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Ash Wednesday. The Meaning of Ash Wednesday

The spiritual journey of Lent is an actual exodus from the bondage of sin and human misery to the freedom of salvation and God’s love. With Ash, Wednesday day begins Lent, as it is called by the people, a time of preparation for the great solemnity of the Lord’s Resurrection. The name of this day comes from the imposing ceremony of blessing and placing ashes on the foreheads of the faithful. It is a day of fasting and abstinence, no meat or meat dishes are eaten, and only one meal is eaten until complete.

Ash Wednesday is the day Lent begins for the Roman Catholic faithful. In 40 days, it will be the great feast of the Lord’s Resurrection. Lent for Catholics is more persuasive than for the Orthodox. The watchwords, however, must be in moderation and discretion.

By remembering the meaning of ashes and striving to live according to it during Lent, we must allow the Holy Spirit to direct us towards charity towards our neighbor. In Lent, acts of self-giving out of love for those in need must be part of our repentance, conversion, and renewal, for such acts constitute the solidarity and justice essential to building God’s kingdom in this world.

Read also: What are the origins of Lent?

 

What is Ash Wednesday?

How did this ceremony become a such essential practice for so many believers? What is the significance of this rather strange ritual? How do we explain the popularity of smudging our foreheads with ashes? Only to walk around all day with dirt on our faces?

Ash Wednesday is the day we enter Lent and one of the days of the year that brings the most faithful to Church. Although it is not an obligatory feast day, many people would not let this day pass without going to Church. For Mass to be marked on their foreheads with the sign of the cross with ashes. Even people who rarely come to Chutryfoto come on Ash Wednesday.

Those who don’t know our customers point to our foreheads, telling us we have soiled ourselves. Expecting us to wash immediately, but many Catholics wear that ash all day. The rite of the imposition of ashes consists of three elements: a gesture, drawing the sign of the cross with ashes on the head. And two accompanying formulas, from which the priest chooses one. I invite you to reflect for a few moments on the meaning. And the teaching that the liturgy of the Church wants to convey to us through these three elements.

Read also: Who Are The Saints In The Catholic Church?

What is the prayer we say on Ash Wednesday?

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent for the Roman Catholic faithful. The feast was established during the pontificate of Gregory I the Great. The two days before Ash Wednesday are, in the Catholic world, the high points of Carnival.

The specific Ash Wednesday prayer that must always repeat is the one we heard from the lips of King David in the responsorial psalm: ‘Build in me a pure heart, O God, and put a new and steadfast spirit within me. Amen.

The ash ceremony is not a macabre rite. It wants to help us rediscover the seed of immortality sown by Christ in the depths of our hearts and thus inspire us with hope, joy, enthusiasm, and love of life. The 40-day itinerary we will travel begins with ashes and ends with the Resurrection, begins with death, and ends with life.

Read also: How to start a prayer | Prayer Journaling

 

Key Verse related to Ash Wednesday

“Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?”

Ash Wednesday

Where does the name Ash Wednesday come from?

The Orthodox Church does not have a tradition of imposing ashes. Still, on the Sunday of the entrance into fasting, the calendar of Adam’s Expulsion from Heaven refers to the exact text as that used in the Roman Catholic Church.

The name ‘Ash Wednesday’ comes from the custom of bringing the branches of willow (palm, olive, or another tree) consecrated at last year’s Palm Sunday, which adorned icons and statues in Catholic homes for almost a year, to the church to be burnt.

Many parishes still invite the faithful to bring these palm branches to church before Lent begins for a ritual burning of the brunches during the Mass. Their ashes are used as they leave Mass, sprinkled on the foreheads of the faithful as the priest says: ‘Remember, man, that from dust you are, and to dust, you shall return, the words God spoke to Adam at his banishment from heaven.

Read also: Who ate the forbidden fruit first: Adam or Eve?

 

What does Ash Wednesday mark?

Ash Wednesday is essential in the Christian calendar, denoting the beginning of the period of repentance in the fast leading up to Easter. So Ash Wednesday practices, such as placing it on the foreheads of participants, go back centuries.

Ash Wednesday marks the first day of Lent, six weeks when Christians often abstain from rich foods such as meat and milk. Some also choose to abstain from daily habits, such as watching television.

This annual fasting period of Lent is to commemorate Jesus Christ. According to a biblical narrative, He once spent 40 days and nights fasting in the Jewish desert while tempted by Satan.

Read also: Biblical Fasting | ✝ Fasting in Christianity

 

What are the ashes from the Mass mixed with?

Ash Wednesday occurs the day after the lethargy, known as Pancake Day when it is customary to eat the obvious pancakes and other rich foods in preparation for Lent.

