Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Ash Wednesday

We went to the 6:00 a.m. Mass this morning to avoid the stampede later in the day. (If you're not in a heavily Mexican area you may not realize that this day is the day for the once-a-year Catholics of that ethnic persuasion. For northern Europeans, it's still Christmas and Easter. But Mexicans have to get their ashes. The rest of the Masses will be S.R.O. and from 3p.m. to 8p.m. there will be an "ashes" ceremony every half hour. And since this is a once-a-year visit for so many, no one may receive who isn't present for the sermon beforehand, wherein it will be explained that ashes will not save one's soul, the necessity of a good confession, prayer, the sacraments, and a good Christian moral life.)

It is so sad to see the liturgy of blessing reduced to one anæmic collect in the Pauline rite. But we are at least fortunate to have prayerful and orthodox priests who employ no gimmicks or creative additions. And Fr John uses the traditional formula of imposition, thank God. In some places it seems to be reduced to an admonition to "be nice". But he reminds us that we are dust and unto dust we shall return.

But enough whinging. In honour of the day, here are the collects for blessing the ashes from the old Carmelite liturgy of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem:

Almighty everlasting God, Who hast mercy on all and hastest nothing that Thou has made, Who overlookest the sins of such as do penance and helpest such as are burdened with troubles; deign to + bless and to + hallow these ashes, which, as a sign of humility and holy religion, Thou hast ordained, after the example of the men of Niniveh, that we should bear upon our foreheads unto cleansing of our sins; and grant that by the invocation of Thy name, all they who shall bear them upon their heads as an appeal to Thy mercy may deserve to receive of Thee the pardon of their sins, and today, so begin this holy fast that on the day of resurrection they may be worthy to drawn nigh with purified hearts to the holy feast of Easter, and to receive never-ending glory in the life to come: through Christ our Lord. Amen.


Almighty, everlasting God, show mercy to those who repent, forgiveness to those who implore it. Deign to send Thy holy angel down from heaven to + bless and hallow + these ashes, so that they may be a wholesome remedy for all who in humility invoke Thy holy name and with guilty consciences accuse themselves, lamenting their crimes before Thy divine clemency, or humbly and earnestly beseeching Thy gracious loving kindness. Grant to us who call upon Thy holy name that all who are sprinkled with them, for the remission of their sins, may be safe and sound in body and soul: through Christ our Lord. Amen.

And during the distribution, these antiphons were sung:

Exaudi nos, Domine, quoniam benigna est misericordia tua: secundum multitudinem miserationum tuarum respice in nos, Domine. ~ Salvum me fac, Deus: quoniam intraverunt aquæ usque ad animam meam.. Gloria Patri.

Listen to us, Lord, of Thy gracious mercy, look down upon us in the abundance of Thy pity, Lord. ~ O God, save me; see how the waters close about me, threatening my very life.

Inter vestibulum et altare plorabunt sacerdotes ministri Domini, et dicent: Parce, Domine, parce populo tuo: et ne claudas ora canentium te, Domine.

Let the priests that wait upon the Lord make their lament between porch and altar, crying, Spare Thy people, Lord, spare them: do not silence, Lord, the lips that sing Thy praise.

Immutemur habitu, in cinere et cilicio: jejunemus et ploremus ante Dominum: quia multum misericors est dimittere peccata nostra Deus noster.

Changed be our vesture, ashes and sackcloth be all our wear: fasting and weeping let us come into the Lord’s presence, our God, so full of mercy and pardon for our sins.

And finally, after the imposition of ashes one more collect:

Lord, give us grace to inaugurate with holy fasting the defences of Christian warfare, so that we who are to fight against spiritual wickedness may be helped and strengthened by self-denial: through Christ our Lord. Amen.