[The Classic Christian] What&Why: "Ash Wednesday" -WikiPedia

Posted: March 10, 2011 in Uncategorized

“Ash Wednesday”

Ash Wednesday, in the calendar of Western Christianity, is the first day of Lent and occurs 46 days before Easter. It is a moveable fast, 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.

According to the Canonical gospels of MatthewMark and LukeJesus spent forty days fasting in the desert before the beginning of his public ministry, during which he endured temptation by Satan.[1][2] Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of this forty day liturgical period of prayer and fasting.

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.[3]

This practice is common in much of Christendom, being celebrated by CatholicsEpiscopaliansLutheransMethodistsPresbyterians, and Anglicans.[4][5

 

Ritual

At Masses and services of worship on this day, ashes are imposed on the foreheads of the faithful (or on the tonsure spots, in the case of some clergy). The priestminister, or in some cases officiating layperson, marks the forehead of each participant with black ashes in the shape of a cross, which the worshipper traditionally retains until it wears off. The act echoes the ancient Near Eastern tradition of throwing ashes over one’s head to signify repentance before God (as related in the Bible). The priest or minister says one of the following when applying the ashes:

Remember that thou art dust, and to dust thou shalt return.
Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.
A priest marks a cross of ashes on a worshipper's forehead.

The imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday

The liturgical imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday is a sacramental, not a sacrament, and in the 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[6] or olive oil,[7] 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.[8] The service also often includes a corporate confession rite.

In some of the low church traditions, other practices are sometimes added or substituted, as other ways of symbolizing the confession and penitence of the day. For example, in one common variation, small cards are distributed to the congregation on which people are invited to write a sin they wish to confess. These small cards are brought forth to the altar table where they are burned.[9]

In the Catholic Church, ashes, being sacramentals, may be given to anyone who wishes to receive them,[10][11] as opposed to Catholic sacraments, which are generally reserved for church members, except in cases of grave necessity.[12][13] Similarly, in other Christian denominations ashes may be received by all who profess the Christian faith and are baptized.[14]

In the Catholic Church, Ash Wednesday is observed by fastingabstinence from meat, and repentance—a day of contemplating one’s transgressions. The Anglican Book of Common Prayer also designates Ash Wednesday as a day of fasting. In the medieval period, Ash Wednesday was the required annual day of penitential confession occurring after fasting and the remittance of the tithe. In other Christian denominations these practices are optional, with the main focus being on repentance. 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. Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are also days of abstinence from meat (mammals and fowl), as are all Fridays during Lent.[15] Some Catholics continue fasting beyond Lent,[citation needed] as was the Church’s traditional requirement,[16] concluding only after the celebration of the Easter Vigil.

As the first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday comes the day after Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the last day of the Carnival season.

[edit]Biblical significance

“Ash Wednesday” by Carl Spitzweg: the end of Carnival.

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 pleaded for 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).

Other examples are found in several other books of the Bible including, Numbers 19:919:17Jonah 3:6

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