics and Lutherans; for all Christians, in fact. It signals the beginning of Lent; a time of repentance leading up to Easter.

When I was young, unlike Catholic churches, we didn’t have the imposition of ashes on our foreheads for Ash Wednesday. An article I found about Lutheran worship confirms the loss of this ancient tradition:

“Lutherans at the time of the Reformation did not choose to retain the Imposition of Ashes. The reasons for this are not entirely clear since there is very little written for or against this practice by Luther and his colleagues. Thus, although Lutherans began Lent with Ash Wednesday, they did not retain the use of ashes as part of their Ash Wednesday order of service.”

Many Lutheran churches, including mine, have brought the ashes back into our worship service. It’s a great tradition, one that reminds us where we come from (dust) and where we deserve to go (ashes). The blackness of the ashes remind us of the darkness in our hearts; sins known and unknown. Doesn’t that understanding and knowledge of Lent increase the joys of Easter and the Resurrection?

On my heart imprint Your image, Blessed Jesus, King of Grace.




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6 Replies to “Ash Wednesday: Reflections from a small town girl”

  1. The first time I was in a Catholic church I wondered what those cupboards were. They looked a bit like inbuilt beds. Turned out they were the confession booths!

    I can’t remember them using ash in our church either. But All Souls/Saints was celebrated/commemorated with an extra service.
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  2. So many people stared at me yesterday with a few asking me “What happened?” While I grew up in a large suburb of Chicago (Elmhurst) and we all had ash on our foreheads, I didn’t run into anyone yesterday that had them! I thought that was just nuts. One person who, after me telling them “what happened”, immediately asked what I was giving up. I said I have a few things but usually cement my sacrifices by the end of the day.

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