Christians celebrate Ash Wednesday this year, on February 13, 2013 around the Globe. This marks the beginning of Lenten season which last for 40 days which completes up to Easter.
In the Roman Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season of preparation for the resurrection of Jesus Christ on Easter. It is a moveable feast, falling on a different date each year because it is dependent on the date of Easter. It can occur as early as February 4 or as late as March 10.
Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of placing ashes on the foreheads of adherents as a sign of mourning and repentance to God. The ashes used are typically gathered after the palms from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned. This practice is common in much of Christendom, being celebrated by Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Methodists, , and some Baptist denominations.
Catholic understanding of the term the ashes themselves are also a sacramental. The ashes are blessed according to various rites proper to each liturgical tradition, sometimes involving the use of Holy Water. In some churches, they are mixed with a small amount of water or olive oil, which serve as a fixative. In most liturgies for Ash Wednesday, the Penitential psalms are read; Psalm 51 (LXX Psalm 50) is especially associated with this day. The service also often includes a corporate confession rite.
In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fasting, abstinence from meat, and repentance?a day of contemplating one’s transgressions. On Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, Catholics between the ages of 18 and 59 (whose health enables them to do so) are permitted to consume only one full meal, which may be supplemented by two smaller meals, which together should not equal the full meal. Some Catholics will go beyond the minimum obligations demanded by the Church and undertake a complete fast or a bread and water fast.
At the beginning of Lent, on Ash Wednesday, Christians go to the Church and attend mass ashes then are blessed during Mass, after the homily. The blessed ashes are then “imposed” on the faithful as a sign of conversion, penance, fasting and human mortality. The priest will recite telling the faithful ?Oh man dust you are and dust you will return ?.Priests or deacons normally impart this sacramental, but instituted acolytes, other extraordinary ministers or designated lay people may be delegated to impart ashes, if the bishop judges that this is necessary.
The number 40 is a special number in the Bible. It signifies preparation for something special:
- The rain lasted for 40 days in the mighty flood – Noah
- Moses stayed on the Mount Sinai forty days (Ex 24:18)
- Jonah gave the people of Ninevah forty days to repent (Jon 3:4)
- Jesus, before starting his ministry, spent forty days in the desert in prayer and fasting (Matt 4:2)
Other examples are found in several other books of the Bible including, Numbers 19:9, 19:17, Jonah 3:6, Matthew 11:21 and Luke 10:13, and Hebrews9:13. Ezekiel 9 also speaks of a linen-clad messenger marking the forehead of the city inhabitants that have sorrow over the sins of the people. All those without the mark are destroyed.
It marks the start of a 40-day period which is an allusion to the separation of Jesus in the desert to fast and pray. During this time he was tempted. Matthew 4:1?11, Mark 1:12?13, and Luke 4:1?13. While not specifically instituted in the Bible text, the 40-day period of repentance is also analogous to the 40 days during which Moses repented and fasted in response to the making of the Golden calf. (Jews today follow a 40-day period of repenting during the High Holy Days from Rosh Chodesh Elul to Yom Kippur.)
According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke; Jesus spent 40 days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this 40-day liturgical period of prayer and fasting.
The act of putting on ashes symbolizes fragility and mortality, and the need to be redeemed by the mercy of God. Far from being a merely external act, the Church has retained the use of ashes to symbolize that attitude of internal penance to which all the baptized are called during Lent.
Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance and it marks the beginning of Lent. Ashes were used in ancient times, according to the Bible, to express mourning. Dusting oneself with ashes was the penitent’s way of expressing sorrow for sins and faults. An ancient example of one expressing one’s penitence is found in Job 42:3?6. Job says to God: “I have heard of thee by the hearing of the ear: but now mine eye seeth thee. The other eye wandereth of its own accord. Wherefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (vv. 5?6, KJV) The prophet Jeremiah, for example, calls for repentance this way: “O daughter of my people, gird on sackcloth, roll in the ashes” (Jer 6:26). The prophet Daniel recounted pleading to God this way: “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). Just prior to the New Testament period, the rebels fighting for Jewish independence, the Maccabees, prepared for battle using ashes: “That day they fasted and wore sackcloth; they sprinkled ashes on their heads and tore their clothes” (1 Maccabees 3:47; see also 4:39).
Now let us examine some of the obligations Christians have to follow during this season of lent. For the preparation of the Great feast of Easter or the Resurrection of Christ.
