Feb 8, 2013
Why is it that Ash Wednesday and Lent remain relatively popular even in highly secularized times like these? It's a serious question that touches on matters deeper than might at first be supposed.
The popularity I speak of can be seen year after year on Ash Wednesday, when people – some of them perhaps not all that often in church – stream up the aisle to get their ashes. Not a few then return for Mass or Stations of the Cross on weekdays during Lent. How come?
The answer can found in Blessed John Henry Newman's insistence on the supremacy of the “real” over the “unreal” in religious matters. In one of his early, Oxford sermons, Newman remarks that it's only insofar as people grasp the meaning of disobedience and their own sinfulness that they also grasp “the blessing of the removal of sin, redemption, pardon, sanctification.” Otherwise, he says, these are “mere words.”
You might say Ash Wednesday and Lent help to make this objective reality subjectively real for us.