Ash Wednesday is the opening day of Lent on this day some Christians receive ashes on their forehead as a sign of penance. With the ashes the Priest may say “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” or “Repent and believe in the Gospel”.
The tradition of receiving ashes can be traced back to the second century. The receiving of ashes is an admission of sin and a desire to repent.
Sin is an archery term and it means to miss the mark. Anyone who falls short of God’s commands has sinned or missed the mark and needs to repent.
To repent needs to turn away from our sin and, go the other direction, stopping the sinful activity.
Ash Wednesday is also a day of fasting. Fasting goes back to the time of the ancient Jews. It is a part of repentance but it is also a time of pleading with God for his intervention.
For Catholics ashes must be received at Mass. They can be washed off after the Mass but many prefer to wear them as a reminder throughout the day. The ashes themselves are made from the blessed palm from the previous Palm Sunday.
Behavior after the receiving the ashes is important to. Many people do not go to work after receiving the ashes. This is actually not a time to be seen in public. It is a day of fasting and so a meal at restaurant is not considered appropriate, neither is going to the mall or a movie. This time should be spent on prayer and listening for God’s voice in your life.
Lent is commonly referred to as the forty days prior to Easter. This is however not completely true as the days of lent do not include Sundays. So the total days of lent is actually 46.
Lent is a time of reflection fasting and prayer. Many people may find themselves giving time and money to missions or volunteering for other types of human service projects.
Some of the early church Father’s of the fifth century believed that the celebration of lent began with the apostles. Whenever it began its purpose is to draw us closer to God.
The customs of lent vary, many people choose to give up something they love like candy or cheeseburgers, in some cases giving up meat all together is not out of the question. The purpose of giving these things up is not to make us suffer or uncomfortable but to make more time for God by making our own lives simpler. Society today is so complex that the giving up of things for a period of time is not a bad thing.
For instance 46 days of no social media, no cell phone, no computer or electronic games, no TV or fast food could easily give a family the time to get to know each other better.
In the time before the Second World War in Catholic Countries Lent was a much harder time to observe. There were no animal products allowed at all. Today’s Vegans would have no trouble with this. There would be one meal a day and that a vegetable soup. But there was a purpose to this. The purpose was to use the extra time in prayer and meditation and the money that you did not spend on meals went to the poor.
The putting away of things or food that take up our time is really a positive thing, and if thought about not really a hardship. The purpose is to get to know God better. It is only a little more than 50 years since the Vatican Council met and allowed Catholics to read their Bibles as well as hear the Mass in English. A whole new world of spirituality is opened up to us during the season of lent. Slow down, listen, pray and reach for God. He’s waiting to reach for you.