We Just had Christmas & Now it is Lent!
From the desk of Fr Casey
And of course, in 2021, Ash Wednesday will look different, so I want to talk about that.
First, what is the symbolism of ashes? In the Old Testament, quite frequently, ashes are a sign of repentance and mourning. For example, Job, after he experienced great loss, clothed himself in sackcloth and rolled in ashes. We also hear of another biblical figure in the book of Samuel, Tamar, who had a very tragic life and she sprinkled ashes on her head.
Liturgically ashes have been used for a long time. It was used in the order of catechumens preparing to be baptized, as a sign of their coming into the Church and repenting of their old ways. The ashes are from something burned and represent an end of one thing and beginning of another. Later, in the order of penitence, ashes were used. In the old church if you sinned seriously enough you had to confess those sins to the bishop in front of everyone and then you would have to go through a period of mourning, of fasting and of prayer (here are the origins of Lent). You would sit outside the church wearing sackcloth with ashes on your head as a sign that you were repenting. The ashes are symbolic of our own repentance. And, from the early centuries of the church, ashes were administered by being sprinkled on the person’s head.
In the last few centuries, we saw an evolution happen in the English-speaking world and really, only in the English-speaking world. In Europe it is still very common to have ashes sprinkled over a person head on Ash Wednesday. We are not quite sure where the mark of the cross on the forehead originated. Some think it may have Celtic origins in Ireland or perhaps in England, but it is a recent innovation. This is important for us to understand because Ash Wednesday is going to look different this year considering the Covid-19 pandemic. We want to prevent touching each other especially in large crowds like we typically have on Ash Wednesday. This year, for Ash Wednesday, the priest or person giving you ashes will be wearing a mask and will say the words “Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return” to everyone in general. Then you will come forward to have ashes sprinkled on the top of your heads.
I like this, actually, because it almost seems insincere to me that we have the beautiful gospel where Jesus says that fasting should be in private and not so that others know, and then converse to this we put big ash marks on people faces. Being forced to go to this earlier practice of sprinkling is a reminder that the ashes are symbolic of the repentance that the Lord is calling us to in our hearts during this Lenten season.
We invite you to join us here are St. Elizabeth Seton Church in Naples or any of the parishes in the Diocese of Venice or throughout the world to celebrate the beauty of the Lord’s cross and resurrection as we reclaim our baptismal identity as daughters and sons of God during this Lenten season with this beautiful and symbolic gesture of receiving ashes. These ashes are the reminder that one day everything in the world is going to pass, is going to burn, is going to be gone, but the love of Christ alone will last through eternity.
February 17, Ash Wednesday Mass times: 7:30 AM, 12:15 PM and 7:00 PM (Bilingual).