Ash Wednesday– most of us have heard the name, and many of us know the tradition of a priest “imposing” or putting ash on people’s foreheads. Why do we do it? Fr Chris continues our series about why we do the things we do at St Chrysostom’s.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent. We begin this special season with a strong physical reminder that we are entering into a serious period of penitence (Lent) when we take stock of our lives, and live a more austere life, and explore our faith more deeply.
In the Old Testament, Job repents “in dust and ashes,” and we find other examples of ashes and repentance in Esther, Samuel, Isaiah and Jeremiah.
As they “impose” or put on us the ashes, the priests remind each individual of the sombre words from Genesis 3:19: “Dust you are and to dust you shall return,” sometimes the phrase “Repent and believe in the Gospel” is added. It is a stark reminder that we are nothing without the grace of God. It is God who makes us and models us from the dust of the earth.
Those words from the Genesis story are said to Adam and Eve when they were expelled from the Garden of Eden because of their disobedience. As human beings, like Adam and Eve, we are not perfect. We know of our need of God to help us to amend our lives. The ashes on our forehead remind us of this and help us to enter personally into this deep truth.
The “Ashing” is symbolic, and people choose to wear these ashes for a while, whilst others rub them off quite quickie. Either way it is a reminder that our lives are short, and that we end up as ash and dirt. The Ash is marked in the form of a cross – and an earlier question in this series looked at the use of the sign of the cross. We may be made of dust, but we can share in the victory of the Cross.
The ceremony traditionally takes place as we go to Mass on Ash Wednesday, but in fact ashes can be imposed anywhere. At St Chrysostom’s we often do Ashing to Go outside Church or elsewhere in the parish, and in the States the ceremony is found in a wide variety of places – even in Car Washes!