22 February 2007

Ashes on My Head

Yesterday I went to Mass at 8am. As I headed from the church to campus, it suddenly occurred to me that I might go through my whole day at school and not see anyone else with ashes on their foreheads, and that someone might try to tell me I had dirt on my head or something. I wasn't sure how many non-Catholics would even know about Ash Wednesday. This is the first year since kindergarten that I have not been at a Catholic school.

By the time I arrived on campus (nearly an hour later despite it only being a 10-mile drive from the church), I was feeling very self-conscious and thinking about washing off the ashes. I resisted the urge and started walking from the parking center to campus. I was thankful that at least the mark on my forehead was a very distinct cross. I passed on the sidewalk two women who were speaking Spanish to each other. I don't speak Spanish but when I passed I am pretty sure that one said something like, "Is it Ash Wednesday already?" to the other.

I only saw two students and one staff member with ashes. Two other students looked at me and said something along the lines of, "Oh, Ash Wednesday." I never really stopped feeling self-conscious, and now I wonder why.

I have never been shy about telling my classmates that I'm Catholic if the subject came up--I am proud to be Catholic, even though it isn't too popular in my profession to be seriously religious, and I have at times been unsure of the reaction that such a revelation might provoke. So far it hasn't been a problem, and in my particular line--medieval and renaissance music--it has been more of an asset, because of my familiarity with the texts the composers set and because I understand the medieval worldview a bit better than my classmates do, since I have something significant in common with it. I do not share my classmates' puzzlement when confronted with a book of music containing several settings of happy texts like Laudate Domino, Benedicite Domino, and the Magnificat, but also two dark, morbid, penitential texts in Italian. It makes perfect sense to me. As does walking around for a day with a cross of ashes on my forehead.

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