Monday, March 3, 2014

Ash Wednesday, 

March 5, 2014

I happen to love Ash Wednesday because it’s a chance to make a silent statement about my faith.  If you live in a large city like I do, the ashes on your forehead offer a chance to show solidarity with all kinds of people who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. With that very visible mark we all become what St. Paul called us, “ambassadors for Christ.”

"Jesus in the Desert" by Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoy,
The origins of Ash Wednesday are lost in the mists of time.  We do know that since the time of the Old Testament ashes have been associated with repentance. Ash Wednesday introduces Lent's 40 days of fasting and penance.  This is said to be modeled on Jesus's 40 day fast in the desert when he wrestled with the devil.  

The current ceremony has not changed very much since the 9th century.  The priest still makes the sign of the cross in ashes on our forehead and intones, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”  Something it never hurts to remember.

Ash Wednesday is not a holy day of obligation.  Catholics are not required to attend mass, although it wouldn’t kill you to do so.  If you can’t attend, it’s still worth reviewing the readings for the day.  They kind of say it all.  Here are some excerpts:

From the prophet Joel (2:12-18): 
            “Even now, says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the Lord, your God.  For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment. . . “

From Psalm 51: 
            “A clean heart create for me, O God,
And a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
And your Holy Spirit take not from me.” 

From St. Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians (5:20-6:2):
            Brothers and Sisters: we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. . .working together, then, we appeal to you not receive the grace of God in vain. . .”

And, finally, from the Gospel according to Matthew (6:1-6, 16-18)
            “Take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people see them. . .When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you. . .”

Credit: Loyola University, MD

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