Skip to comments.Ash Wednesday
Posted on 03/03/2003 5:35:48 PM PST by Salvation
|Q: What is Ash Wednesday?
A: Ash Wednesday is the day Lent begins. It occurs forty days before Good Friday.
Q: Is Ash Wednesday based on a pagan festival?
A: Heck, no. Ash Wednesday originated in the A.D. 900s, long after Europe had been Christianized and the pagan cults stamped out.
Q: Why is it called Ash Wednesday?
A: Actually, Ash Wednesday is its colloquial name. Its official name is the Day of Ashes. It is called Ash <Wednesday> because, being forty days before Good Friday, it always falls on a Wednesday and it is called <Ash> Wednesday because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross.
Q: Why do they have their foreheads marked with a cross?
A: Because in the Bible a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person's ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross.
This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism, when he is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).
It is also in imitation of the way the righteousness are described in the book of Revelation, where we read of the servants of God (the Christian faithful, as symbolized by the 144,000 male virgins):
"Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads."(Revelation 7:3)
"[The demon locust] were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those of mankind who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads"(Revelation 9:4)
"Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father's name written on their foreheads."(Revelation 14:1)
This is in contrast to the followers of the beast, who have the number 666 on their foreheads or hands.
The reference to the sealing of the servants of God for their protection in Revelation is an allusion to a parallel passage in Ezekiel, where Ezekiel also sees a sealing of the servants of God for their protection:
"And the LORD said to him [one of the four cherubim], 'Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark [literally,"a <tav">] upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.' And to the others he said in my hearing, 'Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.' So they began with the elders who were before the house."(Ezekiel 9:4-6)
Unfortunately, like most modern translations, the one quoted above (the Revised Standard Version, which we have been quoting thus far), is not sufficiently literal. What it actually says is to place a <tav> on the foreheads of the righteous inhabitants of Jerusalem. <Tav> is one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and in ancient script it looked like the Greek letter <chi>, which happens to be two <crossed> lines (like an "x") and which happens to be the first letter in the word "Christ" in Greek <(christos).> The Jewish rabbis commented on the connection between <tav> and <chi> and this is undoubtedly the mark Revelation has in mind when the servants of God are sealed in it.
The early Church Fathers seized on this <tav-chi->cross-<christos> connection and expounded it in their homilies, seeing in Ezekiel a prophetic foreshadowing of the sealing of Christians as servants of Christ. It is also part of the background to the Catholic practice of making the sign of the cross, which in the early centuries (as can be documented from the second century on) was practiced by using one's thumb to furrow one's brow with a small sign of the cross, like Catholic do today at the reading of the Gospel during Mass.
Q: Why is the signing done with ashes?
A: Because ashes are a biblical symbol of mourning and penance. In Bible times the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one's head. While we no longer normally wear sackcloth or sit in dust and ashes, the customs of fasting and putting ashes on one's forehead as a sign of mourning and penance have survived to this day. These are two of the key distinctives of Lent. In fact, Ash Wednesday is a day not only for putting ashes on one's head, but also a day of fasting (see below).
Q: What are some biblical examples of people putting dust and ashes on their foreheads?
A: Consider the following verses from the New International Version:
"That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, his clothes torn and dust on his head."(1 Samuel 4:12)
"On the third day a man arrived from Saul's camp, with his clothes torn and with dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor."(2 Samuel 1:20
"Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went."(2 Samuel 13:19)
"When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head."(2 Samuel 15:32)
Q: Is there another significance to the ashes?
A: Yes. They also symbolize death and so remind us of our mortality. Thus when the priest uses his thumb to sign one of the faithful with the ashes, he says, "Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return, "which is modeled after God's address to Adam (Genesis 3:19; cf. Job 34:15, Psalms 90:3, 104:29, Ecclesiastes 3:20). This also echoes the words at a burial, "Ashes to ashes; dust to dust, "which is based on God's words to Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham's confession, "I am nothing but dust and ashes"(Genesis 18:27). It is thus a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent before this life is over and we face our Judge.
Q: Where do the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from?
A: They are made by burning palm fronds which have been saved from the previous year's Palm Sunday, they are then blessed by a priestblessed ashes having been used in God's rituals since the time of Moses (Numbers 19:9-10, 17).
Q: Why are ashes from the previous year's Palm Sunday used?
A: Because Palm Sunday was when the people rejoiced at Jesus' triumphal entrance to Jerusalem. They celebrated his arrival by waving palm fronds, little realizing that he was coming to die for their sins. By using palms from Palm Sunday, it is a reminder that we must not only rejoice of Jesus' coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for him to die for us in order to save us from hell.
