As many of you know, Ash Wednesday is coming up, this Wednesday as a matter of fact.
It celebrates the beginning of the Lenten season,46 days before Easter.
In those faith traditions that formally observe it, the practice consists of the faithful receiving a cross of ashes on the forehead as a sign of repentance. The ashes of course are the remains of the Palms from last years Palm Sunday service. The recipient allows the cross in ashes to remain on the forehead until the evening.
In some churches paper is distributed whereby the penitent writes down a sin. These are collected and burnt at the alter.
The practice is a sacramental not a sacrament, and thus all baptized Christians are entitled to partake regardless of denomination. In some communities such as the Roman Catholic and Anglican, it is also a day of fasting.
Non-Christians can best note the date by it being the day after Mardi Gras , Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday.
The practice of using ashes dates back to the Old Testament which is replete with the example of tossing ashes over one’s head as an indication of mourning or repentance. Some Christians take a more literal approach and find the practice pagan in origin and refuse to engage in it, citing Matthew 6: 16-18. They claim that Jesus specifically warned against public displays of fasting.
You may find more information at this Wikipedia site, here.
T.S. Eliot wrote a poem entitled: Ash-Wednesday upon his conversion to Anglicanism in 1927.
The reason I post today, rather than Wednesday itself, is that I, no doubt like many of the faithful are beginning to think of what penance we will do this Lenten season. It is customary in the Roman tradition, and I assume in the Anglican as well, to “give up” something for Lent.
This we do as a way of joining with Jesus in his suffering before the glorious resurrection at Easter. I have found that personally, I find it more meaningful to “add” rather than give up. One year, a priest at the church I was attending determined to say mass and the stations of the cross at 6 am each day. I made all but one day, having had on one occasion to take my father to the hospital in the middle of the night. I found that season one of the most special of my life.
This year I have so far decided to add the Chaplet of the Divine Mercy to my devotional practice each day. I am still undecided about what else I might do.
I should add that next Saturday my church is having a day of silence in the desert. We are gathering for six hours of short talks and quiet time. I am very much looking forward to that as well. The church is also offering a Wednesday dinner and discussion and Sunday adult education discussion each week during the period. I’ll not be going in for the Wednesday evening dinners, but I will be attending the adult education classes on Lent.
So I thought I would ask you, what you have decided on this year. Perhaps in our sharing we can give each other some ideas, and in the end, make the period more meaningful for us all.