Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Christian season of Lent and a sign of penitence. During Lent, Christians must fast and give up things they like. The Lenten season lasts for 46 days. On Ash Wednesday, Christians go to mass and receive ashes on their foreheads in the sign of the cross. It is a reminder of from "Ashes to Ashes and Dust to Dust". It means that we came from dust and we shall return to dust, referring to our earthly bodies, not our souls. Did you Know? The ashes you receive are from the prior years palms.
"Yet even now," says the LORD, "return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments."
Return to the LORD, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil.
Joel 2, 12-13
Today the Church begins the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday. Ashes have long been a sign of penance, of the willingness to repent, forsake our sinful ways.
True repentance is based on sorrow for our wrongs, contriteness of heart, compunction, the knowledge that we have put the barriers between God and us, not God.
The passage from Joel, though, warns us that true penance, the penance that is life-changing, is not merely a matter of sackcloth and ashes. In his day, ripping your garments as a sign of grief and remorse was common. But Joel tells us forget meaningless outward signs, if they are not signs of what's going on inside of you. Rend your heart, he says. Humble yourself with fasting, weeping, and mourning.
In the Gospels, there are plenty of examples of the right attitude when seeiking forgiveness from God. The action of the son in the parable of the Prodigal son. The woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears. The parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee. In these, and many other examples, the person who is forgiven their sins has come to God humble, small and grieved over the wrong he has done. This, then, is the place where the walls between God and man are broken down, in our willingness to say, "Lord, I am truly sorry." May Lent be a time for you where you can open the doors and draw ever closer to Jesus.
Ash Wednesday Prayer
Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of my sister Death:
Remember you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.
How not hear her wise advice?
One day my life on earth will end;
the limits on my years are set,
though I know not the day or hour.
Shall I be ready to go to meet you?
Let this holy season be a time of grace
for me and all this world.
Teach us to number our days aright,
that we may gain wisdom of heart.
O Jesus, you place on my forehead
the sign of your saving Cross:
Turn from sin and be faithful
to the gospel.
How can I turn from sin
unless I turn to you?
You speak, you raise your hand,
you touch my mind and call my name,
Turn to the Lord your God again.
These days of your favor
leave a blessing as you pass
on me and all your people.
Turn to us, Lord God,
and we shall turn to you.