Vatican Corner 02-18-18


Ash Wednesday may be the busiest church day of the year, possibly beating out Easter and Christmas for attendance, and yet it is not a holy day of obligation. It is the first day of Lent and it always falls forty-six days before Easter. It is a religious service to prepare church members to better appreciate the death and resurrection of Christ through self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting and self-denial. Ashes from the burned palms from the last year’s Palm Sunday are blessed and used to mark the forehead of worshipers with the sign of the cross. When marking the foreheads, the priest or ministers say either the new words: “Repent, and believe in the Gospel”, or the old words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” It is a reminder that we are only on this earth for a short time and we need to prepare for a holy death. So why do the people come in droves to Church on that day? For some who receive the ashes, it may be nothing more than a bit of protection against something frightening. For others it may be just the thing that is always done without giving it any thought. Those people may not be seen again in church for another year. Some people feel they need to make a public display of their religion by displaying their ash cross. Others may feel it is one of the few times we are given permission to consider death. That life is indeed more than a bucket list, and that we are called to something larger in the way we serve and love God and, in the way, we serve and love one another. Ash Wednesday is a way for Christians to remind themselves that they need to turn away from sin and be faithful to the gospel. During last year’s Ash Wednesday Mass on March 1, 2017, Pope Francis spoke about the bad habits, negativity, and sin present in our lives which cause us to be choked off from the life-giving breath of God. He said the “mark of the ashes reminds us of our origin” we were taken from the earth, we are made of dust.” He said Lent is a time of saying ‘no’ to indifference, of trivializing life, of excluding people, and of looking for God while ignoring the “wounds of Christ present in the wounds of others. He said it is a time to examine our manner of praying, giving alms, and fasting, to be sure that we aren’t doing it for the wrong reason, like to feel good about ourselves. He said “Lent is the time to reflect and ask ourselves what we would be if God had closed his doors to us. What would we be without his mercy that never tires of forgiving us and always gives us the chance to begin anew?” He said “it is time to open our hearts to the breath of the One capable of turning our dust into humanity.”