- Renewal of Baptismal vows: God calls everyone during this time to live the baptism vows. On the day of Pasch or Easter Mass Church calls its faithful to join hands and to live the Gospel values given by our Lord Jesus Christ.
- Struggle and fight against evil spirits and renew the spiritual values: God calls his faithful during this time of lent to get rid of material desires and attain spiritual values of love, generosity, kindness, charity, welfare of others, purity, gentelness and to give up, jelousy, hatred, harmful nature, anger, wicked thoughts, bad behavior and bad habits.etc,
- Prayer: Early Christians used to fast and meditate on the life , passion and death of Christ. As we know Jesus spent a lot of time in prayer. This example of Jesus prayer makes us to pray constantly with God the Father so that man can have a constant relation with God. Jesus succeeded in His mission through prayer. So Lanten season gives us a special opportunity to build up a deep relation with God. Prayer influences our life with one another. Once we keep good relation with one another our relation with God improves and we become children of God. Prayer changes our life and our plan to serve God and fellow being. Prayer is a light for a new life with God.In Gods plan for us prayer helps us as bridge to open our life with God?s constant love.This love makes us a child/friend of God. Jesus told- I no longer call you servents because a servent does not know his masters business, instead I called you friends for everything I learnt from my Father, I have made known to you. (Jn:15-15). Mostly we are co-workers with God?s service, you are God?s Field and God?s builders (1 Cor: 3:9).
- Fasting: Every religion have its own meaning regarding fasting. The goodness of fasting distributes its fruits at large to the individual. Early church had a great importance on fasting. God’s chosen people recommended fasting for the second coming of Christ. Even today we believe this. Church keeps Ash Wed. and Good Friday strictly because during lenten season Church calls the faithful to give up their bad habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, avoid sexual union. By Fasting man accept before God that he is a sinful man and acquiring God?s grace to live a new life.We are change of heart to love God more closely as God forgives our sins. When we fast honestly it gives fruits. Like when Jesus fasted for 40 days he acquired Gods help in His mission. St. Basil Says ?God taught Adam about fasting telling him not to eat the fruit of that particular forbidden tree.? (Utpatti 2:17).In old testament Nineva people accepted fasting for their sins and they are all saved by God. When fasting it should come from heart and with a good intention, need not seen by others , as Jesus says ?so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only your Father who is unseen and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. (Mt 6:18) Perfect fasting gives us new spirit and helps not only ourselves but to live for Jesus who gave his life our us sinners.
- Charity Work: All religions follow the obligations form charity work. We see around the world thousands of charity institutions run by Missionaries, Govt. Organizations, Private Institutions all over the world. As an individual can do a lot charity works by giving financial help to the needy, educational assistance, tuitions free of cost, giving alms, distributing food to the poor, giving money to the poor and so on. So during this lent God calls us to do this little charity towards others.
In O.T. God gave command to his people give alms to the poor (Lev 23:23). When you cut crops (kanas) don?t cut till the last edge, rather leave it and don?t pick up the fallen crop(Kanas) but leave it for the poor people. In New Testament Jesus says ?
So when you give to the needy and poor do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites, do it in the synagogues and on the streets to be honored by men, I tell you the truth they have received their reward in full, but when you give to the needy do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father, who sees what is done in secret will reward you. During this time of lent let us try to give as much as possible to the needy and downtrodden so that we acquire blessing from God.
The doctrine of repentance as taught in the Bible is a call to persons to make a radical turn from one way of life to another. The repentance called for throughout the Bible is a summons to a personal, absolute and ultimate unconditional surrender to God as Sovereign. Though it includes sorrow and regret, it is more than that. It is a call to conversion from self-love, self-trust, and self-assertion to obedient trust and self-commitment to God. It is a change of mind that involves a conscious turning away from wrong actions, attitudes and thoughts that conflict with a Godly lifestyle and biblical commands, and an intentional turning toward doing that which the Bible says pleases God. In repenting, one makes a complete change of direction (180? turn) toward God. The words “repent,” “repentance,” and “repented” are mentioned over 100 times in the Bible. So when we repent and confess our sins before God He forgives all our sins and makes His children and we will re- born again.
Church celebrates Ash wed every year and it comes and goes but let us treat this year?s lent as important too in our life to have a change within us and accept a new way of life with God to become truly the Children of God for ever. May God bless all of us and wish everyone a blessed Ash Wed and a fruitful lenten season ahead.
Author: Alban DSouza – Udyavara