The Navajo Way
Aside from Christmas and Easter, "Ash Wednesday was always the best attended service of the year," according to Fr. Blane Grein, former pastor of Our Lady of Fatima, a Navajo Parish in Chinle, Ariz. Blane, now stationed in Fort Defiance, Ariz., has a theory about that.
Much of the Navajo way and Catholic tradition are parallel, he says. For example, "In Navajo chants, a medicine person calls upon holy people to bring healing," much as Catholics turn to saints. Blane also sees connections between the ceremonial placing of ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday and the Navajo ritual of "smudging", in which a person seeking peace or cleansing is immersed in the smoke and ashes of burned herbs while prayers are chanted.
"I have an idea that a Catholic Navajo thinks, ‘Catholics have their way, we have our way, and they are both good. On Ash Wednesday I’ll take advantage of this Catholic ‘smudging’ to ask God’s mercies and prayers for Lent that follows.’"