Q: Is having one's forehead signed with ashes required of the faithful?
A: No, it is not required. However, it is to be strongly encouraged as it is a fitting and visible spiritual reminder that encourages one to adopt an attitude of prayer, repentance, and humility. As James said: "Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up"(James 4:10).
Q: Is Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation, that is, a day on which we are required to go to Mass?
A: No, it is not a holy day of obligation. However, it is strongly advisable since it is fitting to mark the beginning of penitential season of Lent by going to Mass. The formal, corporate worship of God is a good way to get a good start to the season. Also, even though it is not a holy day of obligation, it is a day of fast and abstinence.
Q: Why isn't Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation?
A: Holy days of obligation are either commemorations of particular events (such as the birth of Christ or the presentation of Jesus in the Temple), particular people (such as Jesus' earthly father, St. Joseph), or important theological concepts (such as the Kingship of Christ). Ash Wednesday does not commemorate any event (nothing special happened forty days before the crucifixionat least not that we know of), and could only be said to indirectly commemorate a Person (Christ) since it is the beginning of preparation for the greater celebrations of Christ's saving work, which follow, and although Ash Wednesday is a day of penance (like all of the days of Lent except Sundays, which are feast days no matter when they occur in the liturgical calendar since they celebrate Christ's resurrection), the Church has never chosen to make it or any other specific day the definitive commemoration of the concept of repentance.
Copyright (c) 1996 by James Akin. All Rights Reserved
Sorry to hear about your misadventure, but your recollection of it had me LOL!
The priests at my church warn against anyone having anything to do with the new church. (Although I say "my church", it's not actually correct. My wife, daughter and I are not yet baptized, but are waiting until Holy Saturday, which I understand is the traditional day for new converts. We have covered almost all of the basics in our catechism classes, and we're looking forward to April 19th.)
Sorry buddy, I didn't create the Mass of All Time. That would be Christ and His disciples. I just follow it, as demanded by all popes prior to John XXIII.
Your "Mass" was concieved by Cardinal Bugnini.
If the choice is between the two, I think it is a pretty easy choice. Why do you attack people for adhering to the 2,000 year history of God's Own Church?
Didn't you read my post? The priest at this N.O. "Mass" made no mention at all of Lent being a time of repentance. It is simply a time "to grow in our personal relationship with Jesus." That's it. That's Lent at the Mass I attended. So...do I listen to him or to my Traditional Priest, who spent the entire sermon last week on repentance and self-denial and the primacy of love for God over love for ourselves (which is the basis of sin)? You are making my argument for me: I should concentrate on repentance and ignore the polyanna nonsense eminating from the crumbling Novus Ordo establishment.
What glorious and delightful news! How is it that you found the traditional Faith on the first try? Tell me more about your church... Is it indult, independent, or SSPX? Just curious.
Thank God for showing you the Faith!
The N.O. is not Catholic. That is a big big problem. This is important at Lent more than ever.
I mean no personal offense. I have great friends who are protestant. I don't hold that against them at all. I respect their different religious views. My point is not that the N.O. is bad or evil. Simply that it is not Catholic. Just like my Methodist friends are not bad or evil, it is just that they are not Catholic. No bigotry here, just an observation.
way too embarassing!
Just as there is a mark or sign of the beast, there is a mark or sign of G-d.
Exodus 13 (KJV)
9 And it shall be for a sign unto thee upon thine hand, and for a memorial between thine eyes, that the LORD's law may be in thy mouth: for with a strong hand hath the LORD brought thee out of Egypt.
16 And it shall be for a token upon thine hand, and for frontlets between thine eyes: for by strength of hand the LORD brought us forth out of Egypt.
8 And thou shalt bind them for a sign upon thine hand, and they shall be as frontlets between thine eyes.
18 Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.
from the Hebrew
226 'owth oth probably from 225 (in the sense of appearing); a signal (literally or figuratively), as a flag, beacon, monument, omen, prodigy, evidence, etc.:--mark, miracle, (en-)sign, token.
1) sign, signal
a) a distinguishing mark
d) miraculous sign
2) token, ensign, standard, miracle, proof
from the Hebrew
2903 towphaphah to-faw-faw' from an unused root meaning to go around or bind; a fillet for the forehead:--frontlet.
1) bands, phylacteries, frontlets, marks
18 Therefore shall ye lay up these my words in your heart and in your soul, and bind them for a sign upon your hand, that they may be as frontlets between your eyes.
19 And ye shall teach them your children, speaking of them when thou sittest in thine house, and when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down, and when thou risest up.
