A little known fact about Ash Wednesday

It’s an American custom to smear the ashes on the forehead. In Europe, ashes are usually sprinkled over the crown of the head.

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What Do Palm Ashes Have In Common With Holy Water?

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Q: What Do Palm Ashes Have In Common With Holy Water?

A: When you burn palm leaves you get common, black carbon. When you burn hydrogen, you get clear water.

Both are types of ash. 

Q&A On Ash Wednesday from James Akin

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Q: What is Ash Wednesday?

A: Ash Wednesday is the day Lent begins. It occurs forty days before Good Friday.

Q: Is Ash Wednesday based on a pagan festival?

A: No. Ash Wednesday originated in the A.D. 900s, long after Europe had been Christianized and the pagan cults stamped out.

Q: Why is it called Ash Wednesday?

A: Actually, Ash Wednesday is its colloquial name. Its official name is the Day of Ashes. It is called Ash “Wednesday” because, being forty days before Good Friday, it always falls on a Wednesday and it is called “Ash” Wednesday because on that day at church the faithful have their foreheads marked with ashes in the shape of a cross.

Q: Why do they have their foreheads marked with a cross?

A: Because in the Bible a mark on the forehead is a symbol of a person’s ownership. By having their foreheads marked with the sign of a cross, this symbolizes that the person belongs to Jesus Christ, who died on a Cross.

This is in imitation of the spiritual mark or seal that is put on a Christian in baptism, when he is delivered from slavery to sin and the devil and made a slave of righteousness and Christ (Rom. 6:3-18).

It is also in imitation of the way the righteousness are described in the book of Revelation, where we read of the servants of God (the Christian faithful, as symbolized by the 144,000 male virgins):

“Do not harm the earth or the sea or the trees, till we have sealed the servants of our God upon their foreheads.”(Revelation 7:3)

“[The demon locust] were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any green growth or any tree, but only those of mankind who have not the seal of God upon their foreheads”(Revelation 9:4)

“Then I looked, and lo, on Mount Zion stood the Lamb, and with him a hundred and forty-four thousand who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”(Revelation 14:1)

This is in contrast to the followers of the beast, who have the number 666 on their foreheads or hands.

The reference to the sealing of the servants of God for their protection in Revelation is an allusion to a parallel passage in Ezekiel, where Ezekiel also sees a sealing of the servants of God for their protection:

“And the LORD said to him [one of the four cherubim], ‘Go through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark [literally,”a <tav”>] upon the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and smite; your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity; slay old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one upon whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary.’ So they began with the elders who were before the house.”(Ezekiel 9:4-6)

Unfortunately, like most modern translations, the one quoted above (the Revised Standard Version, which we have been quoting thus far), is not sufficiently literal. What it actually says is to place a <tav> on the foreheads of the righteous inhabitants of Jerusalem. <Tav> is one of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and in ancient script it looked like the Greek letter <chi>, which happens to be two <crossed> lines (like an “x”) and which happens to be the first letter in the word “Christ” in Greek <(christos).> The Jewish rabbis commented on the connection between <tav> and <chi> and this is undoubtedly the mark Revelation has in mind when the servants of God are sealed in it.

The early Church Fathers seized on this <tav-chi->cross-<christos> connection and expounded it in their homilies, seeing in Ezekiel a prophetic foreshadowing of the sealing of Christians as servants of Christ. It is also part of the background to the Catholic practice of making the sign of the cross, which in the early centuries (as can be documented from the second century on) was practiced by using one’s thumb to furrow one’s brow with a small sign of the cross, like Catholic do today at the reading of the Gospel during Mass.

Q: Why is the signing done with ashes?

A: Because ashes are a biblical symbol of mourning and penance. In Bible times the custom was to fast, wear sackcloth, sit in dust and ashes, and put dust and ashes on one’s head. While we no longer normally wear sackcloth or sit in dust and ashes, the customs of fasting and putting ashes on one’s forehead as a sign of mourning and penance have survived to this day. These are two of the key distinctives of Lent. In fact, Ash Wednesday is a day not only for putting ashes on one’s head, but also a day of fasting (see below).

Q: What are some biblical examples of people putting dust and ashes on their foreheads?

A: Consider the following verses from the New International Version:

“That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh, his clothes torn and dust on his head.”(1 Samuel 4:12)

“On the third day a man arrived from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and with dust on his head. When he came to David, he fell to the ground to pay him honor.”(2 Samuel 1:20)

“Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.”(2 Samuel 13:19)

“When David arrived at the summit, where people used to worship God, Hushai the Arkite was there to meet him, his robe torn and dust on his head.”(2 Samuel 15:32)

Q: Is there another significance to the ashes?

