Pointing at the bulletin letter's date (link) at left will display it's title.
February 18, 2007
Why Ashes on Ash Wednesday? This Wednesday we will begin the Holy season of Lent. This is a season given to us by the church for our conversion, i.e., our turning back to the God who so loves us. It is a time to renew our relationship regardless of where we think we are with God. We should not dread this season but rather, we should look at it as a time of loving renewal.
The season of Lent begins with the celebration of the liturgy and the distribution of ashes. This custom of receiving ashes dates back to Old Testament times. There are several occasions where we read that people covered themselves in sackcloth and ashes. This custom continued into the New Testament times. Today, we practice a symbolic reference to this custom.
For Christians, the practice of putting ashes on the forehead began as a personal practice signifying one’s sinfulness. When friends, neighbors and the church community saw the ashes on someone’s forehead, it was an invitation to pray for this person as it symbolized repentance. All were invited to support the journey of the individual. (This would not be a bad idea for us today.) The practice did not take on a community orientation until the late middle ages.
The ashes are made from the burning of last year’s palms which were blessed and distributed to the faithful on Palm Sunday. The reason for the use of palms is to make the
connection between the joyful experience of Christ and his more solemn and painful experiences. Sadly, many Christians only celebrate the joyful times, Christmas, Palm Sunday, Easter etc. In using the palms for ashes we connect the two poles of Christ’s experience.
On Ash Wednesday we will process as a community, signifying a common goal and common ministry as Church. We will receive the ashes in the form of a cross which reminds us of our Baptismal commitment. Unfortunately, we are not always faithful to this commitment. It is for this reason that the Church gives us the opportunity to reflect, repent, renew, and redirect our lives.
As we come together on Ash Wednesday of this week, let us take some time to reflect on our past year. Let us think of how we neglected to remain faithful to our Baptismal promises. Let us think of how we can make amends for this neglect, whether it be personal or communal.
Whatever we do, let us not use Ash Wednesday as a time to fulfill our “obligation” of getting the ashes one more time. Ashes are a sacramental, i.e., a “lesser” or smaller visible sign of Christ among us. They are not and have never been meant to be a source of religion in or of themselves. Ashes are a symbol of repentance, and an acknowledgment of our human frailty. This frailty will eventually bring us to death. We were dust and to dust we shall return. Will we be ready to face our creator and Lord when our journey comes to completion?
Lent is truly a time of renewal. Ashes are a visible sign of our weakness and our need of this renewal. Let us take full advantage of our time to come closer to our God this Lent.
Lorette P. Nault