I feel I should say something about Ash Wednesday and Lent, this being a Catholic blog.
Yesterday I went to the Ash Wednesday Mass in UCD. The Archbishop of Dublin celebrates this particular Mass. I don't know how how long that tradition has existed, but of course, it pleases me, being a Tradition.
I had to leave early, though. The Mass in UCD begins at 1:05 and ends...at all different times. Very often I am rostered to cover a service desk at 1:30.
I knew there wasn't a chance I would be back on time with the Ash Wednesday Mass. This is the one day in the year when UCD church is guaranteed to be full to capacity (or near it, anyway). The congregation is orders of magnitude bigger than usual. This is good, of course, but it makes Communion a slow process. As well as this, there is a choir. As well as this, the whole thing takes longer to begin. So I found myself doing a runner immediately after the Archbishop's homily, and ignoring the stares from the people I walked past.
I've said some harsh words about Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on this blog. He seems a nice fellow, though, and his homily was perfectly adequate-- Lent is not a negative thing, it's about growing closer to God, etc.
I don't know whether the Mass is packed out every year because of the Archbishop, or whether people just want to get the ashes. Of course, I didn't get the ashes, but the ashes applied to my forehead always seem to be barely visible anyway. I was pleased to see how many students, throughout the day, were wearing the ashes-- though I do wonder what their Catholic identity means to them exactly.
The reminder of my mortality never seems especially needed to me. I've always been intensely aware of it. I sometimes think this is part of the reason I am such a traditionalist, nostalgist and conservative. The subject of death has loomed very large in my thoughts in recent months and I have much to write on the subject, but not just yet. Tolkien said that every story is about death and I see his point.
More positively, the ashes remind me that I am a radically contingent creature, and I take great pleasure in this. I've written recently on the sense of wonder I feel in the world because it didn't have to exist, and it didn't have to be the way that it was. I like everything for being what it is and not being something else.
Finally, as I've written before, I derive great pleasure from seasonality and cycles and different times, and from the Church's liturgical cycle. That there are different times and places is something that never ceases to please me, and even surprise me. Why should it surprise me? Sometimes, when I am walking down a particular street, I find myself thinking; "This is O'Connell Street. It is different from every other place on earth. It extends over a particular area and no further."
I feel the same about time. I think other people share this thirst for different and contrasting times and places, because even people who are not practicing Catholics, or even religious, seem conscious of Lent, and to find something of value in it. Our secular consumerist society only really offers seasons of merry-making, and Lent seems to fill a gap.