01 March 2009

Ash Sunday

It's that time again. Lent is here. Every year we do a crash course in the purpose of Lent. The altar cloth changes--from the mainly blue Mexican serape to a deep purple, the candle from white to purple, we stop saying the Gloria and the Alleluia--though our wonderful worship sheets had the Alleluia included on the English side and not on the Spanish.

We move Ash Wednesday to the First Sunday of Lent for purely practical reasons: we can get everyone together on Sunday. Wednesday is far more iffy. About two dozen people arrived well after we'd distributed ashes this morning and I got some weird looks and had to explain again why we put ashes on our foreheads.

Catholic service is never just full of Catholics. We get the Protestants who got up too early, the curious, the religious who try to hit every service possible, and those who want a head start on the way to the gym where there are phones available. (We finally had to post signs for these folks, "If you leave the service at 8:30, you must return to your unit and NOT go to the gym.")

It's fun doing the education piece. Try explaining why Easter falls when it does. Someone asked when Easter was this year. April 12th. Easy enough. But why is it different every year? Easter is the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox. Easy once you know what all those pieces are.

Last year, one of the men decided his Lenten discipline was to say enough rosaries to equal the distance from the prison to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Washington DC. A bit ambitious. He's trying something different this year.

And while there's no special diet for Catholics for the Lenten season, for some reason the Department of Corrections, in a budget-cutting move, is serving some alternate protein on Fridays--no meat. Which means that all my gentle teasing about eating what's put in front of you without complaining, even if it's steak, is going to waste.

I'd like to give up doing death notifications for Lent, but I had two this afternoon already. There were nineteen death notifications in February, five of them over a two day period. One of the Native American men told me that whenever they go down to the sweat lodge, they pray for me because they know I carry the sorrow and the prayers of so many. That almost took my breath away. What a comfort and a support.

Happy Lent.

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