Ash Wednesday Liturgy Guide: An Invitation to Inhale

Ash Wednesday Liturgy: Guide to Inhale

I am anxious as soon as I wake up. I will be late to work if I stop to get ashes this morning. I should have planned better but the Mardi Gras celebration the day before went late and dropping off kids to childcare before work leaves little time to get to an Ash Wednesday mass. I can see the bar-b-que pit on the back porch and I am tempted. Surely, I can NOT use ashes from there to mark my forehead. Well, there is only one person who knows if that is sacrilegious or not...I call Mema. My devoutly, Catholic grandmother picks up the phone and chuckles at my question. I love the playfulness she has with Jesus.

“I think Jesus cares about the fact that you want to mark this day with Him. Jesus cares that you recognize His suffering and you want to be with Him in it.”

There is so much truth in her answer that I immediately open the sliding glass door and pull off the grate on the grill. The feel of the ash is distinct, the granules bring me face to face with loss. The granules of ash are the remnants of something now burned up. Tears well up thinking of Christ facing His own journey toward death. I let the tears drip into my ash-filled palm. I smear my grief with the loss and scrape the ash mixture in the sign of the cross on my forehead. I whisper the words.

“I want to know You in Your suffering, my Lord.”

And as soon as the moment became holy, it turned to reality. The 6-minute DIY liturgy was interrupted by time. I packed my kids in the car and began the normal, Wednesday routine. Throughout the day, after forgetting there were ashes on my head, I would rub some accidentally on my fingers, or see my reflection in the rearview mirror and I would smile for a moment recalling the early morning bbq service I had with Jesus.

May we be wild in our desire to connect with our Savior.

 

Ash Wednesday - The First Day of Lent

Ash Wednesday is the first day marking the journey Christ took towards death. Lent is an invitation for Christians to journey alongside with repentance and mourning for sins. Although it is not directly named in the Bible, there are verses in Daniel that connect fasting to ashes and the act of Lenten practices. Lent is an Old English word meaning lengthen. This lengthening is observed in 40 days which mimics Christ’s withdrawal for 40 days in the desert where He was tempted. For the Christian attempting to replicate this act of sacrifice is normally done through fasting from both foods or festivities. Religious, traditional denominations take Lent more strictly requiring believers to observe the holiday, such as Ramadan or another religious fasting.

As a young Cajun, Catholic little girl from Southern Louisiana, I was very used to not eating meat on Fridays during Lent and replacing our meals with fish or crawfish, which was a favorite of mine. We fished a lot growing up, it was my favorite time for hunting, because we used poles and nets instead of guns. I loved the thrill of catching a fish or bringing up a crawfish net trap full of crawfish. Guns and bullets were somehow put away and repentance was expected. I remember how much I enjoyed the men in my life during Lent, I would fish with my daddy early on Sunday mornings. The conversations I had in fishing boats have always been so much better to me than the cold, silent hours in the duck blinds.

Lent required me to turn toward a sacrifice for reflection, it asked me to wait. In the waiting, I could wonder what it was like for Christ in the desert, in the forty days of preparing. What did He think about when He was hungry? I have not known hunger but in the discipline of fasting, I reflect on those in this world who know hunger and even starvation. Sacrifice leads us to the reflection of penance. Christ wants us to journey with Him so that we might know deeply in our hearts how to live into repentance and sacrifice. For me, being hungry demands me to evaluate how I live in a world where hunger is a reality. And Christ then asks me, are you willing to die for your sin? And I am led to ask myself, am I willing to live a life feeding the poor and hungry? What is Lent unless it moves us to action? What is the point of repenting if we aren’t moved to change, so much so, we go to our death living differently? Christ reflected on His love for God’s people, and He taught His body to long for a redeemed world. Forty days of fasting led Christ to desire redemption for this world so much that He could make it through the crucifixion to get to the resurrection.

What is Lent inviting you into?

What is it in your world that needs your crucifixion to know resurrection?

 

Ash Wednesday Marking Guide

⟴ Create a room in your home or church that will be available for individuals to stop by during the morning hours (7-9am) and the evening (5-7pm) of Ash Wednesday

⟴ Invite those who attended the Mardi Gras celebration the evening before to join. All are welcome.

⟴ Offer carafes of tea and coffee.

