Spirituality, Liturgy and the Tao of Inner Peace
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
I find that many celebrate fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras but much fewer participate in Ash Wednesday and the Lent in the following 40 days. Maybe part of that is that they don’t really understand the meaning or reason for Ash Wednesday and Lent so here is some information. I welcome you to join me tonight at St. Thomas Episcopal Church @6:00 pm if you would like to participate in an Ash Wednesday service.
The Origins of Ash Wednesday
On this day, Christians come before a priest to receive the sign of the cross, marked in ashes on their foreheads. Over the next month, they are encouraged to fast, pray, and seek repentance for their sins. Reflection upon one’s life during the previous year receives extra attention, and a greater commitment to God and the Church is offered.
This ceremony originated around the eighth century and extends back to the custom during biblical times of people humbling themselves with sackcloth and ashes. The prophet Daniel speaks of seeking the Lord for the release of his people from Babylonian exile with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes (Daniel 9:3). Jonah 3:6 states: “When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.”
After the priest blesses the ashes and sprinkles them with holy water, the faithful come forward to receive them. The priest dips his right thumb in the ashes and, making the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead, says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return” (or a variation on those words).
The distribution of ashes reminds us of our own mortality and calls us to repentance. In the early Church, Ash Wednesday was the day on which those who had sinned, and who wished to be readmitted to the Church, would begin their public penance. The ashes that we receive are a reminder of our own sinfulness, and many Catholics leave them on their foreheads all day as a sign of humility.
I hope this helps my brothers and sisters out there understand more about this holy day.