The Wednesday of Ashes marks the beginning of Lent, a path of penance and spiritual preparation before the great feast of Easter! The date of the day of the ashes varies, because it takes place forty days before Easter. But what is the meaning of this feast and how is it celebrated?
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For Christians, Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent and the beginning of a path of conversion that leads to the great feast of Easter!
On the day of the ashes, everyone is called to unite with Jesus through prayer and fasting. These acts are in line with Christ, who himself fasted and prayed for forty days in the desert, in order to prepare for his passion and resurrection.
The origins of Ash Wednesday date back to the sixth century, under the pontificate of Pope Gregory the Great. He decided to consecrate the ashes of the branches of the previous year and to draw a cross on the foreheads of the faithful, as a sign of penance.
The practice of the imposition of ashes is present in the Old Testament, but also in some ancient religions: it is described as a gesture of penance because of the fickle and sinful nature of men. Indeed, before God, man is a sinner and constantly needs his divine mercy.
The ash is also the symbol of human insignificance, because our nature is precarious, as Abraham recalls when he addresses God: “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes,” (Gen 18:27).
To accept to wear ashes bearing the sign of the cross of Christ on your forehead is to remember your sinful condition and ephemeral nature, but also to be aware that we need the mercy of God more than ever! It is to be aware that the fire of God's love consumes all our sins and that beyond our ashes, there is the resurrection that awaits us!
For Christians, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, culminating in the great feast of Easter! Each year, Easter being fixed on a different date, Ash Wednesday also falls on dates that vary according to the year. It takes place between February 5 and March 9.
The chosen date of Ash Wednesday stems from the duration of Lent, which is always 40 days. Since Sundays are not counted as Lenten days, Ash Wednesday is therefore set at exactly 46 days before the Easter feast! It is preceded by the famous "Mardi Gras", a day of festivities and the last day to eat "gras” (fat) before Lent.
At the Mass of the ashes, before the consecration, the ashes are put on the faithful. The priest pronounces words of blessing: "Let us ask the Lord to bless these ashes whose foreheads will be marked as a sign of penance", then mark each of them with the sign of the cross by pronouncing the following sentence: “Repent and believe the good news!” (Mark 1: 15) or “remember that you are dust and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:19).
These words are an invitation to everyone to recognize his fragility and littleness, it is an exhortation to conversion of heart, to conform his life to the gospel of Christ!
Readings tell us to meditate on this urgent call: “Let yourselves be reconciled with God. Now is the good time,” says Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians (Corinthians 5: 1); or “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.” (Joel 2:13)
This psalm expresses the attitude of the fisherman who implores God's mercy: “Mercy on me, my God, in your love, according to your great mercy, erase my sin.” (Psalms 50:3)
Finally, in the Gospel of Saint Matthew, we listen to Jesus explain how to live in fasting and prayer: “But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” (Matthew 6:16-18).
“Lord our God, you who do not want the death of the sinner but his conversion, in your goodness, hear our prayer; bless the ashes with which we will be marked, we who come from the earth and must return to the earth. By applying ourselves to observing Lent, may we obtain the forgiveness of our sins and live new life in the image of your resurrected son. He who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.”
The Wednesday of Ashes, a day of penance, reminds us of our poverty and our smallness. But it is also a day of hope, because Christ wants us to rise from our ashes! It is He who gives life to everything and everything, who affirmed "I am the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). Let us therefore already be in Easter joy: we are ashes and dust, but destined for the resurrection!
So, pray that Jesus will give you a new breath of life. Follow Hozana's beautiful proposals to entrust your weaknesses, your sufferings, and your miseries to God!