Mornings in our home are usually filled with the sounds from a Christian radio station. This morning a caller asked one of the disc jockey’s “What is the reason for Ash Wednesday?”
The disc jockey said something to the jest of, “Christians have Ash Wednesday because by placing the ashes on their forehead they are proclaiming the sacrifice of Jesus.”
I thought, that’s not biblically correct and that is not even what it means to those who will get ashes on their forehead’s today.
Now the disc jockey is just that, a disc jockey. She is not a theologian so I am not wanting to make the focus on her, but on the fact that many Christian’s like her don’t have a clue about Ash Wednesday either.
First, let me state the obvious, Ash Wednesday and Lent is not a biblical teaching, but a Catholic Church teaching.
Ash Wednesday signifies the start of Lent. Fat Tuesday is the last day of revelry before this start, and Lent is a 40 day period that leads up to Easter Sunday.
The practice of making a sign of the cross by the finger of the priest dipped in “blessed” ashes can be traced back to the Middle Ages when it was marked as the beginning of the Lenten season. As the priest impresses the sign of the cross upon one’s forehead with the ashes he says something like “Remember, oh man you are dust and to dust you shall return.”
In this case, Catholicism draws upon a few Old Testament examples of “sackcloth and ashes” as a symbolism of mourning, mortality, and penance relating that to their start of their Lenten season.
Father William Saunders, a Catholic priest and the dean of the Notre Dame Graduate School of Christendom College, wrote in an article on The History of Lent, that “Lent is a special time of prayer, penance, sacrifice and good works in preparation of the celebration of Easter.”
He went on to state the origin of lent was “in the desire to renew the liturgical practices of the Church.”
He said Lent is a Catholic construct for the purpose of renewing an interest and involvement in liturgical practices of the Catholic Church. It makes me wonder why some Protestant church participate in the practice. It also makes me wonder how that meeting went, How can we get people back to mass? Let’s convince them to follow a Lenten practice, beginning with a Day of Ashes, of course.
Many of us know Lent as a time when someone gives up something like candy, a favorite food, social media, or some type of life activity as a sacrifice to appease some type of penance to prepare for some type of spiritual experience on Easter Sunday. It seems to me that a good thing to give up would be an emphasis on self and religious activity, and simply fix your heart and mind on the wonderful Savior Jesus Christ.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy of Vatican Council II would disagree with me because it stated, “The two elements which are especially characteristic of Lent — the recalling of baptism or the preparation for it, and penance — should be given greater emphasis in the liturgy and in liturgical catechesis. It is by means of them that the Church prepares the faithful for the celebration of Easter, while they hear God’s word more frequently and devote more time to prayer”.
I’m sure somewhere in all this practice of Ash Wednesday and Lent someone is being encouraged to grow spiritually, but they could certainly do it better by sticking with the Bible and “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).
Besides, Jesus had something to say about wearing your your spiritual discipline on your face when He said, “And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:16-18, ESV).