22 For if ye shall diligently keep all these commandments which I command you, to do them, to love the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, and to cleave unto him;
(Obedience is the test of true love for G-d. Adam and Eve
disobeyed, and were kicked out of the Garden. Abraham obeyed and it
was counted unto him as righteousness)
26 Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse;
(G-d gives us a choice)
27 A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the LORD your God, which I command you this day:
28 And a curse, if ye will not obey the commandments of the LORD your God, but turn aside out of the way which I command you this day, to go after other gods, which ye have not known.
The sign of G-d is His Torah, which in Hebrew means instructions and teachings. Those that accept the Torah are marked as those that are true children of G-d.
Now, that we know what YHWH's sign/mark is... just who's mark are you taking?
Ashes are a mark of faith and a symbol that we use to begin the season of Lent which leads us to Easter.
By wearing Ashes, we recall our baptism, and our welcoming of Jesus into our lives as we prepare ourselves for Easter. During the Ash Wednesday service, we listen to God's word and bless the ashes which are the burnt remains of the palms from Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday we celebrate the day that Jesus was welcomed into Jerusalem with waving palms. In baptism, we welcomed Jesus as our friend, our guide, and our role model. The ashes which remain from the palms remind us that even though we may have turned away from God and made choices that have broken our friendship, still we are welcomed by God. The reading during the Ash Wednesday liturgy reminds us that God gives us the time and the chance to come back no matter how far we have wandered from the path of God's love: "You can still return to me with all your heart..." (Joel 2:12). The seeds of our faith and love are sheltered beneath the ashes much like a seedling in a forest: after a fire, the ashes may look dark, sad and barren, but the ashen remains of the burnt trees serve as a blanket and a shield for the seeds buried beneath. These seeds will sprout in the spring.
Lent is a reminder to all of us of our baptismal call.
Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, which was originally a forty day retreat spent as time of preparation for adults preparing for baptism. The forty days recalled the time that Jesus spent in the desert preparing for his ministry of love, healing and teaching. As Jesus' disciples, we spend our Lenten retreat preparing for Easter and readying ourselves to follow Jesus' call to love.
Wearing ashes is a sign that we remember God's love and our Baptismal promises and we are returning to the hope and joy of God's call.
Ashes are a sign of repentance, that is turning away from sin and evil-anything that goes against God's love. In the early days of the church, persons who had committed serious sins wore ashes and spent time away from the community as a way to think about and heal the wound of their sin. In the Middle Ages, the tradition changed to include the whole community. This change recognized that all of us can forget God's love and friendship and make choices that turn us in a different direction, away from God. The whole community wears ashes as a reminder of God's call and our choice to follow God's way of love. In the Gospel of Ash Wednesday liturgy, Jesus reminds us that our signs of penance are not for making a big deal of our suffering.
We put on signs of faith as an outward sign of our heart's commitment to grow, to love and share.
The ashes we wear are meaningful when they are linked to prayer and acts of love and service.
Ash Wednesday is important because it begins our journey in Lent toward Easter.
Ashes also symbolize death and mourning.
Jesus turned death upside down by his resurrection. When we wear ashes, we remember the cycle of life and death. We remember our God who created us from the earth. We believe in faith that our lives are changed by God's love and that we will share in Jesus' resurrection. So "ashes are turned to garlands of joy" when we journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter.
As Paul said in his letter to the Romans:
"Yet God raised Jesus to life! God's Spirit now lives in you, and he will raise you to life by his Spirit." (Romans 8:11)
Please cite the scripture saying that we are to have ash markings on our forheads, in the shape of a cross. Thanks. By the way, it seems that it may be more of a 'tradition of men', than a request of YHWH. ;)
1 Kings 18:21 (JPS)
21 And Elijah came near unto all the people, and said: 'How long halt ye between two opinions? if YHWH be God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him.' And the people answered him not a word.
Now a rephrase...
1 Kings 18:21
21 And Elijah came near unto all the people, and said: 'How long halt ye between two opinions? if YHWH be God, follow Him; but if Jesus, follow him.' And the people answered him not a word.
At some point you will have to make a choice
**Ashes are a sign of repentance, that is turning away from sin and evil-anything that goes against God's love. In the early days of the church, persons who had committed serious sins wore ashes and spent time away from the community as a way to think about and heal the wound of their sin. In the Middle Ages, the tradition changed to include the whole community. This change recognized that all of us can forget God's love and friendship and make choices that turn us in a different direction, away from God. The whole community wears ashes as a reminder of God's call and our choice to follow God's way of love.**
So, I don't think you are saying that you are sinless, I just think that you are saying you don't agree with this Tradition.
Can we agree to disagree here?