99—Ashes and Elitists—Gail Finke
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This Ash Wednesday, following a note from the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Sacraments, many American parishes did not distribute ashes in the customary way of smudging a cross on the forehead and saying one of two possible formulas to each recipient. Instead, as an ostensible anti-COVID precaution, they sprinkled ashes on the top of the head and said the formula once to the whole congregation.
Today’s guest, Gail Finke, wrote a thought-provoking article, not so much on the appropriateness of changing the usual practice this year because of the pandemic, but on an attitude so often taken in discussing Ash Wednesday every year.
There is a certain spiritual elitism which regards concern for the external rite, including the rare opportunity to explicitly witness to the faith in a public way, as the province of those of little or superficial faith, or even of the vain. If someone objects to a seemingly unnecessary change, he is said to be overly concerned with the inessential. Yet the experience of the past several decades has shown us definitively that the elimination of “inessential” devotions has had catastrophic effects on the faith of Catholics.
Thus, while the change in how ashes are distributed for one year seems like a small matter, it provides an opportunity to talk about a spiritual and intellectual elitism that has manifested itself in the decades following the second Vatican Council, and more recently in the Church’s response to the pandemic. It is an elitism that scandalizes the faithful by stripping away their devotional and liturgical life, and then lectures those who suffer on not having a sufficiently “spiritual” faith.
External expressions of devotion are important. The little things which set Catholics apart are important. Constant change and disorientation are not good for the people of God. The assumption that those who object to it must have little faith is arrogant. The indifference to the reality that the large number who do have weak faith will easily fall away when denied the rites of the Church—“you don’t need to go to Mass, just make a spiritual communion”—is callous and legalistic.
Gail Finke, “Are We Going to Throw Out Ash Wednesday Too?” https://www.crisismagazine.com/2021/are-we-going-to-throw-out-ash-wednesday-too
Thomas Humphries, “The Case of the Great Pandemic Liturgical Flip-Flop” https://churchlifejournal.nd.edu/articles/the-case-of-the-great-pandemic-liturgical-flip-flop/
Driving Home the Faith radio show produced by Gail www.sacredheartradio.com
Ep. 84, Disobey Lockdown Now w/ Douglas Farrow and Andrew Busch https://www.catholicculture.org/commentary/84-disobey-lockdown-now-douglas-farrow-andrew-busch/
Theme music: “Franciscan Eyes”, written and performed by Thomas Mirus.
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