According to Christian scholars, the ashes are mixed with holy water or olive oil and are made by burning palm leaves consecrated on Palm Sunday a year ago. During Wednesday church services, clergy members make a cross on the foreheads of Christians using ashes or throwing them over their heads as a sign of repentance.

This custom is a sign of repentance. In church, while making the cross on the forehead, the priest utters, “Remember, O man, that from dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return.”

Read also: Spiritual Fasting According To Biblical Accounts.

 

What does Ash Wednesday fasting mean?

The Bible encourages us to fast. When you fast, please do not be sad like the hypocrites, for they wrinkle their faces to show people they are fasting. Verily I say unto you; they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that you may not show yourself fasting to men, but to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.

Fasting on Ash Wednesday means abstaining from food and alcohol for religious reasons, as a sign of repentance, or in preparation for a special moment, accompanied by prayer. Fasting allows only one meal a day until satiety, allowing a little food in the morning and evening. 

The inward repentance of the Christian can take various forms. Sacred Scripture highlights three forms in this regard: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, which express conversion about oneself, God, and others. Jesus obeyed this spiritual law by fasting for 40 days: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3).

Read also: How did Caiaphas die? Did Caiaphas repent?

 

3 Ash Day Customs

  1. It is the day when sweet cheese pies are made and given to the mother-in-law to be made better. And young people light large fires to ward off evil spirits.
  2. The people of the village, who make themselves into cuckoos, make their masks out of cardboard in the shape of corrugated iron. They fasten with beads, dress in dresses, even wedding dresses, and take a piece of rubber in their hands. And slap everyone they meet on the back, saying: ‘I’ll only give you a slipper. So you won’t catch a cold.
  3. The Cuckoos’ clothing speaks of the ritual itself, which is to ward off evil spirits. The masks and other items of clothing are frightening to look at. And there are other accessories such as the massive girdles hanging from the waist. 

Read also: Could Judas have repented? Find out why did Judas betray Jesus with a kiss.

 

What is the first sentence pronounced during the service of imposition of ashes?

The rite of the imposition of ashes consists of three elements: a gesture, i.e., the drawing of the sign of the cross with ashes on the head, and two accompanying formulas, from which the priest chooses one.

The first formula England uttered during the imposition of ashes is of biblical inspiration and is as follows: ‘Remember, O man, that you are dust and to dust, you shall return. Remember, man, that in the past, a hundred years ago, you were dust, that is to say, nothing; that in the future, a hundred years from now, you will be dust, that is to say, still nothing, and that the present life, making the transition from nothing to nothing, is still nothing.

The ashes we wear on our heads today show what sin makes of us. The ashes are the result of a fire. It is a well-known expression: to pick up the dust of something or someone. With sin comes the dust of us.

Read also: If Jesus Was without Sin, Then Why Was He Baptized?

 

Primary Takeaways

  • Abstinence means abstention, restraint. It is the moral virtue of renouncing certain goods or foods for a higher interest.
  • The Church urges all faithful to embrace the Christian spirit of fasting sincerely. The call to fast is for all time. But to become more sensitive and aware of this call, the Church has intervened to educate our will and our life, using the rhythms of the liturgical year: the season of Advent and the season of Lent.
  • Even the Bible refers to Ash Wednesday through King David, who, after sinning, fornication and murder, wrote bitterly in one of his psalms, “I feed on ashes instead of bread and mix my drink with tears” (Ps 102:9).

Read also: Feast of Corpus Christi. What is Corpus Christi, and why is it celebrated?

 

Conclusion

In the Catholic calendar, Ash Wednesday opens the 40 days leading up to the Feast of the Resurrection. With a special blessing ceremony. The priests sprinkle the ashes from burning the willow twigs consecrated on Palm Sunday. Last year on the foreheads of the faithful and recite the following formula: “Remember, O man, that out of the earth you are and to the earth, you shall return.”

It warns that the soul is far more important than the body. It is a day on which Catholics not only reflect on themselves but enter into dialogue with God and – like Job, who poured ashes on his head – repeat the act of penance and vow to the divinity.

Thank you for your time and the chance to talk about Ash Day. Have a great day, and take care of your soul!

Bibliography

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  • Morrison, T. (1938). Ash Wednesday: A Religious History. The New England Quarterly11(2), 266-286.
  • Valent, P. (1984). The Ash Wednesday bushfires in Victoria. Medical Journal of Australia141(5), 291-300.
  • Bruno, G. (2021). The Ash Wednesday Supper. In The Ash Wednesday Supper. De Gruyter Mouton.