Yesterday, the children and I went to church together. Since my older daughter is in Catholic school, she goes every Wednesday like a good little Catholic girl in training.
My preschooler and I go as well but hover in the back and leave at the first bit of noise coming from the preschooler. After all, the school is there to learn, not to listen to her shouts.
Since yesterday was a special day, I dressed up for the occasion (Read: No jeans). Silently, without a word, that was all that was needed for the two girls to realize this is a special day.
We arrived in church together and my Kindergartner opened the door for me, as the students there do for others without being asked, understanding that it's polite to do so. A woman came in behind us, we saw each other and greeted each other warmly in Polish. We knew each other.
In church, my Kindergartner sat with us. Impressively, the preschooler stayed in our pew and didn't make as much noise as she typically did.
She pointed to the sunlight streaming in through painted glass, Dawn lighting up the faces in attendance.
Some of the older children of the school walked down the aisle with symbols of the Catholic faith which the priest explains to those in attendance. A purple cloak, a bag of coins, a crown of thorns, wheat, grapes, a handful of nails. My Kindergartner searched in my eyes when the nails were walked past us. I'm not sure what she was looking for but I squeezed her little hand. She smiled and went back to watching the service.
When it was time to receive our ashes, we went together to receive them from one of the school teachers.
"Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return." Genesis 3:19
This was not to let others know that we are fasting. This was to remind us as individuals of God, his love for us, and our inevitability. At least, that's how I always interpret it.
When we sat back in our pew, my preschooler pointed at each of our foreheads and said "Mama, dat you coss? Sissy, dat you coss?"
When asked where her cross was, she pointed to her forehead and said "White heew". Her voice, curious and soft, travelled through the church but nobody looked upset. A few older parishioners smiled at her for a second and went back to prayer.
Later in the service, she went to hug me while we stood to pray. She drew back, looked at my forehead pensively and proclaimed "Mama, you dewty!" and laid her head on my shoulder.
Later, at the grocery store, we spotted other "Dirty Forehead People" as my Kindergartner called Catholics on Ash Wednesday when she was 3 years old. My children locked eyes with them for a second.
My preschooler would touch her forehead occasionally and say "Dat my coss" to passersby.
All night, she tossed in her toddler bed crying. Occasionally, she would call out "No! That Dewty!" I'm not sure why she was so upset about the ashes but at only 2 years old, I'm sure the service was unusual for her.
Perhaps next year, we will get a better nights sleep following Ash Wednesday service...
An interesting article on ChicagoNow.com Nine words and Heaven
What's Up With the Ashes?