⟴ Create dimly lit areas with 3 stations, each station can include: candles, scraps of paper, writing utensils, cut out prayers, and poems at different stations.

⟴ Stations of Reflection, Repentance, and Resolve
That station of reflection should be observed in silence. It is a table with multiple strips of papers with different reflections of coming into the beginning of Lent and aligning with the preparation of the heart into suffering.
The station of repentance is about reflection that brings us to remorse and writing down what we confess and repent of. These papers are to be carried to the following station of resolve.
The station of resolve is a place to burn the papers we have written our sins on. (The ash from these papers may be cooled, collected, and used for our ashes on our heads. It is time to set our hearts toward Christ and what he is being asked to walk into. We align ourselves with Him and commit to coming alongside His journey to the cross.

⟴ At the door when each individual is leaving, one person is assigned to offer ashes, often it is tradition to burn the dried palm leaves used at the Palm Sunday service. These make for the ashes to put the sign of the cross on each head.

⟴ Recite your own chosen words or something in this vein of thought:

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust
Lord, we want to know You in Your suffering,
Prepare our hearts by the confession of (name)’s sins.
As, (name), wants to walk closer with You.
Amen.


Mardi Gras Marking Liturgy

 

Postponing Celebration: When Mardi Gras is Cancelled

In the culture I grew up in if it was tradition, you had to do it, you had to throw the party, facilitate the event...but this year, I have to break that tradition. I know that today is Mardi Gras, but in my heart, Ash Wednesday has come a day early and my heart is achy. So, I have postponed Mardi Gras this year much like all that has been postponed with the pandemic. So often our culture has it backward, we try to distract ourselves from our pain, or at least I do. Yet grief must be greeted and felt like our other emotions. So whatever celebration you are postponing or altering, may you have the strength to post-pone well. To the level in which we engage grief is the level, we can engage in celebration.

To the level we grieve is the to level we will celebrate.

As much as my history and tradition tell me to celebrate today, possibly what it was actually teaching me is that on the days we are grieving, may we grieve authentically and on the days we are celebrating, may we live honorably in hope and laughter. However you find yourself, rest in God’s love that longs for your heart to be known, whether in a season of grief or a season of celebration.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone, I share this post as a tribute to Mardi Gras of old and with curiosity to learn how to build resilience and hold the tension of both life and death. While my celebrations will be postponed, for those whose hearts are celebrating today, let the good times roll….

Mardi Gras Mambo

I look up immediately when I hear the sirens coming up Main Street, it is finally time for the Mardi Gras parade to begin. I got up early that morning with my sister and brother, we put our lawn chairs in front of my dad’s bank before heading to school. During class, I would daydream about the afternoon scene, candy, shiny colorful coins dancing through the air from the parade floats. When the last bell rang, I didn’t even go home to change out of my uniform. I headed straight to my wooden slatted folding chair and sat down and waited for this very moment. As common as parades are in South Louisiana, I know someone walking in this parade and my 2nd grade hopes will be ready for this family connection to pay off. My grandfather will be in the group of men dressed up in traditional Cajun culture Mardi Gras clown-like garb. The tassels from his high cone shaped hat and the huge gold beads around his neck almost make him almost unrecognizable in a group of 35 men in similar outfits. I strain my eyes hard to make sure it is him before I yell, “Papere! Papere! I am here!”. He doesn’t see me at first but he is looking and as he gets closer, I continue to scream, but this time in French, “Laissez les bon temps roulez, Papere!” It is our secret code to speak in French when we are in public. He is reaching into his pockets, his fingers emerge slowly and painfully stretching over the handful of beads and doubloons, and I know he sees me. He steps outside of the parade form and leans down filling my bag with these treasures. Then he does what I will wait for almost full parades to acquire, he takes off a brilliant and massively prized Mardi Gras bead from his neck, and places it around mine. The elaborate and shining purple, green, and gold beads that make up this necklace are exquisite to my 8-year-old eyes. I can hear him yell over the crowd before he turns back into the parade line, “Happy Mardi Gras, che’, laissez les bon temps roulez!” I look down at the small mountain of booties in my hands, I don’t even try for the beads and candy flying in the air from the floats. I have gotten all that I could have hoped for. 

