Today, on Ash Wednesday, as we have ashes imposed upon us, on our head or on our forehead, let it be a reminder for us that we are all sinners in need of God’s healing and mercy, and let that ash not be a symbol of pride, for us to show off our faith to others.
Instead, the ash should be a reminder instead of our humility and our need of help and regeneration from God, that as we rend not just our bodies, but also our hearts, minds, our souls and our whole beings, we commit ourselves to the Lord into a whole new existence that is focused and centred on Him.
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Let the ash be the commitment that we make to distance ourselves from our sinful past, ever reminded of our mortality and how sin has led us down this wrong path. And let us all rise again from the ashes, through our commitment to live our lives with greater faith and confidence in God, from now on.
Hence, as we enter into this season of Lent, let us all rediscover the love we ought to have for God, putting Him once again as the centre and focus of our lives.
Let us also nurture the same love that we should have for our fellow brothers and sisters all around us, as God has also called us to be generous in loving one another, and we ought to do it unconditionally and willingly, not because we seek for benefits or return of what we have given.
Let us all make good use of this time and season of Lent, and may all of us have a great experience in our preparation throughout this blessed time, that we may grow ever closer to God and be worthy to receive the fullness of His grace and love. Wishing us all a most blessed, holy and fruitful Lenten season.
THE PURPOSE OF ASHES.
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Genesis 3:19.
The line from Genesis reminds us our lives on this earth won’t last forever. We are a finite people who hold hope in something infinite and beyond ourselves. Bearing a mark throughout the day that is visible to others puts an explanation point on the Genesis passage. We become walking witnesses of that place of truth.
Heaping ashes upon the head, rending the garment, and donning sackcloth were all outward signs of penitence in biblical times. Such a display was one of abject humility and repentance, but could also turn into an occasion for infighting and ego-inflation.
The ashes used on Ash Wednesday are obtained from the burning of the palms of a previous Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday marks Jesus’ return to Jerusalem, when people waved palm branches to celebrate his arrival. The ashes are blessed by the priest during the Ash Wednesday Mass after the homily. Then the ashes are applied to each person’s forehead in the shape of a cross
ASH WEDNESDAY DOSE
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. It is a somber day of reflection on what needs to change in our lives if we are to be fully Christians. It was not always the way we know it today. Ashes marked on the forehead of worshippers were not given to everyone, but only to the public penitents who were brought before the church. Much like Hester Prynne bearing her scarlet letter, these open and notorious sinners were marked publicly with the sign of their disgrace.
As time went on, others began to show their humility and their affection for the penitents by asking that they, too, be marked as sinners. Finally, the number of penitents grew so large that the imposition of ashes was extended to the whole congregation in services similar to those that are observed in many Christian churches on Ash Wednesday.
We who will bear the ashes upon our foreheads stand with those whose sins may be more public, but not, according to the Scriptures, more grievous to the heart of God. And so we make our confessions. . . . If you only knew the secrets of my heart, if you only knew the sins that I am capable of contemplating, if you only knew some of the schemes I have considered – and of course God does know – then you would know that I, too, am a sinner.
Ashes are signs that we are all in this sin business together, and that the difference between the good in us and the bad in us is sometimes frightfully thin. We so often fall short of the Faith we claim. We have treated people as things and we have treated things as if they were valuable people. And so we look into our hearts and make the ancient prayer of one notorious sinner our own: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51:10; see Psalm 51 and the Language of Transformation).
Lent is a season that reminds us to repent and get our lives centered, our priorities straight, and our hearts clean. This holy season offers us a new chance to say, “yes” to the Lover of our Souls who created us, who made us in his own image. Lent is the time for a restoration project that will reveal the beauty of God’s design for us, showing once again the scale, proportion, and priorities intended by our Maker.
Further, Lent is a season of hope and with ashes on our foreheads and hope in our hearts, we go forth to love and serve. For by God’s grace in Christ, we do not have to stay the way we are.
GUIDELINES FOR LENT
• The time of Lent is to be observed by Catholics as a special season of prayer, penance and works of charity.
• Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, in particular, are the most important penitential days of the liturgical year. They are days of both fast and abstinence. All Fridays in Lent are days of abstinence.
• The rule of fasting states that only one full meal a day can be taken. Two small meals, “sufficient to maintain strength,” are allowed, but together they should not equal another full meal. Eating between meals breaks the fast, but drinking liquids does not. The rule of fasting obliges all Catholics from 18 to 59.
• Abstinence refers to the eating of meat. The common estimation of the community is used to determine what falls under the category of meat. The rule of abstinence binds all Catholics 14 years or older.
• The substantial observance of the laws of fast and abstinence is a serious obligation.
• Self-imposed fasting on the other weekdays of Lent is recommended. Abstinence on all Fridays of the year is also highly recommended.
• Parents and teachers should see to it that, even those who are not bound by the laws of fast and abstinence because of age, are brought up in an atmosphere that is conducive to a sense of penance.
NOW YOU KNOW.
Ash Wednesday Prayer
Dear God, watch over us with tender love, as today we celebrate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of this Lenten season. We sign with a cross –ashes on our foreheads to remind us that there is a part of ourselves that is of this earth and that one day will return to dust.
But more important, the cross and the ashes are placed on a vessel that houses the Holy Spirit- that in this broken vessel is the very presence of God made visible in our acts of love and in the tremendous creativity within the human spirit.
Help us during these 40 days to ponder a better balance of these too natures within ourselves. As Christ died and rose from the dead—so too will we rise one day to be with God and all those gone before us. Bless us as we begin our Lenten journey—through Christ our Lord. AMEN.
ASH WEDNESDAY PRAYER TO BEHOLD THE LAMB OF GOD
God our Father, You are sovereign over all and Creator of each and every one of us. Your ways are not are ways. Your thoughts are not our thoughts. Give us perspective, as we seek to understand ancient sacrifice and its significance in our modern lives. Reveal to us the wisdom we need to embrace and fully receive salvation.
May our lives behold the Lamb of God. Jesus, Your defeat of death will not be lost on us. We will daily take up our crosses to follow You, until the day we hug You in heaven. What a Savior, You are! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Let our hearts be full of gratitude for the gravity of the cross.
In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
Compassionate and Holy God,
stir the dust of our lives and help us remember who we are.
Scatter this dust upon the field of our fear
and give us the courage to yield to redemption.
Ignite the ashes of our burned-out dreams and kindle life. As we carefully place these ashes in the urn of our heart, we yearn for sparks of new life.
Loving God, as we paint our faces with these ashes, You call us to turn away from sin but not from death. You tempt us to look the face of death in the eye as we embrace and remember life.
Merciful God, as we carry the ash tattoo of the cross upon our foreheads, kindle within us memories of your mercy.
Give us the courage to turn away from sin and return to You, and so find our way to one another. It is in this turning that we find our truth.
In Jesus Christ mighty name I pray and believe Amen and Amen.