As the Catholic church exits Mardi Gras feasting and enters the penitential season of Lent, other denominations are imitating the Ash Wednesday Lenten kick-off observances. An evangelical church in Ohio is offering the imposition of the ashes via drive-thru. Parishioners drive-by and get a smudge and a blessing. It’s part of an “Ashes to Go” thing. A drop-and-dash holy day? Like McDonald’s? Would you like a biggie fry and ashes with that burger? How kitschy: If they’re going to ape us Catholics, they should at least have the courtesy to do it right.
Pastors from “Ashes to Go” say the Ash Wednesday quickie is for pressed-for-time parishioners or those intimidated by entering a church building. Kudos, Reverend Pat, for seeing and providing the benefits of Ash Wednesday and Lent, but a drive-by blessing is tacky. It cheapens the experience and puts it on par with grabbing a McDonald’s Happy Meal. A full Ash Wednesday service is available, but this fast-food variety shouldn’t even be an option.
Imposition of the ashes ceremonies are already usually briefer than a full mass. Most parishes offer at least one ashes-only devotion that lasts about 15 minutes. If the faithful are too busy for even that quick stint, they’re not making Lent much of a priority. If a sit-down Ash Wednesday is too much commitment for folks, how seriously will they take the full 40-day season and its requirements?
Lent isn’t supposed to be a walk in the park. It wasn’t for Jesus, whom we are supposed to be imitating. We’re moving into a spiritual journey, time of sacrifice and purification. We’re prepping for an Armageddon against the powers of darkness and our own personal demons, says, not an amusement park ride. For this, we need more than a smudge-and-run. It’s also about serving others, not being waited on at our convenience.
About the angst over church-shy people, that’s just an cop-out. So often I’ve heard pleas to water down our faith in the interest of luring people in. We’re asked to strip out all the significant parts to make our faith more palatable. We’re asked to tart up our beliefs so that they will have universal appeal.
That’s just plain silly and wrong-headed, People come to our specific church because they are seeking a spiritual experience in the flavor we’re offering. Sacraments, holy days, liturgical events: they’re what we do. Giving penitents a generic, side-altar version is shallow. It teaches them that elements of faith are trivial and it cheats folks out of a real Lenten experience.
What do you think? Tacky or appropriate?