The Ash Wednesday Idiot

By Peter Darcy | On Feb 10, 2016 | No Comments | In Spirituality

By Peter Darcy

On Ash Wednesday, the pastor of a large parish was getting set to begin the Mass which would include the distribution of ashes to his parishioners. The only problem was that his associate was away and none of the ministers who were commissioned to distribute ashes had shown up.

As the people gathered and filled the church he became desperate and realized that he had to deputize the sacristan for this purpose, a man who was not known as the sharpest knife in the drawer. Nonetheless he was willing to help distribute ashes so the priest taught him the simple formula that every Catholic has heard on Ash Wednesday from time immemorial – “Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return” – and then taught him how to make the sign of the cross on the forehead. He thought that his instructions would be sufficient for the task.

However, just before he went out to Mass the sacristan ran up to the priest and said, “Excuse me, Father, but could you tell me those words again?” “Okay,” replied the priest, somewhat annoyed. “Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return. Got it?” “Yes, Father,” the man said, and the priest walked out to begin the Mass.

Then, just after the first reading the sacristan discreetly approached the priest and whispered in his ear, “Father, I’m sorry, but could you remind me of the words for the ashes again?” Now the priest was disturbed by his forgetfulness and said tersely, “Remember that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return. Got it?” “Yes, Father,” answered the man again.

After the priest’s rousing homily about repentance, right before the distribution of ashes, the little sacristan sheepishly came to him again and said, “Father, I need you to repeat for me one more time the words for the ashes.” At this last impertinence, the priest was totally exasperated and yelled at him, “Oh, you are an idiot, and you will always be an idiot!”

The sacristan quickly went away from the angry priest, dutifully picked up his ashes, and was heard telling parishioners, “Remember that you are an idiot, and you will always be an idiot,” as he placed the sign of the cross on their foreheads with the ashes.

Written by Peter Darcy

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