Friday, March 03, 2006

An Ash Wednesday in the Life

Speaking of St. Patrick's Cathedral -- one of my favorite places in the entire universe where, once upon a time, while attending Mass there on the first Sunday of Lent, I was asked (no lie) to help take up the collection -- yesterday's New York Times did a really sweet piece and photo spread on the first big day for the new Rector, Fr Robert Ritchie, who still has yet to move in and woke up at 3am so he would be fully prepped.

For a priest who has spent most of his career of more than 30 years in impoverished parishes in Washington Heights and the Bronx, the change could hardly have been more striking.

"In a hundred years, I never would have thought this would happen," he said.

He had not even moved into his new quarters near St. Patrick's, but Father Ritchie found himself thrust yesterday into the midst of the cathedral's most crowded day of the year by far. Although no one takes a count, church officials estimate that more than 40,000 people, including many out-of-towners, wend their way through the cathedral's doors to receive the traditional black smudges in the shape of a cross on their foreheads.

Having spent Lents -- especially the hectic pre-Christmas period -- around the place, I have to say I've never done Ash Wednesday at St. Pat's. And I can only imagine, given people's mysterious obsession with getting ashes when they don't go to church any other day of the year, how insane it must be.

Angel Franco/
The New York Times