Ash Wednesday and Lent, Memories of Catholic School

catholic church

Catholic Church, photo by Jason Mrachina, Tn. Flickr.com

 

Today is Ash Wednesday, a Catholic tradition that marks the start of the Lenten season. Or to us Catholic school kids, who’ll never forget, it’s time to give up something for 40 days to remind us of sacrifice.

Everyone strolled around the neighborhood with their ash crosses on their forehead, a mark of a ‘good Catholic,’ on Ash Wednesday. You didn’t have one, you must be late to church, hurry, the priest is there until eight at night.

During grammar and high school, no student got a free pass on the ashes. If you were on your death bed, you got ashes. And don’t try to tell a teacher you went to church at six-thirty in the morning with your mom, washed your face and the ashes came off. We had to wash around the ashes. Everyone knew that. A double dose of ashes for you.

The teachers lined the entire school up, two by two, like little kids boarding Noah’s Ark. First graders walked to church first, followed by the rest. The trip to church was the best part.

We counted how many kids fell off the sidewalk, ran into a pole, or lurched over a fire hydrant. They didn’t get any sympathy from the teachers because they ‘should be watching instead of talking.’

Smoldering trails of incense, sweaty kids, and corn chips smelled up the church on Ash Wednesday. Into the pews went the first graders until the last eighth grader sat.

ash wednesday

The last one in line typically got this smudge of ashes.

 

Row by row we stepped into line, waited for the priest to smudge our forehead. First graders got a nice, neat black cross. The eighth graders got either a letter J or some kind of ashy Rorschach blot.

Dinner conversation on Ash Wednesday covered the items we had to give up.  Candy, soda, or Hostess cupcakes were the standard fare. The Hostess cupcakes was a good one because we rarely had those. They didn’t put those items out at the Weber Bread outlet, only those crusty apple, or lemon turnovers.

If it was Friday, we had fish, or shrimp with nopales (cactus), or nopales with chile, or mac and cheese, anything without meat.

We counted off each day until Good Friday, not because we looked forward to fasting one meal but because of the Passion Procession.

Kid you not, we had a genuine procession from the old church to the newer one with real people playing the part of Christ, Mary, and the Roman Soldiers, with their uniforms and everything.

The procession brought out hundreds of people to the street. I’m talking about viejitas swathed in black shawls to babies in strollers, visitors, religious orders, and a few gang bangers. By the time we got to the crucifixion hundreds of people were in tears, shouts rose, the motorcycle cops looked scared.

Each year I attended it always got cloudy when the cross went up. Sometimes the wind kicked up, or a drizzle fell, or all three.

We got older and less Catholic (except Mom of course). Ashes were still de rigeur but giving food up wasn’t as important as doing something positive or less negative: giving up cussing or alcohol, be nicer, or pay people compliments every day.

I like this message from the Pope:

Pope Francis

Pope Francis Words on Fasting-Lenten Season

He’s on Twitter. Some more wise words:

 

You don’t have to be Catholic to know these are wise words for Lent or life. Have a great week!

 



Categories: Catholic School, Latino Family Traditions

Tags: , , , , ,

8 replies

  1. Enjoyed this post. I didn’t go to Catholic school, but I can relate to everything you say! I remember getting a smudge of ashes and looking forward to the procession on Good Friday. Nowadays, I’m not a particularly devoted Catholic, but I did take my kids to church to get ash on their forehead today. Old traditions die hard!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. As a non-Catholic kid in a Catholic neighborhood, I still remember the first time I noticed all the kids with smudgy foreheads and wondering what was going on.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. It was fascinating to read your memories Mona. I’m not a Catholic so it’s a whole different world to me that I find very interesting. Interesting concept on fasting from the Pope.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting. I remember hearing people give up things like chocolate, but I like this idea of foregoing hurting, complaints, anger, etc.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I liked this column very much. I remember Ash Wednesday and especially the time Mother kept me home from public school to attend Good Friday Mass. I like Pope Francis’s fasting suggestions very much; they could apply to the entire year.

    Liked by 2 people

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