It was the Mercredi des cendres (Ash Wednesday) - the day that marks the beginning of Le Carême (Lent), the 40 days of preparation for Easter. On that day we are marked with ashes on our foreheads and then we go about the rest of our day wiping them off our glasses.
(Question for the supporters of the Quebec Charte de la laïcité: If I'm a functionnaire and I do this clear and very visible sign of faith, am I still allowed to come back to work, or do I have to go home after Mass?)
For those of you for whom Ash Wednesday is an odd foreign custom, here are a couple of videos to help you out:
Ash Wednesday and Lent in 2 Minutes (English):
Les Cendres, un nouveau départ (French)
Thursday felt like a continuation of Wednesday. I went into town and strolled through the Notre Dame Cathedral.
And there was community there, too, but a different one. With me was someone I had previously only met via email and through his blog Multicultural Meanderings. Thank you, Andrew, for the walk, the coffee, the pain au chocolat and, above all, for the chance to talk.
Agnus Dei, qui tolis peccata mundi,
dona nobis pacem.