The liturgy of the Mass is designed to raise our hearts and minds to God, and on Ash Wednesday, we are also reminded through the liturgy of our own mortality, that one day at an appointed time known only to God, each one of us will die and leave our earthly existence. Since we don't know when that will be, it only makes sense to try and be ready at all times, which is another theme of Lent. This is why we renew our spiritual practices and take up our mat once more and begin to walk more closely with God. He is so merciful in continually calling us throughout our lives, never demanding but gently inviting us to join Him.
It started out a gray, drizzly, cold morning as we made our way to the Church and found our seats near the back. We settled in to our seats, kneeled for a few minutes in prayer and then the Mass began. I had a good vantage point from there to observe and wanted to share my insights from Mass.
It was a school Mass, so the entire student body, as well as teachers were all present. Besides the school children, there were younger children, parents and grandparents. There was every age on the spectrum all in one gathering. Because the Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us of our mortality, the variety of people in different stages of life symbolized to me our life journey. More than that, I also thought about our spiritual journey. There are people very new in the faith that are spiritually like newborns, and then some that have matured a little in their faith and are 'older'. Spiritual age has nothing to do with actual age. There are some who mature in faith very young while others come to faith later in life.
As each person before me received their ashen cross and returned to their pew, I noticed that some people had dark crosses, some lighter, some were big and some were small. Some looked like a smudge while others were clearly cross-like. It made me think of how each of us bears crosses in our lives. Some people have heavier crosses to bear than others. Some accept their cross while others despise them and fail to recognize them as the path to their own holiness. But each of us, whether we want to recognize it or not, receives some type of a cross as we go through our lives.
Then, once each and every person had been marked, from the youngest babe in arms to the most elderly in attendance, it was then that the Liturgy of the Eucharist began. It was during this part of the Mass that I was thinking that while we are on this side of the fence, we always have our free will to choose Jesus. Our free will ends upon our death, however, and then we will go to our Judgment. Lent calls to mind that we currently possess the gift of time, but we need to recognize it is a gift and to use it wisely.
It was at this point of the Mass that outside, the rain ceased and the sun broke through the clouds, filling the entire Church with light. It was as if Heaven itself was opening. As the priest lifted the Host and said, "This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world", literally the clouds outside parted and the sun shone through the windows. The stained glass illuminated in a burst of color, reflecting on the wall nearby, while the sunlight continued on and spilled into the sanctuary. It was symbolic to me of the moment when we are allowed to enter Heaven and how joyous and wonderful that will be.
Which is really what Lent is all about. Recognizing that we are on a journey and we that DO have a destination. Lent is like a map helping us stay on the right path to make sure we get there.