Ash Wednesday is part of the Lent season that is observed not only by the Catholics but also by the Lutherans, the Anglicans, and the Episcopalians. This is observed every seventh Wednesday of the year and marked as the beginning of the Lent season or Easter week. Ash Wednesday is the day where the Christian believers begin their fasting and the time for repenting for their sins.
Ash Wednesday’s Origins
According to history, after the Christians end the Epiphany season which they call Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday follows. They celebrate this to observe Christ’s mission, which is the reconciliation of the Almighty God with the human race through the ultimate sacrifice of His beloved Son, the death of Jesus Christ. Based on the biblical writings on Leviticus 16, the annual day for repentance was established by the Lord as a lasting ordinance for his chosen sons, the Israelites. This is done by humbling themselves by means of fasting and repenting for their sins through prayers. Every Ash Wednesday, using ashes to mark a cross on Christians’ foreheads has been done by priests as a reflection for their previous lives and renewing, offering, and strengthening their commitments to Almighty God. It has been said that this Christian ceremony has been traced back to the eighth century, where they humble themselves using sackcloth as well as ashes. This practice has been revealed in Daniel 9:3 when Daniel, one of the biblical prophets, spoke to the Lord to seek the release of his people from exile in Babylonia through fasting, ashes, and wearing sackcloth. This was also exhibited in Jonah 3:6 when the Nineveh King got warning news from Jonah, and he meekly took off his robe and covered his body with sackcloth and then sat in the dust.
Why ashes are used in this ritual?
According to Genesis 18:27, ashes are considered a symbol for humbleness, man’s mortality, and repentance. The ashes came from the burned branches of the palm, which has been utilized in celebrating the previous year’s Palm Sunday. These branches are being blessed by the priests by sprinkling holy water on them and placing the ashes on the incense that is being burned. This is what the high ranking priests use in administering the marking of the cross on the Christians’ foreheads and reminding us with their uttered words like ‘œMan/woman from dust, you will go back to dust,’ and also reminding the penitents to repent of their sins and remain faithful to the Lord’s Gospel.
Another old way of celebrating Ash Wednesday, especially for those who have committed venial sins, is to wear rough cloth or wear animal hair and be blessed by the priests, who shower them with holy water and ashes while reciting the Psalms of Seven Penitential. For forty days, the penitents will undergo repentance as well as absolution and will receive communion, which is administered by the priests, on Maundy Thursday.
Ash Wednesday is a reminder to the Christians of the sacrifice that Christ has made for mankind. It is a Christian’s faith act for personal remembrance. It is also a celebration for Jesus Christ’s passion, His death, and His resurrection for the atonement of mankind’s sins. This is the beginning of the journey where Christians are given the chance to renew their lives, do the needed reformations for the better, make their commitments to Almighty God stronger, and serve as a reminder of the ultimate generosity that God has given to the human race. Ashes serve as a sign for cleansing the sins of the Christian believers, reminding them of their origins, of where they will go, and most of all strengthen their beliefs of the Gospel’s Good News, which is the Salvation of the Lord.