Preparing Sunday service bulletins is among the odd jobs, sometimes maddening, that have fallen into my lap. If you go to church and mindlessly pick up that folded sheet of paper with stuff printed on it as you enter --- show a little respect. At least half the church secretaries, preachers, preacher's wives and volunteers who produce these pesky but necessary items will have violated a commandment and cursed at some point during production.
There are compensations, however --- like pulling out, dusting off and remembering how to spell words like "Quinquagesima," not widely used any more. Especially since Roman Catholics in a fit of Vatican II revisionism declared the three Sundays prior to Ash Wednesday to be mere ordinary time and sent "Septuagesima," "Sexagesima" and "Quinquagesima" to the liturgical scrap heap.
Episcopalians and Lutherans for the most part did too, but Quinquagesima still pops up among traditionalists of all three persuasions --- and while hardly a traditionalist, I like to use it, too. The alternative is "the last Sunday after the Epiphany," which doesn't resonate.
"Quinquagesima" translates from the Latin as "fiftieth," signifying that today is the fiftieth day before Easter if you count inclusively --- including Easter itself. Also, the Sunday before Ash Wednesday, or the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of penance and reflection from which Sundays are excluded. One point of using the term today is to say, in Latin, "get ready!"
My buddy who handles the flower end of things at Sacred Heart looked up the other day and said something like, "I really like Lent." I responded, "yea --- because you don't have to worry about altar flowers" --- a minor form of altar guild "gotcha."
Traditionally, altars are a little bare during Lent, a nod to its penitential significance. And coming up with altar flowers during the winter after Christmas red and green have been retired and before spring bursts forth, can be a challenge --- especially in parishes without bottomless running accounts with the florist or a rota of willing donors. Or where silk (gasp) is considered inappropriate.
But my friend is devout --- and the kidding wasn't intended to suggest that a break from beating the bushes for blossoms was the big factor here. I like Lent, too --- and am substantially less devout.
Everybody needs ashes on Ash Wednesday, from Baptist to Unitarian Universalist. Go find some. At St. Andrew's, the liturgy begins at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Ashes will be available (free) in Catholic and Lutheran parishes, too, and most likely in churches of some other denominations --- Protestants of all stripes have been rediscovering the value of Lent lately. Check your local listing for details. Or make your own (traditionally, ashes are produced by burning fronds set aside after Palm Sunday of the previous year but innovation is acceptable).
If you're paying attention, a key moment --- after that cross of damp ash has been applied to your forehead --- is the admonition: "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Those words operate on various levels related to faith, hope and practicality, looking always to resurrection. At the practical end of the spectrum, they're useful reminders that the human condition involves a recurring cycle of crashing, burning and rising again from the ashes. And that while crashing and burning are painful and inevitable, it is the rising --- and helping others to rise --- that's important. That is what I, at least, tend to think most about during Lent.
Shrove Tuesday preceedes Ash Wednesday, by the way, and that's traditionally a day for pancakes. St. Andrew's will serve a supper of pancakes, sausage and juice from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the church in return for free-will donations. All proceeds will go to the Ministry Center food bank. Everyone's welcome