A: Yes. They also symbolize death and so remind us of our mortality. Thus when the priest uses his thumb to sign one of the faithful with the ashes, he says, “Remember, man, that thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return, “which is modeled after God’s address to Adam (Genesis 3:19; cf. Job 34:15, Psalms 90:3, 104:29, Ecclesiastes 3:20). This also echoes the words at a burial, “Ashes to ashes; dust to dust, “which is based on God’s words to Adam in Genesis 3 and Abraham’s confession, “I am nothing but dust and ashes”(Genesis 18:27). It is thus a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent before this life is over and we face our Judge.

Q: Where do the ashes used on Ash Wednesday come from?

A: They are made by burning palm fronds which have been saved from the previous year’s Palm Sunday, they are then blessed by a priest—blessed ashes having been used in God’s rituals since the time of Moses (Numbers 19:9-10, 17).

Q: Why are ashes from the previous year’s Palm Sunday used?

A: Because Palm Sunday was when the people rejoiced at Jesus’ triumphal entrance to Jerusalem. They celebrated his arrival by waving palm fronds, little realizing that he was coming to die for their sins. By using palms from Palm Sunday, it is a reminder that we must not only rejoice of Jesus’ coming but also regret the fact that our sins made it necessary for him to die for us in order to save us from hell.

Q: Is having one’s forehead signed with ashes required of the faithful?

A: No, it is not required. However, it is to be strongly encouraged as it is a fitting and visible spiritual reminder that encourages one to adopt an attitude of prayer, repentance, and humility. As James said: “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”(James 4:10).

Q: Is Ash Wednesday a holy day of obligation, that is, a day on which we are required to go to Mass?

A: No, it is not a holy day of obligation. However, it is strongly advisable since it is fitting to mark the beginning of penitential season of Lent by going to Mass. The formal, corporate worship of God is a good way to get a good start to the season. Also, even though it is not a holy day of obligation, it is a day of fast and abstinence.

Click here to visit Jimmy Akin’s website

Submitted by Doria2

Ash Wednesday – What do the ashes signify?

YOUNG WOMAN RECEIVES MARK OF ASHES

By Father Sanders

The liturgical use of ashes originates in the Old Testament times. Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality and penance. For instance, in the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes, 485-464 B.C.) of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1). Job (whose story was written between the seventh and fifth centuries BC) repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6). Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel (c. 550 B.C.) wrote, “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3).

In the fifth century B.C., after Jonah’s preaching of conversion and repentance, the town of Ninevah proclaimed a fast and put on sackcloth, and the king covered himself with sackcloth and sat in the ashes (Jonah 3:5-6). These Old Testament examples evidence both a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.

Jesus Himself also made reference to ashes: Referring to towns that refused to repent of sin although they had witnessed the miracles and heard the good news, our Lord said, “If the miracles worked in you had taken place in Tyre and Sidon, they would have reformed in sackcloth and ashes long ago” (Matthew 11:21).

The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons. In his book, “De Poenitentia,” Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must “live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes.” Eusebius (260-340), the famous early Church historian, recounted in his “The History of the Church” how an apostate named Natalis came to Pope Zephyrinus clothed in sackcloth and ashes begging forgiveness. Also during this time, for those who were required to do public penance, the priest sprinkled ashes on the head of the person leaving confession.

In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes. The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.”

After the sprinkling, the priest asked, “Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?” To which the dying person replied, “I am content.” In all of these examples, the symbolism of mourning, mortality, and penance is clear.

Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent, the 40 day preparation period (not including Sundays) for Easter. The ritual for the “Day of Ashes” is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary, which dates at least to the eighth century.

 About the year 1000, an Anglo-Saxon priest named Aelfric preached, “We read in the books both in the Old Law and in the New that the men who repented of their sins bestrewed themselves with ashes and clothed their bodies with sackcloth. Now let us do this little at the beginning of our Lent that we strew ashes upon our heads to signify that we ought to repent of our sins during the Lenten fast.”

As an aside, Aelfric reinforced his point by then telling of a man who refused to go to Church on Ash Wednesday and receive ashes; the man was killed a few days later in a boar hunt. Since this time, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.

In our present liturgy for Ash Wednesday, we use ashes made from the burned palm branches distributed on the Palm Sunday of the previous year. The priest blesses the ashes and imposes them on the foreheads of the faithful, making the sign of the cross and saying, “Remember, man you are dust and to dust you shall return,” or “Turn away from sin and be faithful to the Gospel.” As we begin this holy season of Lent in preparation for Easter, we must remember the significance of the ashes we have received: We mourn and do penance for our sins. We again convert our hearts to the Lord, who suffered, died, and rose for our salvation. We renew the promises made at our baptism, when we died to an old life and rose to a new life with Christ Finally, mindful that the kingdom of this world passes away, we strive to live the kingdom of God now and look forward to its fulfillment in heaven.

Fr. Saunders is president of the Notre Dame Institute for Catechetics and associate pastor of Queen of Apostles Parish, both in Alexandria.

Submitted by Doria2