Ashes to ashes

Well, Kay Burley apparently didn’t know what Joe Biden was sporting on his forehead; Jon Snow felt the need to explain the significance of the ashes to C4 News viewers. Sometimes our British chums make me shake my head ruefully. Can the old traditions have disappeared so completely, or is this just a metropolitan thing?

Yesterday in Belfast there was still a big slice of the populace wearing ashes, and at lunchtime the city centre churches were packed to the rafters. Over here, Ash Wednesday is still quite a big deal.

However, there was one rather jarring thing. This last week or so has been half term, and as usual schools in the state and Catholic sectors have been working to slightly different timetables. But it’s odd that the Catholic schools would have been off on Wednesday. What with Ash Wednesday being a holy day of obligation, there used to be a huge rigmarole with the children all being dragooned into Mass to get their ashes. This would have been a serious task for the maintained education sector. Scheduling half term so the kids are spending Ash Wednesday sitting at home playing Grand Theft Auto is a quite shocking lapse in standards. At the very least, it’s one in the eye for Caitríona Ruane – how did the minister let that get by her?

I was disappointed, though, not to hear ace Derry educator Mgr Iggy McQuillan taking to the airwaves – at least I didn’t hear him, he may yet have been on Radio Foyle. When it comes to educational debates, there are few things as enjoyable as one of Iggy’s broadsides against the trendy socialists running CCMS and dominating the Irish Catholic hierarchy, who (according to Iggy) are completely in thrall to the modernist educational theories of Sinn Féin and the teaching unions. If CCMS has been caught napping on the job, it’s doubly disappointing when a good conservative critic fails to turn up and duly castigate them. Still, there’s always next year.

12 Comments

  1. NollaigO said,

    February 19, 2010 at 2:28 am

    I never knew that Ash Wednesday was a “a holy day of obligation” but your concern about this rampant apostasy is well founded.

    Faith of our fathers living still in spite of dungeon, fire and sword ?

    Ní dóig liom

    This is the dawning of the age of ……

    [Aon focal ba maith leat sa bearna.]

  2. andy newman said,

    February 19, 2010 at 10:07 am

    “Sometimes our British chums make me shake my head ruefully. Can the old traditions have disappeared so completely, or is this just a metropolitan thing?”

    I have never seen it, and I asked my wife who was brought up as a regular church going Catholic in England, and she desn’t recall seeing this observed either – so thatbtakes us back to the 1960s, and in a rural area where metrolpolitan fashion would have had little impacy.

  3. Phil said,

    February 19, 2010 at 11:58 am

    I’ve seen it, but only on a pair of monks. (In a rather nice Italian restaurant, but ordering fish in a rather ostentatious “today we’d better have the fish!” sort of way. It was Bishop Brennan to the life.)

  4. decent interval said,

    February 19, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    It was very common in Manchester until relatively recently at any rate. Don’t the Anglicans do it as well?

  5. Phil said,

    February 19, 2010 at 1:30 pm

    Not as far as I know.

  6. jamie said,

    February 19, 2010 at 2:47 pm

    Well I used to have to walk around with the Holy Entry Wound on my forehead as a child in Stoke during the seventies. I’m still surprised to see the Vice President sporting one in public, though.

  7. chjh said,

    February 19, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    It was observed well into the 1970s at my old church, which admittedly was pretty traditional. You received the mark on your forehead (which done properly should be a cross rather than just a smudge), and didn’t wash it off until the following day. This was in a small Midlands town, where the parish was predominantly working-class Irish.

  8. andy newman said,

    February 19, 2010 at 6:03 pm

    “where the parish was predominantly working-class Irish.”

    I think that would be the important factor, where there was a sufficient immigrant culture to sustain it.

  9. Brian Hanley said,

    February 19, 2010 at 6:44 pm

    I can tell you that 3/4s of my students on Wednesday were wearing ashes; (I work in St. Patricks, Drumcondra, Dublin).

  10. splinteredsunrise said,

    February 19, 2010 at 7:44 pm

    The Vice President is of course Irish – IIRC his mother’s family are Finnegans from Derry. The Prez has Irish roots too – from Offaly, I think – but evidently not as thoroughly Irish as Biden.

  11. harry monro said,

    February 19, 2010 at 11:37 pm

    Is this what Ash Wednesday is about?
    http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/south_asia/8524043.stm

  12. ejh said,

    February 20, 2010 at 9:56 pm

    I’m pretty sure I did it once as a child. I’m also reasonably sure I only did it once.


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