Ash Wednesday is a fairly busy day in many places. People cram into churches and receive ashes in the form of a cross (or a big blob, depending on who is distributing them) on their foreheads. Many churches offer small midday services with readings from Scripture and a distribution of ashes for people who cannot attend Mass that day. Also, as controversial they may be, some places offer “drive-thru” ashes so that people don’t even have to leave their cars to receive ashes!
I find it admirable that so many people begin Lent by receiving this outward sign of our sinfulness and need for God’s mercy. Yet, I think it is important that we place our enthusiasm in the right places. I have heard a variety of stories in which Catholics focus more on getting ashes than receiving the Eucharist, and these stories make me a little sad. Then, I think about the times in my own life when the main motivation to get myself to Mass on Ash Wednesday was that afterwards, I would be able to compare foreheads with my friends—and I realize that I do not appreciate the gift of the Eucharist.
Many of us get enthusiastic to receive ashes each year as Lent begins, but we pay no attention to the fact that we receive the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ each week—or several times a week. Should we be proud of this fact?
Personally, I am ashamed of myself. I don’t think there’s anything inherently wrong with taking Ash Wednesday selfies or comparing foreheads with others, but if I’m placing more of my focus on this external marking than on our Eucharistic Lord, I think there is a problem. I cannot count how many times that I have focused more on ashes or some other external aspect of Mass than the gift of the Eucharist!
Ash Wednesday is long gone, and we won’t receive ashes again for many months (that’ll be a nice Valentine’s Day present in 2018!). Yet, while we won’t receive trendy crosses on our foreheads for quite some time, we have the opportunity to receive Jesus Christ. Will we open ourselves up to the graces that He wants to pour out on us? Will we let ourselves be changed as we eat His flesh and drink His blood? The Catechism of the Catholic Church notes that:
“Communion with the Body and Blood of Christ increases the communicant’s union with the Lord, forgives his venial sins, and preserves him from grave sins. Since receiving this sacrament strengthens the bonds of charity between the communicant and Christ, it also reinforces the unity of the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ.” (#1416)
Isn’t this amazing?
Receiving ashes on our foreheads is cool, but consuming Jesus Christ in the Eucharist is infinitely better.