This coming Wednesday marks the beginning of a very special period of time in our liturgical calendar. Once again we begin the season of Lent, which is celebrated on Ash Wednesday. This is an opportunity for us to gather together as a faith community to join one another as we begin this time of preparation. We also take this opportunity to outwardly express our Catholic faith by being marked on our forehead with ashes. It seems like nearly every year I’m asked by several people (Catholics and non-Catholics) why we use ashes on Ash Wednesday. I don’t mind being asked about this because I see it as a great opportunity to
evangelize and tell others about the most important person in our Christian lives: Jesus Christ.
Ash Wednesday begins Lent and is a time for us to stop and reflect on how we’re doing in our relationship with God. Lent helps us identify spiritual areas in which we can grow but also helps us see our areas of sinfulness that we need to avoid. To repent means to turn away from sin and to turn toward God. We use ashes as an outward expression of our need to begin rebuilding our relationship with God again.
For more than 1,200 years, on the “day of ashes” (dies cinerum), faithful followers have approached the altar to receive ashes on their foreheads. These ashes are traditionally made from the burnt palms that were blessed on Palm Sunday of the previous year. These ashes are sprinkled with holy water and blessed using prayers that are thousands of years old.
The use of ashes for repentance can be traced back even further and is a practice that is followed throughout the world. On Ash Wednesday, ashes are applied to the foreheads of Jesus’ faithful followers in the shape of a cross. This is to help remind us that Jesus died on the cross for our salvation.
There are many places in scripture that relates to ashes (or dust, dirt or clay). God formed Adam out of the dust of the earth (Genesis 2:7). We also hear how Jesus healed the blind man with clay (dust and spit) in John 9:6. We mark ourselves with ashes as a ‘new beginning’ at the onset of Lent, allowing the life of Jesus Christ to make us whole, healthy, and new again.
Ash Wednesday also begins our preparation for Holy Week and the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus. If it was not for His life, death and resurrection, we would not receive the gift of His salvation nor would we have the opportunity to be received into his Heavenly Kingdom. As we begin our Lenten Season, I pray that you have the opportunity to grow in faith and strengthen your relationship with God. And the first step on this year’s journey is to
mark our foreheads with ashes on Wednesday.
He Would Love First!
October 24, 2020
A July Faith Formation Series – Part IV – APOSTOLIC