Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Spare O Lord, your people

Ash Wednesday, 2008
Cathedral of Our Lady of the Rosary, Baroda

The church was packed to the gills, people spilling out in the back. I arrived a few seconds before the 630pm Mass started, and took a position near the central doors (so as to have a clear view of the altar), among the "outstanding" Catholics, and was soon enveloped in a cloud of mosquitoes. I'd say there were several hundred faithful, perhaps even a thousand, young and old, men and women, of all classes. Ash Wednesday is the day of obligation, it seems.

The music is sung by the front pew, a capella, and the front of the church. I can't make out which hymns are being called, though I recognize a few. Thankfully, there's no accompaniment. The sound system is weak, so the readings are barely audible (though they are oh-so-familiar), drowned out by the engines and horns of passing vehicles. Mass is concelebrated by four priests, who fan out among the throng to impose ashes (and later, along with a deacon, to distribute Holy Communion), rapidly intoning the formula, almost under their breaths. Remember, man, that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.

Everyone is quiet. The priest's voice, and the congregation's responses, the buzzing of the mosquitoes, and the honks of rickshaws seem to meld into one sound that, paradoxically, emphasizes the silence of the assembled people as they gather once more, frail, humble, sinful, and fall at the foot of the throne of grace and plead mercy.

Attende Domine, et miserere, quia peccavimus tibi.

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