An apologetic explaining the use of ashes on the 1st day of Lent, and a background of Ash Wednesday.
THE IMPOSITION OF ASHES: IT’S BIBLICAL BASIS
1.) GENESIS 3:19
“Remember that from dirt you came, and to dirt you will return.”
This is one of the formulas used when the Priest/Lay Minister imposes the ashes on the forehead. It is a sign that all human individuals are mortal so all of us will experience our own death and resurrection. We has been created from dust, so our bodies will soon decay until they become dust. But the soul will be in eternal life, which we desire with God in heaven.
2.) JOB 42:6
“Therefore I disown what I have said, and repent in dust and ashes.”
Ashes symbolize repentance. That is why it is fitting to start the Lenten Season by having ashes imposed on our foreheads. They symbolize that we are sinners who are desired for penance and conversion, so that we might once again receive the grace of God.
BACKGROUND OF ASH WEDNESDAY AND THE LENTEN SEASON
The word ‘Lent’ came from the Latin term ‘Lencten,’ which means “springtime”. It also came from another Latin term ‘Quadragesima,’ and the Abakada term ‘Cuaresma,’ which was translated in Filipino into ‘Kuwaresma,’ which means “forty days”. In the Bible, there are accounts that mention the importance of the number forty. In Genesis, Noah, his family and the animals were trapped in the ark for forty days and forty nights during the Great Flood, and afterwards God made a covenant through the rainbow that he will not destroy the earth with a flood again. In the Pentateuch, the Israelites were in exile in the Sinai desert for forty years, but afterwards God showed Moses at the top of Mount Nebo the Promised Land, Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey, and this is where the children of Abraham lived. Jesus was tempted in the Jordan desert fasting for forty days and forty nights, and because of fighting the temptation, he was ministered by the angels. Forty days after his resurrection, he ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of the Father. The significance of the number forty is that there is a renewal, a change of life in the end after such long-term period of waiting, spending and anxiousness.
The Season of Lent is the time to prepare ourselves for the commemoration of the Paschal Mystery of our Lord Jesus Christ during Holy Week. It starts from Ash Wednesday and ends on the noon of Holy Thursday. On Ash Wednesday, the ashes are imposed on our foreheads, to symbolize the words of God to Adam after the Fall of Man, that ‘we are dust, and to dust we shall return.’ (Genesis 3:21). Jesus is the new Adam who avoids temptation, renews all things through his Paschal Mystery, and rises again from death empowering the Sacrament of Baptism.
Four practices are observed during this season: fasting, abstinence, prayer, and almsgiving. Fasting is the observance of one full meal for those who are 18-60 years old on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Abstinence is the abstaining not only from meat but from obsession of too much materialism. It is required for those who are 14 years old and above on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and all Fridays of Lent. Prayer is also important such as the Way of the Cross and the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Almsgiving is where we perform spiritual and corporal works of mercy as sacrifices to the poor, the needy, and even our own brothers and sisters.
The last week of Lent is called “Holy Week”. It is the most solemn celebration in the whole Christendom. We commemorate the events that happened during the Paschal Mystery of Christ from his triumphant entry into Jerusalem until his death and resurrection, which is the greatest plan of God’s salvation for us and for all people. As we begin this holy season, let us be meek and humble because we are all sinners, yet we desire conversion by our faithfulness to the Lord. Let us have sincere hearts in doing acts of penance, kindness, and charity.