ASH WEDNESDAY marks the First Day of LENT by Roman Catholics in Mangaluru-the Rome of the East

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ASH WEDNESDAY marks the First Day of LENT by Roman Catholics in Mangaluru-the Rome of the East

Mangaluru: Let’s talk about Ash Wednesday- it is a Christian Holy day of prayer and fasting, and falls on the first day of Lent, the six weeks of penitence (40 days) before Easter, and you may encounter Christians, especially Catholics, wearing a smudge of ashes on their foreheads. That could be a bit startling unless you know the meaning behind this religious practice. What is Ash Wednesday? Ash Wednesday — officially known as the Day of Ashes — is a day of repentance, when Christians confess their sins and profess their devotion to God. During a Mass, a priest places the ashes on a worshiper’s forehead in the shape of a cross. The ceremony is meant to show that a person belongs to Jesus Christ, and it also represents a person’s grief and mourning for their sins — the same sins that Christians believe Jesus Christ gave his life for when he died on the cross.

14 February, the Ash Wednesday was observed at St Anthony’s Charitable Institutions/Ashram, Jeppu, Mangaluru, joined by the Ashram Inmates, along with other Catholic Faithful at the Ashram Chapel in the morning, with a spiritual mass celebrated by Fr J B Crasta-Director of the Institution/Ashram; Fr Gilbert D’souza-the Spiritual Director there; and Fr Nelson Peris, the Assistant Director at the Institution; and also at many Catholic churches in the Rome of the East aka Mangaluru. Attended by a large number of Catholic faithful, Ash Wednesday is important because it marks the start of the Lenten period leading up to Easter when Christians believe Jesus was resurrected.

Before the commencement of the Mass, the priests applied ash with the sign of the Cross on the forehead of the devotees attending the mass, as it marks the beginning of the Lent, and the faithful were in a mood of repentance and prayer. The priest who makes the sign of the Cross with the ashes on the forehead of the faithful says, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, or “Repent, and believe the Gospel.” It is important to note that ashes are a symbol of man’s mortality and represent an attitude of humility, sorrow, and repentance. Over the next month, devotees are encouraged to fast, pray, and seek repentance for their sins.

This ritual of Ash Wednesday had its origin around the eighth century and extends back to the custom during Biblical times of people humbling themselves by wearing sackcloths and applying ashes on their forehead and body as a mark of repentance and penance. Ash Wednesday falls on a different day each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. Ash Wednesday always occurs six and a half weeks before Easter. Easter will be celebrated this year on Sunday, 31 March 2024. The ashes symbolize both death and repentance. During this period, Christians show repentance and mourning for their sins, because they believe Christ died for them. A worshiper is not required to wear the ashes for the rest of the day, although many Christians choose to do so. However, dining out or doing non-essential shopping are considered inappropriate on Ash Wednesday.

Fr Gilbert D’Souza, the Spiritual Director at the Ashram applies Ash on a devotee during the mass

The Lenten season has been considered as a period of fasting, penance and prayers. Fast and abstinence have been an integral part of the season of Lent. However, with time there has been considerable relaxation in the practice, especially in the Roman Catholic Church. Among the Catholics, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, those who are between the ages of 18 and 59 are advised to fast by consuming only one full meal and practice abstinence. The Church has not imposed on the Catholics any specific rules and regulations regarding abstinence. However, a person is encouraged to abstain from at least one pleasure-giving activity. Generally, people abstain from certain kinds of diets such as non-vegetarian food, alcohol, cigarettes, etc. However, there are many Christians who voluntarily undertake a complete or partial fast on the days of their choice, usually on Fridays.

Fasting and abstinence are recommended by all religions in some form or the other as it is believed that such practices help a person to grow spiritually. Besides, it also strengthens willpower and builds a person’s character. It is also said that if a person habitually fasts, he or she may not easily become a victim of temptations and sins. Where do the ashes come from? Traditionally, ashes used on Ash Wednesday are gathered up after palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. They are then blessed before being used in the ceremony. Palms are used on Palm Sunday in many Christian churches to symbolize Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion. Residents of Jerusalem are said to have waved palm fronds to celebrate his arrival.

Can Catholics eat meat on Ash Wednesday? No. Catholics are not supposed to eat meat on Ash Wednesday. They also are expected to give up meat on Fridays during Lent. Catholics also are expected to fast on Ash Wednesday. Fasting means consuming only one full meal a day; two smaller meals that don’t together add up to a full meal also are allowed. Children and the elderly are exempt from the fasting requirement on Ash Wednesday and during Lent.

When can you wash the ash off your forehead? No one is required to keep the ashes on his or her face after the ritual. But some choose to, perhaps as a reminder to themselves that they are mortal and fallible, while others may choose to leave them on as a witness to their faith in the hope others will ask about them and open a door to sharing their faith. The forty-day-long Lenten season is a spiritual preparation for the great feast of Easter, in which the resurrection of Jesus Christ following his Crucifixion on Good Friday is being solemnly celebrated.

After 40 days of LENT, Catholics will celebrate the joyous Resurrection of Jesus Christ ‘EASTER’ on ‘Easter Sunday’ which falls on 31 March 2024.

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