Growing up in a Catholic, Cajun culture, I was always taught, when you fear what’s ahead, you celebrate harder. In this poor, rural town my childhood was filled with parades and celebrations. We celebrate everything: feast days, holidays, going to the grocery store, a good grade, a great alligator, or squirrel hunt. We also go to Mass for all of these things too. So, in my upbringing, God is invited to every event and you go and thank God for every event. It did not seem foreign to me that massive celebrations were expected to be had the day before and the day after Lent began and ended. Mardi Gras is an act of debauchery for many but for me, it translated more like stocking up for a shut-in. Such as taking in a deep breath before diving under the water and swimming as far as you could with that one breath. This was Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the day one should breathe in deep all the goodness so that it could be savored and rationed to make it through the days of Lent and giving up.  

Mardi Gras. Shrove Day. Fat Tuesday. 

Laissez les bon temps roulez. Let the good times roll. 

This is a common phrase thrown around celebrations in Southern Louisiana. Mardi Gras, which is French for Fat Tuesday, is a tradition dating back thousands of years to pagan celebrations of fertility and spring, including the rambunctious Roman festivals. When Christianity merged with Roman culture, religious leaders combined this local tradition with faith. As a prelude to Ash Wednesday, which marked Lent’s 40 days of fasting and penance, Fat Tuesday became a carnival day of excess and debauchery. 

The mixing of pagan and religious calendar events was more common than choosing to abolish one of the traditional events. As a researcher in well-being and marking, it is very important to take note of this historical reckoning, the merging of the earth and the spirit. Mardi Gras became one of these events for me, but with most traditions, we must add intention and individuality to our marking events. How do you merge your every day with the earthly and spiritual seasons? This is an invitation to bring intention to your season of tilting toward the sun, moving from wintering into the vernal equinox. In the life/death/life cycle we continue to ask our bodies, spirits, and minds to engage in the ever-rotating seasons. The vernal season takes a long time to break through the ground, the death cycle is hard to shake off. For something to live, something must die. We have marked the death of the winter and it is time to break off the harrowed ground so that we can plant seeds. Giving us something for Lent is like planting seeds inside of yourself. It is the intentional seeds we plan hoping to see something blossom from it in the Spring. 

May you mark this season of Lent well, and may it begin with a day of excess and celebration. 

 

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Mardi Gras Marking Guide 

 

Gather on the weekend prior to Lent or if possible the Tuesday in February on the eve of Ash Wednesday.  

 

⟴ Invite those joining to bring costume jewelry, musical instruments, and noisemakers that will be used to represent the loud celebration of life that needs to be “shouted” before entering Lent and a season of being without.

⟴ Gathering your beads, music makers, Bluetooth speakers the crowd parades down the street offering “happy Mardi Gras” to anyone around inviting all bystanders to join in the parade. A great song to use is the “Mardi Gras Mambo” as a parade song. The parade ends back where it began and pastries and drinks are shared. 

 

⟴ Bring pastries decorated in green, purple, and yellow,

or gold, if you can bake or buy a king cake it is fitting for the celebration. The cake or pastries should have a little plastic baby hidden in the cake as tradition says the person who receives the baby will be in charge of buying the cake the following year. (We hold this tradition very loosely). Bring coffee or other intentional beverages. 

 

⟴ If you want to continue the celebration, invite close friends to stay after for a meal, traditionally to the Acadian French culture this would be gumbo, sweet potatoes, and boiled eggs. If you don’t know how to make this meal, no problem, choose a meal that incorporates a little bit of your own personal culture. 

 

⟴ As the meal is being shared and the king cake is being eaten, individuals are invited to share what they are giving up for Lent and why. Some ideas for good family Lent ideas are:

  • Fasting from social media.
  • A family might withhold watching family movies at night and play family board games during Lent season. 
  • Communities might choose to do something up together as a community, such as doing a cleanup project together. 
  • A group of friends might give up buying coffee in shops and put the money to a community garden at the church or in someone’s backyard. 
  • Families might choose to give a kind word or blessing to someone each day of the Lent season. 

 

⟴ Close the sharing time with a toast to the brave individuals who participated in today as a way to mark HOPE to sustain us through a season of deprivation. 

 

 

 

                Let us enjoy now so that we can remember our full bellies and gleaming smiles,

for tomorrow invites us into a season of being without. 

Lord, we thank you both for the plenty. 

Happy Mardi Gras to each of you.