MASSACHUSETTS (February 26, 2014)—Catholics around the United States woke up this morning with a sense of dread. When is Ash Wednesday? Had they missed it? After a brief moment of panic, they realized that they hadn't noticed anyone wearing ashes yet this year. (There is, after all, always that one guy at work who insists on keeping his ashes on all day on Ash Wednesday.)
A quick sigh of relief gave way to a new concern: Today is Wednesday! Could it be...?
"This happens every year," Fr. Leonard McFeeley told me. "Sometimes they'll even come banging on our door here at Our Lady of the Golf Course two weeks before Lent starts. It's locked, of course—my interpretive dance lessons are on Wednesdays. But for several years now, I've skipped my lesson the week before Ash Wednesday, because it's so nice to see all of the people I haven't seen since last year, when they showed up a week before Ash Wednesday."
In the past, Father McFeeley says, "I have gently explained to my prodigal sons and daughters that they've arrived a week early. But no matter how much I praise them for their anticipation of Ash Wednesday and urge them to return in a week, very few actually do. And some get downright angry when I tell them that I won't have any ashes to hand out until the next week."
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So this year, Father McFeeley has a plan. "For pastoral reasons, the Church sometimes lets us anticipate a liturgical celebration. Saturday vigil Masses are an example. So, I thought, here's a perfect reason to do so! I've got all these parishioners flocking to the church, and if I don't do something for them, who knows when I'll see them again?"
"Well," he added after a brief pause, "I'll probably see them again next year, a week before Ash Wednesday, but that just proves the point, doesn't it?"
So today, if you show up at OLGC (at the corner of Mashie and Niblick roads), Father McFeeley will be ready for you. "People are busy, and, since it's not really Ash Wednesday, it doesn't feel quite right to do this inside of the church, so I'll be standing on the front steps of Our Lady of Good Counsel with a bowlful of ashes for anyone who wants to receive them today."
"Of course," Father McFeeley continued, "I came up with this on the fly last night, and forgot that I didn't have any ashes to use. We're collecting last year's palms on this coming Sunday, and burning them on Shrove Tuesday. But then I realized I had an old copy of the 1962 Missale Romanum gathering dust. I won't be needing that again. Nothing like killing two birds with one stone!"
This isn't the first time Father McFeeley has come up with an unorthodox solution to a pastoral problem. Last year, when a full third of his registered parishioners showed up on Divine Mercy Sunday expecting to celebrate Easter, Father McFeeley improvised and offered the Easter Sunday Mass all over again.
"It's all about serving the people," Father McFeeley said. "I just ask myself, 'What would Jesus do?'"