Why does my boss have a smudged cross on his forehead today?
Ash Wednesday is not a day of obligation for Catholics and is largely ignored by most Evangelicals and Pentecostals. So, why does it endure?
It’s possibly the worst-attended annual observance on the Christian calendar. Why?
“We will have 400-500 on Easter,” says Nazarene pastor John Privette, “but this service ranks the lowest at a poor 25 or 30. It seems all too Catholic for my tribe. I’ve given it my best shot to educate folks and they like the devotional, the focus, the directive, the messages, the preaching and will come for Good Friday (about 80 or so) and we will have 200 or more at Easter Breakfast, but Ash Wednesday just is not that big a thing for most.”
Catholics often skip it since it’s not a “day of obligation” like Easter or Christmas – days of required attendance.
For others, it’s a high point of the year. “Today is Ash Wednesday, and it is one of my favorite days of the year,” writes Brett McCracken. “I never really celebrated this beautiful day growing up, which is a shame. As the first day of Lent – the 40 day period of repentance, renewal and reflection in advance of Easter – Ash Wednesday provides a perfect chance to quiet oneself and get in the proper penitential mode for the Lenten season."
In a typical Ash Wednesday service, the congregation comes to the
front of the sanctuary where the pastor draws a cross on each forehead with a mixture of palm ashes and olive oil.
“At my church and at many churches worldwide today,” writes McCracken, “Christians will come together for worship, prayer, and the imposition of ashes. This part I love. An ash-marked cross on one’s forehead is a very strange thing to see (especially in a town as vain and airbrushed as Los Angeles), but it is beautiful.