Today in the Holy Mother Church we observe Ash Wednesday with prayer and fasting as we begin this Lenten season, which is the penitential time leading up to Easter. We crowd into the Churches with all the faithful, those who are practice their faith daily and those who may have fallen on their way, but still long to unite themselves to God and His mercy…if but, just for a moment...Together we participate in the solemn act of receiving ashes on our foreheads. We allow the priest to mark us with the blessed ashes as a sign of our desire for conversion. It is a public sign of penance and shows our willingness to let go of our sins and conform our hearts to God. Remember...it is an outward sign of our own humility.
The ashes are a sign of God’s Truth in each of us. With this mark, we are telling the world that due to our inclination to sin, we have fallen short of His plan for us, and we have come to seek His mercy…His forgiveness. We are proclaiming that with this period of forty days, we are going to amend our lives..by turning away from what separates us from Him, so that we can rejoice with Him on Easter…and celebrate the Truth, that it was He, Who saved us from our sins. This act of penance also unites us to one another by proclaiming with this black smudge of ‘dirt’ on our foreheads, that all of us are going to leave this world in the same way…through death…it is our public proclamation to the world that we are but sinners, and but mere dust, without the Lord.
It is by no means a sign of celebration…it is a sign of our repentance…a getting down on our knees before the Lord….and seeking His forgiveness, sign. It is a sign to the world that we are not ashamed to follow Christ. And it can be hard…just try walking through the grocery store with young children with ashes on their foreheads and just watch how quickly they wipe the ashes from their foreheads…trust me, it is not a bragging competition.
The act of putting ashes on the foreheads of the faithful symbolizes our fragility and our morality…we are stating to the world, that in fact we are in need of God’s mercy to be redeemed. But it is not only an external act. We must have an attitude of internal repentance during these coming forty days that lead us to Easter.
Lent is a time for us to deny ourselves the pleasures of this earth. Those of appropriate age and health are required by Church law to abstain from meat (on all Fridays of Lent), and those between the ages of 18 and 59 are obliged to fast. Since Vatican II these rules have been relaxed and we are just required to limit our intact of food to three small meals on Ash Wednesday and then again on Good Friday, the days of total fasting are no longer required, but are permitted. We should add prayer to our daily routine, if we haven’t already. During the Lenten season many churches hold Stations of the Cross on Fridays, which is a perfect way to meditate on Christ’s suffering and passion. It is also a good time to add an hour or two of Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, each week. What better way to aid in our conversion, than to kneel before the Heart of the One who made us. Those quiet moments of contemplation and prayer can really help us put into perspective what matters in this life…it can help us to better focus our hearts and our minds in making this our best Lent ever.
PRAYER FOR ASH WEDNESDAY
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.
1979 Book of Common Prayer