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Sunday, Feb. 13, 2005 - 1:14 p.m.

The man kneels before the priest and traces the sign of the cross with the ends of his fingertips. Forehead. Breast. Left shoulder. Right shoulder. They stand before the altar as the priest dips his thumb into a small silver bowl of ash, burned from the blessed palms of Palm Sunday. Behind the man the line forms to the end of the aisle, under the almost violent high arches of the cathedral. As the ash-stained thumb approaches his forehead, the man remembers each act of sin. Indulgeo mihi Patris. The thumb presses lightly on his forehead. As he begins the downward stroke, the priest says, Remember man, you were made from dust and to dust you shall return. When the priest is done, the man's forehead is marked with an ashen cross. The man rises to leave, his skin having re-discovered the familiarity of the ash, but still unable to understand the perfection of forgiveness.


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